The Authority to Kill

A point from this morning’s Public Discourse:

When John Quincy Adams insisted that America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy,” he was not defining an American pacifism—for war will come, and the lower purposes of self-defense and self-interest may require military force. He was describing instead authority for a high reason to go to war, which he believed the United States lacked.

Some conservatives were extremely uncomfortable with the invasion of Iraq under President Bush and the air support for the Libyan revolution under President Obama, and they expressed some of their discomfort in terms of authority: Whatever the prudential judgments about such wars (with which they often also disagreed), the United States is not a crusader state; it lacks, they said, logical or theological authority to undertake war for ideals or general redress of evil.

Perhaps those conservatives were right, or perhaps not. That’s an argument for another day. But, by way of analogy, consider this: If you had doubts about the high authority of the United States to engage in those military actions, are you not required—for precisely the same reasons—to have doubts about the high authority of the nation to execute its convicted murderers in the name of retributive justice? To apply the death penalty because its killers deserve to die?

Read more here.



  • Joe M

    I suspect that many people who take the non-interventionist position you describe are also against the death penalty. However, the most problematic argument to their position, in my view, is that in order to stay consistent, they would need to object to France’s involvement in the Revolutionary War. Without France’s intervention, there wouldn’t be a United States or likely the bounty of human rights advancements, invention, industry and charity that came with it. Who then would have stood up to Hitler? France intervening on behalf of the US is proof that military intervention can serve morality to a very substantial degree. It almost certainly changed the world for the better. Why do good people of foreign lands not deserve the same kind of assistance when facing slaughter and abuse? Jesus taught that we have a moral obligation to help the oppressed (“Psalm 82:4 Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.”). He didn’t say that was conditional on which side of a man-made border they are being oppressed on.

  • Michael Lee

    THAT is perhaps the best way in which I have ever seen the question put; Thought provoking, to say the very least.



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