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The right to use force against an unjust aggressor. This right is present when certain conditions are fulfilled, namely: 1. recourse to civil authority would be impossible. The common good demands that as a rule the State alone uses physical compulsion, for if any private citizen could at will employ force in defending his or her rights, the peace and order of the community would be disturbed; 2. the attack must be actual or immediately imminent; it is wrong to use deadly weapons before the attack, since there is graave danger that such force might be used against an innocent person; nor is it permissible to use such weapons after the attack is over, for then the defense is too late and the act of possible killing would constitute revenge; 3. the attack must be unjust, which really means that it is not provoked; aggression, therefore, is not justified; 4. the force employed must be proportionate to the loss threatened and must not exceed what is necessary; killing is not allowed if wounding would be sufficient for proper defense; wounding is not permitted if disarming the adversary or summoning help would be enough.
All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.