Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Cicero’s Three Tenets for Just War

on March 4, 2022
(Marcus Tullius Cicero)

It is difficult to determine just when the just war idea began. Aristotle used the phrase, “just war” (Brunstetter, 2018, pg. 4), but it is Cicero who developed a “systematic ethical project” (Stewart, 2018, pg. 8) around the concept of just war.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BCE – 43 BCE) grew up in a wealthy Roman family, acquired a good education, and worked his way up the ladder to achieve the high political status of Consul. When Catiline tried to seize power over Rome by force, “Cicero had five of the conspirators executed without trial and was thereafter hailed as ‘the father of his country’” (Stewart, 2018, pg. 9). His experiences helped to shape his ideas about just war.

Cicero tried to place an emphasis on “virtuous behavior” (Stewart, 2018, pg.8) based on the principles of natural law. He believed that all civilized nations were bound by the same law and that “the god will be the one common master and general (so to speak) of all people” (Stewart, 2018, pg. 11). He expected all civilized nations to follow a course of laws, morals, and ethics that reflected the will of God. Following the will of God would lead nations to make the best decisions.

Out of this came Cicero’s idea of the “ideal statesman” (Stewart, 2018, pg. 14, 17, 18) who would have the wisdom to discern the difference between the justice of war and the necessity of war. After a thorough analysis, an ideal statesman would decide when conflict could be solved by diplomacy and debate, and when the use of force would be necessary. He would base his decision on what was best to ensure the safety and survival of the Roman Empire.

He developed three maxims:

     Jus ad bellum covered the justification for the use of force.

     Jus in bellum outlined the limitations imposed in the use of force.

     Jus post bellum offered guidelines about how to deal with participants after a war was over.  

          (Brunstetter, 2018, pg. 1).

If we adhere to Cicero’s idea about the ideal statesman then jus ad bellum is the most important. The decisions that leaders make can determine the fate of the whole nation. If they make wrong decisions out of a “selfish passion” (Stewart, 2018, pg. 15) for glory and ambition, justice has not been done, and the whole nation may suffer.

In order to justify the use of force, there must be a legitimate reason to declare war. Roman officials must have the authority (right thinking and right intention) to declare war. The decision to go to war must come as a last resort. There must be a high probability of a successful resolution. And the use of force must lead to more benefits than harm to society (Brunstetter, 2018, pg. 1).

The use of force in war will be limited to what needs to be done to defeat the other side.  It must never exceed the purpose of its use. It must only be aimed at “legitimate targets” (Brunstetter, 2018, pg. 1). Discrimination in the use of force must be exercised by military leaders to achieve the objective and nothing more.

After the conflict is over, the winner must decide what to do with the survivors and post-war plunder. Can peace be restored? Has justice been done? Have grievances been resolved? The winner is responsible for restoring balance and harmony in the region and making sure that humanitarian efforts are made to help the survivors recover. This fulfills the principles of beneficence and honor (Stewart, 2018, pg. 13).

If peace cannot be restored and a nation continues to be a threat to the survival of the Roman Empire, Cicero concludes that necessity overrules justice and beneficence and complete annihilation is justified (Stewart, 2018, pg. 14-16).

Rome was a militarized society. Cicero served in the military and never discounted the inevitability of war. He believed in ius gentium (international obligations between nations) (Stewart, 2018, pg. 9). These international relations involved treaties and agreements made in “good faith” (Stewart, 2018, pg. 10). Broken treaties and other wrongs were justification for the use of force. But Cicero insisted that there were acceptable limits when following a path of revenge and retribution (Stewart, 2018, pg. 12). He believed that there were duties owed to the people who broke good faith and were defeated in battle (Stewart, 2018, pg. 13). This, for him, is what defined justice.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

October 6, 2021; March 4, 2022

Copyright 2021-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Brunstetter, D.R., & O’Driscoll, C. (Ed.). (2018). Just war thinking: From cicero to the 21st  

     century. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Stewart, G. (2018). Marcus tullius cicero (106 BCE – 43 BCE). In D.R. Brunstetter & C. O’Driscoll

     (Eds.), Just war thinkers: From cicero to the 21st century (8-19). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.


16 responses to “Cicero’s Three Tenets for Just War

  1. kvbclarke says:

    Fascinatingly relevant. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Jim Wingrove says:

    Thanks, we should all listen to Cicero 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Powerful post Dawn. 💪🏼 I especially love this:
    The decisions that leaders make can determine the fate of the whole nation. If they make wrong decisions out of a “selfish passion” (Stewart, 2018, pg. 15) for glory and ambition, justice has not been done, and the whole nation may suffer.

    Girl, history teaches us a lot, the do’s and don’ts, yet somehow it is evident that we have short-term memory. I appreciate you sharing this profound message today girlfriend. I hope your words and Cicero’s will be far-reaching and embraced! Have a FANtabulous day Dawn! ☮🙏🏽💖

    Liked by 4 people

  4. utahan15 says:

    quote friend is more necessary than fire or water
    from taylor caldwell book
    aka chickpea
    murdered at the beheast of marc anthony
    facts!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Iowa Life says:

    I can’t help but feel we know less today than they did then.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. aoportal says:

    3-6-2022

    Hello Dawn

    Prayers for you that our Good Lord bless you in every way including what you find at AlphaOmegaPortal.org I’m thankful for your use of the postings. 🙏☦️. AOPortal

    Liked by 1 person

  7. auntyuta says:

    Dear Dawn, thank you so much for showing us what a wise man this Marcus Tullius Cicero was!
    It is amazing, that so much of what he said thousands of years ago, has been preserved for us to study, Actually, I do very much to reblog your post!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: