Vinnie and the Burglar

A friend of mine knew a guy named Vinnie when he lived in New York. One day, he overheard Vinnie say to his roomate on the phone, “Don’t forget to feed the burglar.” When he inquired of Vinnie what those mysterious words might mean, he was informed that Vinnie and his roomie had surprised a burglar in their apartment. Deciding that the NY justice system, like the UN, was unlikely to do anything about this criminal, they decided to try the burglar right there and impose sentence. They sentenced him to thirty days in the closet. They locked him in and let him out for potty breaks and meals. He made an interesting conversation starter for girls they asked over to the apartment (“Say hello to Shirley, Burglar!” “Hullo.”)

Now in a certain sense, justice was done here. Probably the guy got about what he deserved. (Vinnie, by the way, never got in trouble with the law since, as he said, “What’s the burglar gonna say?”) And yet, there’s a problem with “This guy just needs punished and we’re the ones to do it!” mentality. Vinnie had the advantage of being the one directly sinned against, of course. But suppose Vinnie started trying and imposing sentence on everybody he decided needed some extra justice that the established authorities were not tending to?

You see where this is going, of course. The “Tranquillitas Ordinis” arguments point to an obvious problem: lotsa filthy oppressive little regimes all over the place. “People we could do without, who never would be missed.” Just War arguments based on Tranquillitas Ordinis thinking say that it is legitimate to attack such regimes since they constitute aggessive acts against humanity and humanity has the right to fight back. Okay. Fine, granted. But Just War also calls for “competent authority” to make the call. Is the USA the “competent authority” for dealing with them (especially when they are hurting their own people, but not us). Or, if we appoint ourselves the moral policeman of the world are we just really big Vinnies? I don’t have an answer to that question. But that *is* the question.