Most societies valorize soldiers. Such social norms cause the following effects, among others:
- It increases the benefits of being a soldier relative to the costs, and thus can induce more people on the margin to become soldiers.
- It tends to promote certain kinds of soldier behavior and attitudes (honor, protection, loyalty) over others (looting, rapaciousness, abuse of power).
That said, there are a variety of possible norms a society could have when it comes to valorizing soldiers. From one extreme to another, they include:
- Unconditional High Praise: Soldiers are heroes, no matter what.
- Default High Praise: Soldiers are presumed heroes, unless shown otherwise.
- Neutrality: Soldiers are to be evaluated in much the same way we evaluate everyone else. They are judged according to their character and their actions. If a soldier volunteers to fight in a just war, prima facie, he merits high praise. If he volunteers to fight in what he should realize or does realize is an unjust war, prime facie, he merits contempt. If a soldier has good intentions, he is to that extent praiseworthy. If he has bad intentions, he is to that extent not praiseworthy. Private citizens must exercise due care in choosing to become soldiers, given the expected moral risks.
- Default Contempt: Soldiers are presumed villains, unless shown otherwise.
- Unconditional Contempt: Soldiers are villains, no matter what.
This is only a rough sketch. There are of course more nuanced positions than these, and there are other intermediate norms.
A. Assuming we are discussing a social norm for a typical modern democratic nation-state, which norm is best from a rule-consequentialist point of view? That is, which norm produces the most utility (however you’d like to define utility)?
B. From a deontological or virtue-theoretic point of view, which norm seems most appropriate?
Many commentators on this blog seem to believe that norm 2 is the right answer to question A. They worry, perhaps reasonably, that if we lived by norm 3, hardly anyone would join the military, and hardly anyone would fight, even for genuine self-defense. They might agree that in the US, norm 2 tends to reinforce American militarism, but then think that norm 3 would swing us too far in the other direction. Norm 2 helps the US victimize other countries, but norm 3 would help other countries victimize the US.
At any rate, I tend to lean toward norm 3.
Regarding norm 4: I’m sure you could imagine circumstances in which this would be the most useful social norm. Perhaps it’s what Klingons need to hear.
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