Moralizing violence?: social psychology, peace research, and just war theory
Trosky, Abram Jonas
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States regularly use fear of terrorist threats to gain support for domestic political agendas and promote geostrategic interests. Consecutive U.S. presidents have cited the theory of the just war to defend these policies and particular violations of national sovereignty. Those doubtful of whether existing threats justify violations of privacy and territorial integrity also use fear -- of corruption, mission creep, and unintended consequences -- claiming that such interventions are a cure worse than the disease, yet one about which domestic audiences are easily misled. To combat abuse of moral arguments for the use of force, some in peace and conflict studies advocate military force be restricted to self-defense, per strict interpretation of the United Nations Charter (as in international legal positivism), or restricted completely (as in pacifism). Because the goal of reducing violent conflict is nearly universally acceptable, these varieties of noninterventionism are rarely scrutinized. In social psychological peace research (SPPR) on public opinion, however, positivism and prescriptive pacifism mask the diversity of opinion on whether and when intervention is necessary to curb aggression, prevent atrocity, and/or restore stability in failed states. This project critically examines SPPR's positivistic premises and the political implications of moral skepticism generally. In an intellectual history of the discipline, I contrast scientific emphasis on certainty in the formulation of threat and risk-avoidance with the humanities' appreciation of the ethical implications of uncertainty, also at the heart of just war theory. Taking Albert Bandura's social cognitive theory (SCT) of moral dis/engagement as a case study, I argue that SPPR skepticism of individual citizens' moral judgment implicitly endorses elite or consensus-driven models of social and political change. The determinism, consequentialism, and institutional gradualism of SPPR approaches, I argue, contradict stated progressive aims and the egalitarian individualism behind liberal conceptions of the rule of law and international human rights regime. Using just war's ethical framework and a non-consequentialist Kantian theory of moral judgment, I construct a reasoning model and coding manual for use in public opinion research on international conflict. These instruments operationalize moral dis/engagement in a manner consistent with political liberalism and humanitarian law, including the Responsibility to Protect.