Torture, Necessity and Supreme Emergency: Law and Morality at the End of Law

22 Pages Posted: 22 May 2009 Last revised: 16 Jun 2012

See all articles by Zachary R. Calo

Zachary R. Calo

Valparaiso University Law School

Date Written: May 18, 2009


This paper employs Michael Walzer's concept of "Supreme Emergency" to address the permissibility of torture under conditions of necessity. It proposes moving beyond both utilitarian and deontological approaches to legal authority in order to understood necessity as a moral category. A full account of right action under conditions of necessity therefore demands taking account of the distinct yet cooperative function provided by legal and moral norms. A political official might therefore possess moral but not legal warrant to act in contravention of binding legal norms. Preserving the validity of law is essential to the economy of social reconstitution in the aftermath of political tragedy.

Keywords: Walzer, Torture, Supreme Emergency, Necessity, Ethics, Morality, Punishment, Judgment

Suggested Citation

Calo, Zachary, Torture, Necessity and Supreme Emergency: Law and Morality at the End of Law (May 18, 2009). Valparaiso University Law Review, Vol. 43, p. 1591, 2009. Available at SSRN:

Zachary Calo (Contact Author)

Valparaiso University Law School ( email )

656 S. Greenwich St.
Valparaiso, IN 46383-6493
United States
219.465.7970 (Phone)


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