imperialism or humanitarianism…

The discussions about Iraq have brought to mind a question which has always fascinated me. At what point should one society forcibly alter the path of another? After it became clear that there were not weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the argument in favor of the war shifted to a humanitarian one. I want to say that there are situations which require military intervention. I am not a cultural relativist, but neither am I a strict absolutist. There must be a middle ground. Where do we draw the line between cultural differences and human rights violations? How do we judge right and wrong across cultures within the human race? When is one thing right and another wrong? As the makers of ethics and morality, this is an important question for us to answer.

In assessing something as wrong, we are making the statement that it is not ‘good enough’ relative to some standard. We are forced to assume that a linear scale of values can be assigned to a given action. That we can reasonably set a number against an action – (0) poor (1) fair (2) neutral (3) o.k. (4) good. But there has never been a universal linear code for judging the moral value of an action. Right and wrong are just not that black and white. Maybe it is time for a us to use different words.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights might be the best formalized standard. But even it is couched in western terms. What do we mean when we say:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

What does it mean to say that we are born free? Free from what? And what are these rights that people talk about so often? We are certainly not the autonomous individuals envisioned by the forefathers of the modern democracy. We cannot stand apart from our environment and make decisions without influence and, in many cases, coercion. Given that our entire concept of self is tied to the way that we view our ‘selves’ in the world, does it even make sense to say that we are born free? And if we are not free, then what does it mean to say that we have a ‘right’? Even if I grant that we do have ‘rights’, what does it mean to say that we have a right ‘to’ something? For instance, if we cannot make a truly autonomous choice then it does not make sense to say that we have a right to liberty. We would never be able to fully exercise that right. I do not want to throw away the concept of rights, I want to save it. But I want to find a way to conceptualize them that reduces the likelihood of abuse by people with imperialistic leanings.

And it is here that I am stumped. At least for now. I will write more when I figure out where to go next. Maybe someone can argue with me, or provide some inspiration. Maybe I am all wrong on this.


In order to do this up right let’s define some terms. The standard definition of rights is “an entitlement (to self or others) (not) to perform certain actions or be in a certain state.” Makes sense to me. I think we can reasonably argue that rights can be ascribed to individuals and groups, so my questions about the plausibility of individual autonomy are not meant to suggest that any theory which uses the language of rights is, by default, atomistic (individualistic) and therefore mortally flawed. No, it is not that simple. There are rights theories that have been applied to groups. So the biggest problem, I think, is one of language.

The way that we talk about rights leaves out obligations and responsibilities. The moral focus is on the right-holder and not on agents as bearers of responsibilities. Additionally, talk of rights seem confrontational and rigid in their justification. Invoking rights as justification for an action will normally shut down reasoned discourse. Which is not a tenable consequence of a moral theory. And what about virtues such as wisdom, courage and empathy? These are important and involve obligations; which the language of rights is not equipped to handle. I need to read back over all of this and see where, exactly, I stand. After reviewing all of this I think that we are going to need to answer my previous questions, before tackling the language question. I really did not want to put the Hohfeldian Analytical System on here, but I might have to. Let’s just see where this goes first.


O.K., I think that I can avoid putting the aforementioned system on here by stating that my main issue with rights talk is that it is used by people who feel that they are entitled to certain treatment without corresponding obligations. So, that is where I am. I think.


~ by aikaterine on July 30, 2007.

24 Responses to “imperialism or humanitarianism…”

  1. I’m just finishing something so I’ll try to come back, but I just wanted to point out that it was a Canadian who wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights… it seems to be something I do now.

  2. Not that I do not believe you; but, you are beginning to sound Greek.

    “Give me a word, any word, and I will show you that it came from Greece Canada”

  3. We had an empire you know….

  4. You still do, kind of.

  5. At least until Scotland fucks off…

    ahem… “Hailed by Eleanor Roosevelt as the Magna Carta of mankind, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted by Canadian John Peters Humphrey.” I can’t help it if I watch 60 hours of televison every week and our government sponsors “History Minute” commercials.

  6. Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee…

    And not to inflate your already enormous national pride, but you keep neglecting to mention that the electron microscope was invented in Canada.

