What Is War—And Can a Lone Individual Wage One?

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Practically all modern definitions of war rule out that individuals can wage war. They conceive of war as a certain kind of conflict between groups. In fact, many definitions even restrict the term “war” to sustained armed conflicts between states. Instead of taking such definitions as points of departure, the article starts from scratch. I first explain what an explication of the concept of “war” should achieve. I then introduce the fundamental, and frequently overlooked, distinction between war as an historical event and war as an action. It is war as action—which, unlike events, can be right or wrong—that I explicate. Testing our linguistic intuitions with different examples of conflict I isolate several criteria that a war proper has to fulfill and try to demonstrate that not only collectives but individuals, too, can wage war. In conclusion I examine alternative definitions of war and show that in comparison to them mine fares rather well.
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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