Monday, July 17, 2006

Ramble On

Ohmygod. It’s a real post. Or a sort of real post. Okay, it might be a real post, depending on how long I decide to keep writing. It’s Saturday night here in Swansea as I write this. I’m tired—physically, not really ready for sleep—full on some, frankly rather bad, Chinese take-away, clean again after spending a long day out in the sun, and starting to feel just a bit warm from the now mostly-empty glass of Jameson’s sitting on the table in front of me.

Missy and I spent the day today hiking in the Gower Peninsula, which, as all the guidebooks loudly proclaim—okay, not loudly; they’re guidebooks, so they don’t do anything loudly, I suppose—Gower was the first area in the UK to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It pretty much deserves the title, as well. The views from the Rhossili Downs are breathtaking. I’ll post some pictures as soon as I get around to downloading and sorting through them. The hike itself—a five-mile circuit from the 14th C church in the town of Rhossili—was just what I’d always pictured a hike through the Welsh countryside to be like. Rolling hills covered in heather, with paths that cut across pastures, sheep everywhere you look, ruined stone farmhouses, and cows and horses—and did I mention sheep?—standing right on the trail. Even the ruins of the WWII radar station (which, given its state of disrepair, was either the worst-built structure in the history of British building, or was, like so much else on these islands, bombed to near-oblivion by the Luftwaffe) where we ate lunch had its own charm. The only thing missing were the castles; Gower has a number of them, but they weren’t on our particular circuit. Oh, and Arthur’s Stone. That’s King Arthur. You know, I’d always thought growing up that the King Arthur legends were based on a first-century Briton who resisted the Romans. That’s not actually true, though. They were based on a Briton (who by then had been pushed into what is now Wales) who resisted the Saxons. Yes, King Arthur was Welsh. As was Merlin (based on one John Myrrdin), who lived, as it happens, not far from Swansea.

But I digress. I don’t think that anyone reads this blog to hear about my travels. Actually, as slack as I’ve been lately, I probably could have safely left the last five words of that last sentence. Those of you still around are here to read my musings on various topics in political philosophy. Since I’m ostensibly in Wales to work on my book on just war theory, I suppose that I should say something about it here.

My general topic—and this will come as a great surprise, I’m sure—is to offer a rule-utilitarian argument for just war theory. Why? Well, the flip answer is that since rule-utilitarianism is the correct account of morality, someone ought to use it to ground just war theory. Since no one any better has gotten around to it, it’s all me. The more serious answer is that I think that rule-utilitarianism will ultimately help us to walk a particular sort of line in the way that we want to walk it. That line is the one between humanitarian intervention and preventive war. The problem that I’ve encountered in my readings on the two topics is that arguments justifying humanitarian intervention tend to open the door for prevention. On the flip side, arguments that restrict prevention usually have the effect of limiting humanitarian intervention. I, however, want to have my cake and eat it too.

Here’s the more specific problem. JWT—at least in the contemporary, post-Westphalian legalist version that I prefer—takes aggression to be the central crime of war. But building a theory of jus ad bellum around aggression requires some kind of understanding of state sovereignty. And here’s where the two strands of the legalist tradition part ways. Some theorists (Michael Walzer is the paradigm example) argue for a pretty wide conception of sovereignty. Walzer claims that there is usually a certain fit between states and their citizens and that outsiders must not interfere with the political communities of others. Other theorists—David Luban and Henry Shue are prominent examples—argue that sovereignty can attach only to states that are at least minimally legitimate, with legitimacy being conferred only on those states that provide at least a basic level of protection of basic rights. The divide here rather nicely parallels Jacob Levy’s distinction between pluralists and rationalists, with Walzer embodying the former and Luban and Shue the latter.

Like Levy, I think that both rationalism and pluralism are important strands of liberalism. And like Levy, I think that the two are, by and large, in tension with one another, such that a commitment to one in some ways precludes a commitment to the other. In international relations, this is particularly unfortunate. Pluralist arguments are necessary to secure peace; indeed, recognizing the importance of pluralism is important to combating neocolonialism. After all, if only morally legitimate states possess sovereignty, then invading such states on the grounds of bringing liberal democracy—the best system we have right now for protecting human rights—seems perfectly legitimate. We all see how well that worked out in the 19th century. On the other hand, purely pluralist arguments have difficulty with things like genocide: why isn’t the wholesale slaughter of Tutsis by Hutus just another instance of a “fit” between a state and its people?

It seems to me, then, that we need both rationalist and pluralist arguments. Pluralism limits the number of preventative wars, the number of wars fought to “civilize and democratize the barbarians” while rationalism offers some justification for intervening when states really do become barbaric, engaging in wholesale slaughter of their citizens. What’s needed, however, is a way of combining the two responses. Here deontological arguments for the two positions (the normal method for grounding both liberty-as-tolerance pluralists and the liberty-as-autonomy rationalists) reveal their fundamental weakness, namely, that the main objections to both rationalism and pluralism in international affairs are consequentialist objections. Thus the need for a consequentialist justification. Why rule-utilitarian, then? Well, all the usual reasons for preferring rule-based over act-based accounts, the biggest, in the international arena, being the need to form reasonable expectations about what other nations will do.

Anyway, that’s the basic outline. Chapter 1, which I hope to finish up this week, sets up the tension and argues for rule-utilitarianism as a solution. Chapter two, which will be written this fall as my students and I work on contemporary moral theory, lays out my conception of rule-utilitarianism and then connects it to JWT. Chapters three through five will look at the cases for prevention and humanitarian intervention more closely, linking both to my rule-utilitarian just war theory.

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