    Now, please put your brain to some worthwhile use and help me solve my rights dilemma. Otherwise, find some other platform for your Canada-love.

  7. hockey…whatever!

  8. well. Rights…obviously there is no real answer because one womans rights are another womans tyrannical enforced subjugation. The best we, as a global community of incredibly different creatures can ever aspire to is a vague consensus of rules about how to avoid killing and harming each other, and how to stop each other killing and harming others.
    There can be no rules that won’t be broken. We’re human.
    Rights in this context are, I think, just a metaphor for behaviour that nations in the club have decided is acceptable. Our rights are that people cannot treat us in such a way as to take away this choice, that choice and these aspects of life. If nations sign up to this agreement, then fair enough, they are also signing up to some kind of punitive system if they break these agreements.
    If a nation is not part of our little club, things become a whole lot more hazy, because you then have to decide to enforce your beliefs on people who have not agreed with your value system. What you define as a right, has not been agreed with these non-member states, and therefore, enforcing your ‘rights’ on these states is akin to abusing their ‘rights’ to have their own beliefs and value systems.

    It basically comes down to a decision. Do you believe you have the right to enforce your value systems on people who have not subscribed to a pre-agreed system of rules?

    If so, do you have a system to regulate this enforcement?
    Are there sufficient checks and balances to prevent outright predjudice and imperialism?
    When i comes to a situation akin to Iraq…what are the parameters with which we measure justifying invading another country? On whose behalf are we doing it? How is this determined, and by whom?

    What happens afterwards? Who is in charge?

    The United Nations is the club allegedly in charge of issues like this. Decisions were being made as to what to do about the situation in Iraq. Certain countries decided not to wait any longer, which is where the system falls over. If you don’t follow the rules of the rights system you’ve set up, there have to be punitive measures against those who act without any formal agreement. If countries like USA and their cohorts can just make decisions to take military action against other countries without any risk of punitive action, the invasion itself is a huge act of hypocrisy. Where did the rights of the people of Iraq go? Who gave the allied forces the legal right to invade another country? If they didnt have a legal right, shouldn’t there be sanctions and punishments according the the system of global government that that they themselves claim to use to police the rights of their own people?

    That might be a bit rambly, but its Friday afternoon y’know…

  9. Darkentries –

    “It basically comes down to a decision. Do you believe you have the right to enforce your value systems on people who have not subscribed to a pre-agreed system of rules?”

    I want to argue that in some cases, yes. Which brings us to my questions, and they are similar to the questions that you listed. But the basic question being:

    Assuming that we, as a society, have a moral obligation to intervene in the face of human rights violations; how do we decide which violations are worthy of intervention (specifically military intervention)?

    If the United Nations does not act to intervene in human rights cases then we still must intervene. It is our moral obligation to do so. But again, the question is: how do we decide which cases are worthy of intervention?

    There are a couple of points to argue here. You could argue that we do not have a moral obligation to intervene in cases of human rights violations. Or you could argue that we do have the moral obligation. If you are in agreement with the latter, then we are on the same boat. And my questions still stand. If you are in agreement with the former, then we need to hash that issue out.

  10. Human rights don’t exist and the pretense that they do is probably the most harmful trend in ethical thought in the last fifty years. Pretending that rights are real provides an excuse not to act morally. It allows us to forget that rights are not breached except when we allow them to be. Rights only exist in so far as we protect them.

    Have you heard of cosmopolitanism? It’s a theory of individual rights in the context of groups (and more!). Mary Kaldor’s written about it quite a lot. There’s a paper here, which you might find interesting.

  11. First, thank you for this post. It’s made me consider things that I, sadly, have taken for granted for most of my life. I’m open to correction on any of the following because it’s mostly going to amount to thinking out loud.

    When we talk about rights, what we’re really talking about is law. It is my opinion that we must first consider ourselves within nature, before we can consider ourselves within any higher level organizational structure.

    Often we state that we have the right to be alive – presumably because we are already alive and we feel that this state shouldn’t be unnecessarily interrupted. I believe this is false. Just as the gazelle has the right to be alive, the lion has the right to eat in order to maintain it’s own life. Which, then, is more important? The right of the gazelle or the right of the lion? You must logically conclude that there are no inherent rights within nature. As we are a creature within nature, the same must also apply to us. The idea of rights comes about only when dealing with ourselves.

    We are, essentially, no different from the lion – we seek to maintain our lives, increase our ownership of things and/or property (just as the lion increases his females and children), to defend these things, and to dominate others in order to get more. Only because we have the capability to reason, apply logic to any given situation, and, possibly most importantly, empathize with others, do we rise above this basic nature.

    Suddenly we are able to think from the gazelles perspective – how it would feel to be frightened, how it would hurt when we were caught – and now we are morally offended. Suddenly we’re able to realize that the domination of a certain race is morally offensive. Suddenly we understand that killing another person is wrong because we, ourselves, wouldn’t like to be killed. Thus we grant each human a certain number of inherent rights, just for being born. These rights are artificial – they only exist as long as they are recognized.

    To enforce this on another country, then, is really the enforcement of law. By what right do we have to enforce our law on other people? The answer is, of course, that we have no such right. We attempt to appeal to moral and emotional arguments, but the fact of the matter is that we have no right to enforce our law on others.

    Now if a group of people get together to discuss a situation, they may agree that by the rule of the majority, they may take action. This is a temporarily assigned right, given by a body that is designated to make such decisions , but we do *not* – as most Americans assume – have the inherent right to simply enforce our law through out the world on some self righteous crusade to Democratize and Christianize the world.

    Wow, that was long. Sorry.

  12. I think my instincts say, yes, we have a moral obligation to intervene in some situations. But, then I think, well, how do we decide what warrants action. Who decides?
    Its a total minefield. Nobody is ever going to agree, but I think there needs to be more discussion and more work towards actually figuring this shit out, because letting one nation decide what is right and moral s just, well, insane.
    Democracy is riddled with flaws, and the way it is carried out is awful, but it does provide some level of accountability, even if it is retroactive.

    There is no way to find answers to questions like this, just ways of figuring out what the least awful solution is, and at least getting as many people as possible to have a voice.

    There is only really an ethical problem when a country like the US invades a country like Iraq to ‘liberate’ its citizens and to stop perceived danger to the global community. What I find the most hypocritical is that countries like China, commit equally atrocious acts, if not more so, but because they are powerful, populous and necessary for healthy trading figures, nothing is done.
    How is that ethical? Virtually no pressure is brought to bear on China simply because the US and the rest of the rich western nations make too much profit from China. That and they can’t risk a war with China because in all likelihood they would lose.

  13. Thank you guys for commenting, it helps to work through these questions as a group. So, it appears that we are all in agreement that ‘rights’ do not exist in the sense that they are objects apart from human reasoning. They are purely constructs of the human consciousness.

    Velinn –

    “It is my opinion that we must first consider ourselves within nature, before we can consider ourselves within any higher level organizational structure.”

    I like to view things in a similar vein. It makes sense to me. I can’t write a philosophical treatise on it, there are a lot of arguments against this kind of thought. But one of my dirty philosophical secrets is that I go through a similar thought process and then change the terms, yay semantics. And really, it appears to me that we have all ended up with the same point:

    “These rights are artificial – they only exist as long as they are recognized.”

    or some variant of it.

    Darkentries said:

    “I think my instincts say, yes, we have a moral obligation to intervene in some situations.”

    And my instincts say the same thing. Velinn states:

    “Now if a group of people get together to discuss a situation, they may agree that by the rule of the majority, they may take action.”

    Experimental Chimp – you are silent of this, how very pc of you. I am going to read the article you linked after I post this and add my thoughts on it to the discussion. But I do not know if you agree or disagree with the proposition that there are situations which require military intervention.

    Here is the rub, if we are going to agree that

    One group’s (or societies) moral concepts should not be forced onto another groups without sufficient cause.

    Then we have to define sufficient cause. And that brings us to talking about rights. Because ‘rights language’ is the language we have traditionally used.

    Bear with me for a short aside here.

    “Nobody is ever going to agree, but I think there needs to be more discussion and more work towards actually figuring this shit out, because letting one nation decide what is right and moral is just, well, insane.”

    I agree and I hope that we do not loose interest in this conversation. It is important to have, not just as some sort of mental masturbation. It is important that we have conversations like this with friends, family, anonymous fellow bloggers and – most importantly – our children so that we can begin to focus on the foundational questions of our moral systems. So much of popular media focuses on auxiliary crap. If anyone reading this is discouraged because there does not seem to be an answer, please remember as Montaigne so poignantly stated:

    “The excitement of the chase is properly our quarry; we are not to be pardoned if we carry it on badly or foolishly. To fail to seize the prey is a different matter. We are born to search after the truth; to possess it belongs to a greater power.”

    So with the pep talk out of the way, where was I?

    Ah yes, one group’s (or societies) moral concepts should not be forced onto another groups without sufficient cause. How to judge sufficient cause?

    I agree that the concept of rights is flawed (for the reasons we all have listed). But I want to make it work. I want to do this not only because the language of rights is so ingrained in our sense of self; but also because there is something that ‘feels’ right about the statement:

    “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

    But this is hard; because…

    “It allows us to forget that rights are not breached except when we allow them to be. Rights only exist in so far as we protect them.” – Experimental Chimp


    “When we talk about rights, what we’re really talking about is law….This is a temporarily assigned right, given by a body that is designated to make such decisions…” – Velinn


    “There is only really an ethical problem when a country like the US invades a country like Iraq to ‘liberate’ its citizens and to stop perceived danger to the global community.” – Dark Entries

    And for me, there are two glaring problems with ‘rights language’.

    First, It is used by people to invoke an absolute entitlement. You have all touched at this in your examples. When we talk about rights, they are absolutes. And this shuts down reasoned argument. It is akin to saying, well God is real because the Bible says so. And the Bible is reliable because it was ordained by God. You can’t really argue with that type of thought process. I am not found of moral talk that is absolute.

    Second, ‘Rights language’ puts the focus of moral debate on whether or not a moral agent is entitled to something. I have the intuition that morality is more about responsibilities to our fellow humans than it is about something I am entitled to.

    But, dammit, we need to come up with something that helps us judge the standard of ‘sufficient cause’. And, again, there is something that ‘feels’ right about:

    “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

    So, if I am to save the concept of rights, then I need to address the problems that I listed above (the last set of quotes from you guys) as well as the two issues that I listed – some of these overlap.

    And it may be that there are better ways to talk about what determines ‘sufficient cause’. I just cannot think of any. Which is why this medium is so nice. Maybe one of you can, or someone might stumble upon here with an idea, or we might figure it out together. And then the world will be all red wine and chocolate. No beer.

    I am off to read the article that experimental chimp linked. Thank you guys, again.

  14. The word we might be struggling with here could possibly be Ethics. Most people tend to use ethics and morality interchangeably, and yes they do have quite a bit of overlap, but to me ethics implies a well thought out intellectual argument, whereas morality tends to be based in emotion and is subject to knee-jerk reactions and pride. I’m thinking along the lines of deontological ethics, but then I’m a fan of Kant.

    Let me quote from Wikipedia, rather than try to explain it all and screw it up:

    “In his theory, Kant claimed that various actions are morally wrong if they are inconsistent with the status of a person as a free and rational being, and that, conversely, acts that further the status of people as free and rational beings are morally right. Therefore, Kant claimed, we all have a duty to avoid the first type of act and perform the second type of act.”

    And if we are speaking of “peace by force”, we have to look at Kamm:

    “Kamm’s Principle of Permissible Harm has attracted the most recent attention, and is an effort to derive a deontological constraint which coheres with our considered case judgments while also relying heavily on Kant’s Categorical Imperative. The Principle states that one may harm in order to save more if and only if the harm is an effect or an aspect of the greater good itself. This Principle is meant to address what Kamm feels are most people’s considered case judgments, many of which involve deontological intutions. For instance, Kamm argues that we believe it would be impermissible to kill one person to harvest his organs in order to save the lives of 5 others. Yet we think it is morally permissible to divert a runaway trolley that would kill 5 innocent and immobile people onto a side track where 1 innocent and immobile person will be killed.”

    So what the hell does all that mean?

    If we are to agree that in some cases intervention from an outside party is necessary and that humans have no inherent rights there still must be some standard by which to judge whether intervention is just. Kant states that a person should be a “free and rational being”. Freedom here doesn’t refer to freedom as in the constitutional freedoms we enjoy in America. Freedom here implies an intellectual freedom; free from oppressive religion and/or nationalist dogma, for example. Krimm then sets up the idea that harming a few for the sake of many can still be morally right, even if it technically breaks Kant’s initial theory.

    So all this sets up a foundation by which all people are on equal grounds, without the necessity of inherent rights. It also allows for intervention if necessary. I’m not sure where to go from here, possibly a shift into normative ethics where the norms of various countries or regions could be analyzed to determine whether or not what we, in our very different culture, deem as immoral is consistent with their culture.

    For example, my aunt is married to a man who is Muslim. He never forced it on her and allowed her to maintain her Catholic belief system, but over the years she ended up converting to Islam. When I questioned her about wearing a hijab out of curiosity, she rationally explained to me that it something that God has asked her to do, and she does it willingly out of respect. Yet, American feminists have a field day with the subject of women covering their heads. My take is that what she does is none of my business; she is not coerced, she does it because she believes it is what is asked of her by God. To argue that is to enforce my will upon hers and this violates Kant’s theory – I am depriving her, even if momentarily, from being a free and rational being.

  15. Dammit, why do these conversation always wind up talking about Kant? Just kidding, he obviously had something to say – otherwise his ethical theory would not have been so freaking popular. Oh and I have been using ethics and morality interchangeably. I will stick to ethical theory and ethics (meaning moral theory and morals).

    I have two problems with using Kant’s Categorial Imperative as a foundation for any ethical theory, including the one that would guide a determination of ‘sufficient cause’.

    First, his theory is based on the concept of an autonomous rational will. For Kant, our ability to be rational presupposes that we understand ourselves to be free from restraints or obstacles external to our own will. He argues that there is an ‘internal law’, born of our own will, which we use when making ethical decisions. We are autonomous because we impose this ethical law on ourselves. And we owe ourselves moral (ethical) consideration because we are autonomous. Abstracting from this we get the second formulation of the categorical imperative, which argues that autonomy is something enjoyed by all humans; therefore, we owe all other people the same ethical consideration that we owe ourselves.

    His theory views the self as rational. It leaves no room for considerations of emotion and passion in ethical judgments. There are cultures who preference emotion. In fact, the view of the self as rational is a fairly new one. It is not a given. For me, the part of my ‘self’ that tells me a given behavior is wrong has emotional foundations. Empathy is an emotional component of ethical considerations, not a rational one. Ethical decisions are made with attachments to others in mind. All things being equal, it is ‘right’ for us to preference the well-being of those we are close to more than a stranger. We need a theory that values humans as both passionate and rational if we are going to avoid forcing our ideals (in this case an inherent ‘rational autonomous self’) on others.

    Second, under Kant’s theory ethical obligation is grounded in hypothetical self-reflection. I don’t actually need to know much of anything about the question at hand. This is a self apart from knowledge. But we do not make decision that way. Further; when looking at Kant’s theory from this perspective, ethical obligations appear not to be imposed by an idealized self, not the big “S” self that he presupposes. His idea of self has a platonic ring.

    I have a problem with the idea of autonomy as a grounds for ethical theory above and beyond my problems with Kant. If we develop a concept of autonomy that does not include any values or normative orientation (i.e. Kant) then I find it difficult, if not impossible, to use that version of autonomy as a foundation for normative theory (ethical or moral theory). On the other hand, if we develop a conception of autonomy that includes normative or value orientation, then the ethical obligations imposed by any theory based on it are binding only on agents who have accepted and committed to those values.

    And Kamm does a reasonable job of defending a Kantian perspective, but it ultimately falls victim to the same arguments. Her ‘considered case judgments’ assume that all people have the same intuitions about ethical dilemmas and that rationality should trump emotion in ethical considerations.

    In considering your arguments something did come to mind. By definition, the determination of ‘sufficient cause’ is local (again, in both time and space). Universality is really only needed in the sense that the foundations of the ethical theory allow for the introduction of ‘impossibilities’ and for the change that they might warrant. Am I off-base with this?

    hm… Thank you for making me think.

  16. Kant schmant.
    I say we just nominate one person from each country and have a big King of the Ring wrestling match, and the winner is crowned Emperor of the world for a year.

  17. It’s so nice to find a group of people that can think. It’s a pleasure. Really.

    darkentries –

    I chucked when I read that. I imagined some huge Celebrity Deathmatch type thing with Cheney slipping weapons to Bush inside the ring. Haha.

    aikaterine –

    What I was attempting to do was form a foundation that establishes some “ground rules” for humans while avoiding “rights talk”. I agree that to soley use Kant as a basis for “sufficient cause” would be grossly incomplete. We can debate Kant all day long (and I have a feeling that would be an interesting debate) but if we throw that out we’re still left with nothing that levels the playing field, so to speak.

    I do like the idea of humans as rational beings, personally. We do, obviously, have an emotional component as well, but I think that basing action against another people out of an emotional state rather than a rational state is bad. Emotion is necessarily subjective. A morally repugnant act can become less so once we understand the complete situation, as in the Kamm example. There could be outrage that a train killed a person until you find out that act saved 5 others. Once you find that out you become less emotionally biased and more rationally objective and can reason that, while both endings are bad, one is less bad than the other. In my opinion rational objective thinking does trump emotional gut reactions, but I admit to bias here.

    If inherent rights are out, and Kant is out, then we need to find some other rational reason why we believe humans “deserve” something and by what threshold the lack of it requires outside action. Right now I can only think that we act out of an emotional bias towards our own culture; we think how we do things is correct and we wish to “enforce” this on others. This is also quite subjective as the people that we’re “helping” feel the same way – that their culture is the best – and will fight the invading force.

    There must be a better way.

  18. I have not forgotten about this post. I am reading something and will post on it tomorrow. yay!!

  19. Levinn –

    I think that I made the mistake of being too stubborn in my dislike of rationality. As it applies to this conversation, you may be right. And the article that experimental chimp linked to brings up some interesting points:

    “Kant envisaged a global system divided into states in which cosmopolitan right overrides the claims of sovereignty. This is usually interpreted as human rights. But an interesting aspect of the original Kantian position is the way in which he insisted that, as a condition for perpetual peace, cosmopolitan right could be confined to the right of hospitality. This can be interpreted as a plea for multiple identities. Strangers need to be treated as guests –politely but not as members of the family. Hospitality, surely, requires respect for human rights, but this is not the same as integration or homogenisation.”

    I don’t know about you but, as a starting point, this does not sound all that bad. She goes on to state:

    “Thus an alliance between the new globalist centre and the cosmoplitans implies a global ‘civilising process’. The aim is a rights-based system of global governance. And this implies a global social contract – a global civil society. Cosmopolitanism is often treated as a sentiment or moral standpoint. I want to suggest that it is, in fact, a political project, ….efforts aimed at conflict prevention or management should focus on a reversal of the ‘uncivilising process’, on the reconstruction of relations based on agreed rules and public authority. Above all, the centrepiece of any peace strategy has to be the restoration of legitimate authority. It has to counterpoise the strategy of ‘fear and hate’ with a strategy of ‘hearts and minds’. This kind of restoration of legitimate authority cannot mean a reversion to statist politics; it must imply multi-layered authority –global, regional, and local as well as national. It is impossible to revert to a bounded ‘civilising process’.”

    I like her focus on ‘hearts and minds’; thus, using language which acknowledges the role of both emotion and reason in the debate. And the common-sense notion that this implies ‘multi-layer authority’. After careful thought I have come to agree with you, Levinn, that rationality needs to play a central role. But we cannot ignore emotion all together. And I think that the Kantian idea of hospitality along with the use of ’emotional language’ in political talk might be enough.

    “First and foremost such an approach has to start by building a new form of cosmopolitan politics to counter the politics of exclusion.”

    This is music to my ears. If we could only just accomplish this, I think that questions like the one we are discussing would be infinitely easier to answer.

    She talks about a cosmopolitan law, applying to individuals, which contain Laws of War and Human Rights Laws. And, rightly so, places central priority on enforcement (which is what we are talking about on this post):

    “I have argued for a reconceptualisation of humanitarian intervention as cosmopolitan law enforcement. Understood in this way, humanitarian intervention has to involve the direct protection of civilians and the arrest of individual war criminals. Typically, the techniques of humanitarian intervention have to be defensive -the creation of safe zones, safe havens, no-fly zones, and humanitarian corridors- and cannot be confused with traditional war fighting. The aim is not to engage an enemy but to defend civilians –not to destroy or weaken enemy soldiers and infrastructure but to save lives.”

    Now this is something new. I am trying to visualize what wars would look like if our focus was on defending civilians – not engaging enemies. It shifts the whole perspective of fighting. She also states something interesting about justice.

    “Thirdly, a cosmopolitan approach requires global justice, that is respect for economic and social rights even in conflict zones. Indeed, if cosmopolitan politics is to counter the populist appeal of exclusive identity politics, it has to be able to address every day concerns. But this is not just a matter of global distribution, of, for example, the provision of humanitarian assistance, which in any case helps to feed the forces of violence. It is a matter of building legitimate sources of employment and of providing a way of living that is consistent with human dignity so that young men and women have a real alternative to becoming a criminal or living off humanitarian aid. In other words, it means the construction or reconstruction or a regulated market economy and this is inextricably linked to the rebuilding of legitimate authority with legitimate sources of revenue.”

    And here, I think, is where I agree with her the most. Distribution of resources is a fundamental issue.

    There is a lot more to the paper. And there are certainly areas that can be argued, specifically a vulnerability in her conception of the ‘new wars’ vs. ‘modern wars’. But, as an ethical system used in deciding when one group should interfere with another, there is something good in it. There is a lot missing, but it seems to me that she is touching on …empathy…maybe. I can’t put my finger on it. The idea of hospitality is one that is fairly consistent in all cultures. We treat our guests with respect and care. We don’t need to think about ‘rights’ in order to do that. I am sure that I am missing something. It’s too easy.

    My head hurts. I am going to think about this a little more tomorrow.

    But thank you, again, for making me think about this. And for helping me to be a little less extremist. If you have a minute tell me what you think. I am interested.

  20. Oh, I did want to say this. I can, under this system, envision pulling a large portion of troops out of Iraq. It seems reasonable to say that our moral obligation is to protect the lives of the citizens. It is most certainly not our obligation to ‘get rid of the terrorists’. Especially given all of the problems with defining who is and is not a terrorist.

  21. Wow. I like that a lot. I don’t think I’ve absorbed it all on just one reading, but in principle it sounds excellent.

    Of course the issue is implementation, which you touched on near the end of your post. Let me consider it a bit more. My initial reaction is that, like anarchy, it sounds great on paper but that it relies far too much on the concept of an inherent good will towards each other that doesn’t, and I don’t think ever can, exist. I like the idea so much that I don’t want to just poo-poo it off the cuff. Let me roll it around in my head for a bit before I make a real comment.

    Also I love how you summed up the role of the US in Iraq. You’re completely correct: If, in fact, the reason we went there was for the liberation of the people, which is a bit dubious but ok, then our duty to Iraq is to the citizens. The very first thing that needs to be done is to get the power on and the water running, if in fact, we’re there for the citizens – but they aren’t and haven’t been and it’s summer time in the middle of a desert. But you can make up your own mind about why we’re there and what our actions say since we’ve been there, my point in bringing it up is that I agree that wars should only be fought to empower citizens.

  22. Yeah, I never conceptualized it the way that Kaldor has. And I would love your opinion after you roll it around, however long it takes.

  23. Christ, I was going to say something else – but after spending the morning in our lovely passport office my brain is a little frozen.

    Iraq, I do not for a minute think that we went there for humanitarian reasons. If you really want to know what I think about Iraq read

    Which is my rant about the whole thing. But we are there now and we have turned these people’s world upside down. So, I think that we have some obligation.

  24. Not to get off topic (maybe I should say this in the linked post?) but I agree with your assessment of Iraq. Mostly. The only thing I take issue with is that we shouldn’t leave because we would be letting them down. I sort of touch on how I feel about that here:

    We didn’t want to leave Veitnam either, but they recovered. It reminds me of Gandhi telling England to just.. leave.

    Anyway, just a post to say I hadn’t forgotten, just have been distracted. I’ll get to it, I promise.

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