Italian philosopher Roberto Mancini: There is no such thing as a 'just' war

Roberto Mancini is one of the most prominent current philosophers in the world. His articles, books, and lectures discuss current global issues and crises and the possible road to salvation from evil.

Roberto Mancini
Roberto Mancini

Italian philosopher Roberto Mancini: There is no such thing as a 'just' war

Macerata, Italy: Roberto Mancini’s philosophy wants to guide people toward peaceful and just coexistence with all living beings and lead them to salvation from a global system that’s straying further away from Immanuel Kant’s concept of human dignity and inching ever closer to self-destruction.

In Mancini’s view, this salvation can be achieved through each individual’s full embracement of love in such a way that reflects on the social, political, and economic systems.

Al Majalla had the privilege of interviewing Mancini at the magnificent Macerata library of philosophy –a treasure trove of manuscripts and ancient volumes– which he manages.

The below are excerpts from the interview:

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus believed conflict to be the basic principle and foundation of the concept of justice, as there would be no justice without injustice. He believed that war is the principle of human intellect and language. Is there such a thing as a 'just' war?

Heraclitus was probably hinting at the correlated opposites that accompany all manifestations of life, and he is right as far as this interpretation is concerned.

However, if what he meant by war was armed conflicts, then he is entirely wrong, since war is the total opposite of justice, and the welfare and prosperity of the human race and the world can never be achieved through power, competition, or wars.

Prosperity can only be achieved through the love from which it is born, through the acceptance of “the other”, through compassion and cooperation, and through the art of managing conflicts and ridding them of their destructive nature.

The historical records we have today indisputably point to war as a phenomenon that is as old as the human race itself. Just like a snowball grows into an avalanche, war is the result of persistent misconceptions of others that gradually fill the hearts and minds of people and strain economic relations, international ties, and educational systems.

Just like a snowball grows into an avalanche, war is the result of persistent misconceptions of others that gradually fill the hearts and minds of people and strain economic relations, international ties, and educational systems.

Italian philosopher, Roberto Mancini

Therefore, it is our responsibility as humans to prevent this vicious cycle of violence from spiralling into war. According to that rational view of the dynamics of reality, the concept of "a just war" would be a flagrant lie that only deprives us of the ability to perceive the role that each one of us ought to play on the individual, collective, and institutional levels.

If we can stick to that view of war and distinguish historical dynamics, we can keep an inseparable correlation between conscience and action, between creed and deed. In other words, it is actionable responsibility that will save us, which is when each one of us is directly and actively involved in guaranteeing peace and rejecting war.

Thus, we should never let the tragic and cruel events of the world frustrate us from proceeding with our efforts, despite the pessimism and desperateness that such events may breed in our souls.

Instead, honesty should be our indispensable principle, and no one should be exempted from committing to moral responsibility.

It is no coincidence that all world religions define the supreme deity as a compassionate and merciful being and as the God of life and peace rather than of death and war. Accordingly, and since that supreme deity does not condone war as a just means, how could ignorant humans embrace it as such?

Then how would you explain our continuous failure as a human race to achieve peace? Why did the thousands of peace treaties signed throughout human history fall short of reaching any comprehensive and lasting peace?

There are four correlated reasons for our failure to this day to achieve what Kant named "lasting peace". The first one becomes clear when we observe the course of human history, which is the incapability of humans to be human enough, in the sense of being insightful, aware, responsible, pacifist, and supportive of others.

This is a meticulous process that needs a lot of attention, and oftentimes, such attention is either absent or intentionally neglected due to tendencies that oppose humane education.

Moreover, assuming humans manage to become illuminated, compassionate, and wise on an individual level, nations and institutions on the other hand progress at a much slower and reserved pace.

Who can teach millions, if not billions, of humans how to achieve full humanity? Who can reform institutions and elevate them from a mentality of authority to a mentality of service? In international relations, as in economic ties, the more powerful side is always the prevailing one.

Second is the fact that there can be no peace without justice, and since international relations are governed by imbalances, mistakes, and the dominance of one side over another, circumstances are often ideal for violence and wars. As such, each war that breaks out paves the way for other wars in the future.

There can be no peace without justice, and since international relations are governed by imbalances, mistakes, and the dominance of one side over another, circumstances are often ideal for violence and wars. As such, each war that breaks out paves the way for other wars in the future.

Italian philosopher, Roberto Mancini

The third reason is that both individual and collective human identities are still evolving to this day as separate and exclusive identities that distinguish and alienate us further from those whom we label as the others: the different ones, the foreigners, the infidels, or the enemies.

It is so hard for humans to regard themselves as members of the one and same big family that is spread across the entire planet.

Lastly, we are increasingly feeling God slipping through our fingers. We are losing our capability to sense the presence of God, the god of life and love, in our lives.

Many people nowadays either perceive God as a source of religious authority and compulsion or consider Him non-existent. Hence, they are unaware of the true divine love that creates and embraces all living beings, including humans and regard His creations as revered, cherished, and worthy. We often fail to regard things in that tender light.

