Title: War and Privatization: A Moral Theory of Private Protective Agencies, Militias, Contractors, Military Firms, and Militias
Name: William B. Feldman

Brigham and Women's Hospital
Harvard Medical School


Year: 2010
Type: Research Grant

The dissertation asks whether, and to what extent, the privatization of combat and other military services is morally justifiable. Are private actors ever justified in waging war apart from the state? Are states ever justified in hiring private actors to prosecute the wars that they have authorized? The cases that drive my analysis stretch back to the mercenaries of Italian city-states who were reviled by Machiavelli. My dissertation also explores the hypothetical examples conjured by philosophers: the private protective agencies of Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia and the private armies of Thomas More's Utopia. The aim is to develop a comprehensive moral theory of military privatization.

My analysis focuses on two distinct concepts: the authorization of war and the supply of war. Entities that authorize war decide that military force will be used and by whom; entities that supply war then execute the various tasks that have been authorized for performance. Part I of my dissertation argues that private actors may not justifiably authorize war. The reason is that, in so doing, they would impose considerable risks on individuals who lack a say in authorization—particularly fellow countrymen who may suffer from retaliatory military action—and we ought not to impose considerable risks on individuals who lack such a say. Public actors have a right, and indeed a duty, to prevent private actors from authorizing military force. Moreover, public actors have a further duty to authorize military force when their constituents are threatened.

Part II then seeks to show that public actors who authorize military force may rely upon private contractors to an extent in military supply. Public actors may not rely upon private contractors to exercise command. The reason is that commanders must be able to punish their subordinates in intrusive ways (e.g. imprisonment) to ensure the prosecution of just wars. Such intrusive forms of punishment should only be dispensed by public actors. In addition, public actors may not rely upon private contractors to serve above commanders on the chain of command. Such high-ranking military officers exercise substantial political power over civilian decisions of military authorization and supply; moreover, these officers make weighty decisions in battle that substantially affect the well-being of others. Public actors, however, should be permitted to rely upon private contractors to serve below military commanders on the chain of command in rank- and- file military roles so long as these contractors are properly constrained and regulated.


Feldman, W. (2016). Privatizing War: A Moral Theory (London: Routledge).