The Augustinian Just War Tradition and the Problem of Pretext in Humanitarian Intervention

7 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2005

See all articles by Thomas H. Lee

Thomas H. Lee

Fordham University School of Law


Professor Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago, in a paper delivered at the Natural Law Colloquium at Fordham Law School on September 9, 2004, argued that, regardless of what formal laws prescribe, caritas, the Augustinian concept of concern for the dignity of others, justifies wars of humanitarian intervention in cases of oppression abroad, as in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Professor Lee argues, in this brief response, that the present United Nations Charter regime governing state resort to force, even if it is narrowly construed to permit only wars of self defense upon armed attack or Security Council authorized collective actions, can be justified under the equally important Augustinian admonition against libido dominandi - the self-interested motive of domination. Because it is difficult to discern whether one state's alleged humanitarian motive is true or pretextual, the Charter's restrictive regime can check libido while empowering caritas in the most heinous, universally condemned cases.

Keywords: just war theory, humanitarian intervention, laws of war

Suggested Citation

Lee, Thomas H., The Augustinian Just War Tradition and the Problem of Pretext in Humanitarian Intervention. Fordham International Law Journal, Vol. 28, p. 756, 2005; Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 92. Available at SSRN:

Thomas H. Lee (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

150 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
212.636.6728 (Phone)

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