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Beyond Just War: Jan Patočka’s Solidarity of the Shaken

Steven Torrente’s “Beyond Just War: Jan Patočka’s Solidarity of the Shaken” appears in Telos 181 (Winter 2017). Read the full article at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue in our online store. Individual subscriptions to Telos are now available in both print and online formats.

The just war tradition has for a long time provided the categories and logic used to debate the tensions inherent in armed conflict. If war and killing are seen as both inevitable and undesirable, some system of limitation must be developed. Just war concepts such as right authority, just cause, and others offer a framework of off-ramps on the road to nihilistic violence. However, critics contend that just war theory fails to negotiate a real compromise between naïve pacifism and unrestrained war. They argue that the just war tradition not only reduces to the unrestrained pole, but in fact it can legitimate and exacerbate war. If so, just war thinking suffers from a logical contradiction—it facilitates that which it seeks to limit. Therefore, clarifying or modifying the concepts of the just war tradition is unlikely to produce a coherent ethics of war. This article develops a path to an alternative ethic of war that does not use or depend on the just war tradition. Instead, it draws on Jan Patočka’s philosophy of history to make an alternative ethics of war possible. Patočka’s Heretical Essays encourage a shift of focus to the origins of history, politics, and philosophy—and not incidentally, polemos, war. By recovering the historicity of human existence, along with the ever-present possibility of its demise, Patočka’s “solidarity of the shaken” offers a basis for an ethics that does not legitimate or intensify war.

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