However, though correlated, these four reasons remain insufficient to establish lasting peace. Throughout human history, there have been instances where love and compassion prevailed over hatred and violence, and such instances will never cease to recur. Eventually, it is our responsibility to choose between working toward peace or proliferating the horrors of war.

Your answer seems to be hinting at the connectedness between salvation and redemption, which is a concept you presented in your book "Philosophy of Salvation: Paths to Liberation from the Self-Destructiveness System." Is this so?

Your assumption is right. The concept of redemption points to victory over evil, which is guilt in this context, and consequently one's victory over one's own personal evil. This is the essence of salvation, which is not an extraordinary eschatological event that occurs without any human participation.

The misperception of salvation as a special privilege to be granted by the Almighty God at the end of time had the greatest effect in ridding humans of their sense of responsibility.

It seems to me that, even when interpreted in a purely eschatological sense, salvation is a mysterious but realistic form of one's relationship with others and with God. Hence, it is true that God will provide salvation and care to each individual, but only as long as we remain attached to His love.

In other words, humans' part in the salvation process is not passive; they play an active role in it to a certain extent. Salvation requires us to commit to liberation from evil, and in order for our participation in the process of salvation to be complete and perfect, it is of utmost importance for us to avoid any sort of complicity with evil.

It goes without saying, though, that such a commitment necessitates belief in the divine origin of human dignity, for as much as we are prone to dehumanise ourselves and relate with evil, we are always able to redeem ourselves and let that divine spirit inside us manifest itself. To sum up, redemption and salvation are inseparable concepts.

In that same book, you provide five basic (non-metaphorical) interpretations of salvation. Would you briefly explain them and clarify if the concept of 'lasting peace' is the product of the fusion of the first four interpretations, just like the concept of 'eschatological salvation'?

Salvation is often only discussed in its sense of everlasting deliverance in the afterlife. However, such a definition disconnects salvation from daily life and human conditions, and when a concept remains without any reflection in real-life experiences, it becomes insignificant. Thus, we should ask ourselves if we had any experiences that reflect salvation during this tangible part of life.

Indeed, salvation has several manifestations, and most of them can be experienced during this earthly life. The first and least significant manifestation is probably 'physical salvation', which is when we flee a deadly hazard to save our own life.

Then comes inner salvation, which is when we remain pure in our conscience, soul, and heart even when confronted with heavy hardships that could taint our soul or deprive us of our humanity. When someone succeeds in that spiritual exaltation, they experience 'inner salvation'.

We must also think of the value and purpose of our lives. If one lives a life of evil and only focuses on personal interests without showing any compassion or doing any good deeds, we can say their life was pointless.

Alternatively, when someone lends a helping hand to others, the value of their life would warrant them the salvation that survives even after their death. This is what I call 'existential salvation'.

We may also answer somebody's quest for help to take off the heavy burden of responsibility weighing on our shoulders. The situation may be reversed, too. We have seen this in the relationship between immigrants seeking assistance and their host communities. This is 'ethical salvation', which is continuously testing our humanity and sense of responsibility.

Additionally, humanity is today on the brink of destruction partly due to a deteriorating ecological system and partly because of the brutal war-mongering global system of geopolitics. Accordingly, saving ourselves from these dangers and paving a new path for humanity is what I call 'historical-political salvation'.


Humanity is on the brink of destruction partly due to a deteriorating ecological system and partly because of the brutal war-mongering global system of geopolitics. Saving ourselves from these dangers and paving a new path for humanity is what I call 'historical-political salvation'.

The combination of these four manifestations of salvation (physical, inner, existential, and historical-political) would enable us to achieve 'eschatological salvation', and only then can we experience the perceived concept of 'lasting peace'.

In this modern globalised world whose economic system eliminated the spiritual values of humanity and turned religion into some kind of consumable commodity. Is it still possible to resort to faith as a path to human salvation?

Man's relationship with God as an absolute and eternal deity has always been paradoxical.

On the one hand, this relationship was hugely impaired due to our conception of the supreme deity according to our own inclinations and perceptions. We perceive God as a supernatural power that controls everything and portray Him as an authoritative head.

This misconception was misused by men to justify their domination through a consecrated patriarchal world order. Accordingly, religion has always been connected to political and economic powers, and vice versa. However, the real living God is totally dissociated from any such ideologically indoctrinated and tyrannical religion.

If we observe our modern community, which has been reduced to nothing more than a gargantuan market, the cultural and existential impact of such a perception is much deeper than we think.

Not even rising to the level of worshipping money, the result today is a nihilistic mentality that operates on autopilot and has no self-awareness. Hence, our modern Westernised and globalised community has a nihilistic mentality and is fully detached from religion.

On the other hand, though, pure faith is never fully absent. There are countless men and women who know how to live up to their pure principles regardless of their religious affiliation, dedicating their love and benevolence to the public good and adopting nonviolence as a lifestyle.

In this context, Mahatma Gandhi presents a shining example of practising genuine faith in union with God, manifesting love in real and tangible terms. Anyone who, likewise, becomes united with God and manifests such a union in all deeds of sincerity, love, and generosity is genuinely contributing to the world's salvation.

