Law Faculty Member Signs 'Letter from America'

Law Faculty Member Signs 'Letter from America'

Prof. Thomas Kohler (Law) is among a group of 60 leading intellectuals who have issued an open letter explaining why they believe the current United States-led war on terrorism is just and necessary.

Thomas Kohler
"There are times when waging war is not only morally permitted, but morally necessary, as a response to calamitous acts of violence, hatred and injustice. This is one of those times," states the Feb. 11 letter, which is available on-line.

Signers of the document, "What We're Fighting For: A Letter from America," include former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, historian Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins University and international affairs expert Samuel Huntington of Harvard University.

The "Letter from America" affirms "five fundamental truths that pertain to all people without distinction:

"1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

"2. The basic subject of society is the human person, and the legitimate role of government is to protect and help to foster the conditions for human flourishing.

"3. Human beings naturally desire to seek the truth about life's purpose and ultimate ends.

"4. Freedom of conscience and religious freedom are inviolable rights of the human person.

"5. Killing in the name of God is contrary to faith in God and is the greatest betrayal of the universality of religious faith.

"We fight to defend ourselves and to defend these universal principles," the letter asserts.

The letter's principal authors are Jean Bethke Elshtain, professor of social and political ethics at the University of Chicago; David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values; James Q. Wilson, emeritus professor of management and public policy at UCLA, and Mary Ann Glendon, formerly of BC Law, now Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. All are affiliated with the Institute for American Values, a New York think tank that focuses on civil society, motherhood and families.

Kohler is affiliated with the Institute for American Values as a member of its Council on Civil Society, chaired by Elshtain, which previously issued a report, "A Call to Civil Society: Why Democracy Needs Moral Truths."

Interviewed recently about his role in issuing the letter, Kohler said, "There is a positive moral obligation to protect the innocent from attack. Part of the call is to recall for people that there is a concept of just war that, in certain circumstances, entails a positive moral obligation to act.
"Nobody likes war, unless you're crazy," he said. "The signers of this letter are people of exquisite conscience who believe one of the most serious things a society can do is to use force."

Kohler teaches and writes extensively on labor law, theories of civil society and personhood, and the social "mediating institutions" - families, neighborhoods, labor guilds, church and civic organizations - that political philosopher Edmund Burke called "the little platoons of society."

He is a scholar of the late Jesuit philosopher Rev. Bernard Lonergan, SJ, who sought to ground Catholic social theory in sound economics, and of the principle of subsidiarity, elucidated by Pope Pius XI in the 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, that authority should be concentrated as close to the citizen as possible.

"Part of my interest in all this stems from my interest in Catholic social teachings," Kohler said. "Is there a time at which force is justified? That is an eternal question for anyone who deals in the law."


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