Natural Law and the War on Terrorism

Natural Law and the War on Terrorism

There has been a fascinating foreign policy debate in recent days between leaders in San Diego County’s conservative movement.  The flashpoint was congressional candidate Jacqui Atkinson’s recent critique diplomacy with Iran, which sparked an acrimonious though substantive exchange on competing visions for a just foreign policy between Frank Dowse and Eric Andersen.  In the discussion, Mr. Andersen took issue with Mr. Dowse’s confrontational approach by asking Mr. Dowse to substantiate which freedoms were threatened by Islamists and how he justified America’s response to Islamism based on enduring natural law principles.  Although I found Mr. Dowse’s response compelling I would concede it centered on policy, and as a consequence the two men were talking past each other.  I will attempt to defend America’s confrontational approach towards global Islamic terrorism on the turf of Mr. Andersen’s own choosing – natural law.


Let me start by attempting to de-escalate the acrimony.   Having read and familiarized myself with both Eric and Frank’s arguments I feel very confident in saying that both men are well intentioned, both reject the initiation of violence against innocents, and if the world universally embraced either’s point of view it would be a much more peaceful place.  Let me also state my own proclivities so my biases are clear – I’m neither a neo-conservative nor a pacifist nor an isolationist.  I opposed the Iraq war at the time it was initiated not as a matter of principle but because I took a realist position that containment was working and invasion would be destabilizing.  On these very pages I’ve also critiqued Congressman Duncan Hunter for advocating withdrawing from the Middle East.  I generally oppose the use of America’s military to be the world’s policeman or to spread democracy, but I agree with the proposition that the world is a safer more prosperous place when the United States military serves as a credible deterrent to global aggressors.

Which of our freedoms are threatened by radical Islamic terrorism and its state sponsors?

The most important ones:  life, liberty, and property.  These are the rights from which all others flow and which the Islamists have made clear their intent to destroy in anyone that doesn’t conform to their religion and worldview.  They kill indiscriminately.  They force women into sexual slavery.  They deny liberty of conscience and kill those who don’t renounce Christianity.  They aim to expand their territory by conquest and seize the property of non-believers.  They burn POW’s alive.  In short, they live outside the laws of nature.

Now Eric may respond that we are not personally threatened by these injustices, but he is mistaken.  Whatever safety Eric perceives he enjoys is mostly attributable to his own anonymity and the limited opportunities of our enemies.  If an elk in the center of a herd were capable of reason, he would not personally feel threatened by the pack of wolves in the distance, because it is very improbable that he will personally be the victim of the wolves’ hostility.  But the elk would be incorrect if he then leapt to the conclusion that his probable security abrogated the natural hostility between him and the wolf.

What natural law principle justifies our intervention?

Having established the enmity that the Islamist terrorists and their state sponsors harbor toward us, what is the state of the relationship between us and the Islamists according to natural law principles?  Here I’ll allow John Locke to respond for me:

THE state of war is a state of enmity and destruction: and therefore declaring by word or action, not a passionate and hasty, but a sedate settled design upon another man’s life, puts him in a state of war with him against whom he has declared such an intention, and so has exposed his life to the other’s power to be taken away by him, or any one that joins with him in his defense, and espouses his quarrel; it being reasonable and just, I should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction: for, by the fundamental law of nature, man being to be preserved as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred: and one may destroy a man who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being, for the same reason that he may kill a wolf or a lion; because such men are not under the ties of the common law of reason, have no other rule, but that of force and violence, and so may be treated as beasts of prey, those dangerous and noxious creatures, that will be sure to destroy him whenever he falls into their power.  John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government, Ch. III, section 16.

Peace requires bilateral cooperation.  War is entered into unilaterally.  Whether we wish peace with Islamic terrorists or not we are in state of war with them because they ignore the law of reason and have no other rule but force and violence.  They would be sure to destroy, me, Eric, or Frank if we were to fall into their power.  By the laws of nature we needn’t wait for that to occur to strike.