Speaking of Gandhi, in another book of yours: "Political Love, Along the Path of Nonviolence with Gandhi, Capitini, and Levinas" you present inspiring ideas that aim to redefine politics as a common dream of a common world governed by a love-based system. In that context, how could we transform individual cases of political nonviolence into global political practices?

Historically speaking, there have been several cases where nonviolent practices evolved to become social movements, regardless of the particular individuals who became the icons of such movements.

Again, Gandhi is an ideal representation of such an evolution, since he adopted and practised nonviolence as the key principle in his life, spiritual experience, and political activities.

Meanwhile, the fact that we have men and women who managed individually to manifest the highest degree of humanity throughout their lives does not necessarily exclude nonviolence as an unsuitable principle for groups and institutions.

The turning point in Gandhi's life took place in September 1906 in Johannesburg, when those oppressed by European colonial powers met in order to agree on a new form of resistance.

They decided to act in a way that aligns with divine justice and, instead of assuming that God was on their side, they committed themselves to a behavioural code that would compel God to support it. It was a code of nonviolence, justice, and respect towards everyone.

Throughout the course of history, there have always been individuals, groups, and local institutions (such as schools, hospitals, municipalities, religious associations, etc.) that behave according to these same noble principles.

However, the problem is that nonviolence seems to be either absent or impossible on a global scale, and to actualise it on a global level and among all humans, three transformational factors must be utilised.

First, we must adopt a new mentality that permits a thriving life culture through inclusiveness and away from any conflicts or authority. Second, we should transform our educational systems globally to rehabilitate people worldwide to overcome their inner evil.

We must adopt a new mentality that permits a thriving life culture through inclusiveness and away from any conflicts or authority.

Thirdly, justice must be achieved on all levels and through all relations so that no one would resort to violence to regain what is theirs. Accordingly, anyone who perceives God as the source of endless love, regardless of their religious affiliation, should participate in actualising these three factors.

Therefore, the key question is not whether such a massive pacifist transformation is possible, but rather how long it would take humanity to get there.

Readers can trace a rather interesting theory on the concept of truth in your books, one that does not regard truth as a solution or piece of evidence, but as the essence of each dialogue.

In that sense, truth is "multifaceted, shareable, accountable, and consistently vivid". So, in our modern world that interprets superficial appearances and lies as truths, is "post-truth" welcome in such a dialogue?

First of all, we must realise that truth is not an objective, a concept, or a principle per se. Rather, it represents love which forms life and grants its continuity.

Once we become aware of that, we can live the real truth, not only in the sense of a quest or dialogue that seeks to get to the essence of matters but also as the source of light that illuminates our existence and helps us shape it.

Thus, when we apply such a concept to truth, "post-truth" becomes nothing more than a naïve euphemism to beautify and normalise lies. This modern tendency to consecrate post-truth as reality involves dire consequences, as it would detach us from reality and from our critical thinking about facts and theories.

To add insult to injury, post-truth entails that truth does not exist at all. Therefore, along with criticising this inclination to eradicate the search for and belief in the truth, we must also criticise those who act as if they exclusively hold the keys to the truth and establish their ideas or theories as absolute truths.

We should always remind ourselves that dialogue, knowledge, and even faith necessitate collective humility rather than individual arrogance. When truth is respected, the entire human race is respected as well, and the opposite holds true.

Any kind of authoritarian control over public opinion, be it through doubts, ideological manipulation, fanaticism, or dogmatism is only the result of ignorance, bad intentions, and greed for power.

Who is Roberto Mancini?

Roberto Mancini is an Italian philosopher. He graduated in 1981 from the University of Macerata with a master's degree in Philosophy and earned his PhD in 1986 from the University of Perugia, partially conducting his research in parallel at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany.

Mancini taught a course in Cultures of Sustainability at the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Italian Switzerland (USI) and currently serves as a lecturer of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Macerata, where he also holds various other positions.

Mancini writes regularly for philosophical journals and is the manager of the Italian magazine "Philosophical Horizons" ("Orizzonte filosofico") and the series "Texture of Secularism" ("Tessiture di laicità"), both issued by Citadella Publishing House in Assisi.

In November 2009, he received the "Zamenhof – Voices of Peace" award from the Italian Esperanto Association and the Marche Region.

In 2020, he co-founded with other intellectuals the movement "It Depends On Us" ("Dipende da Noi") in the Province of Marche to revive political life and build bridges that connect civil society and state institutions. Nowadays, Mancini serves as the regional coordinator of the movement.

He has published more than 300 articles and 44 books on ethics, philosophical anthropology, truth theories, and the philosophy of religion, politics, and economics.

These include: "Language and Ethics" in 1988, "Silence as a Path of Life" in 2002, "The Enigma and Meaning of Time" in 2005, "Heretic Notions: Towards an Economy of Provision, Relations, and Public Good" in 2010, "The Logic of Evil, a Critical Approach to Society and the Revival of Ethics" in 2012, "The Fragile Soul, a New Study of Hegel to Understand the Current World" in 2019, "Gandhi, Beyond the Principle of Power" in 2021, and "Criticism and Liberty, a Guide to Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason" in 2021.

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