Thursday, September 01, 2011

Limits to State Sovereignty

On the question of allowing different states to experiment with their own regulations, which I covered in my last post on Rick Perry's Anti-Federalism, Kristopher wrote:

The inefficiency aside, there are some things that are so important that they can not be left to each state to handle differently, slavery being one example.

This is true.

But, I gave a question.

Are there things so important that they can not be left to each NATION - like slavery? In other words, are there arguments for a federal prohibition on slavery - that would justify calling in the federal army against those states that ignored that prohibition that does not also justify attacking another nation?

I am an advocate of humanitarian wars. I have argued that relations between nations ought to be governed by the same principles as relations between households. What this means is that I and others in the community owe you a great deal of latitude in how you run your household. However, when those actions cross the line into abuse, then neighbors - acting through community institutions - have a right and a duty to take action against that abuse.

This justifies a federal stand against slavery imposed on all the states. But it also justifies joint international action against tyrannical regimes such as those in Libya and Syria, where the murder and abuse of citizens is ongoing.

A common objection to this stand is to argue that this would argue for sending armies into countries all over the world. However, these principles do not, in fact, imply that we act imprudently. We have limited resources and, as with all limited resources, we should apply them where they do the most good.

Also, we have to admit that we do not always apply this principle justly. We permit injustices against dark skinned people living in a desert without oil, while taking an exceptional interest in the events in countries with oil.

However, there are those who argue that this means we should do nothing about abuses that occur in or near oil countries - that we should do nothing.

If a community was discovered to be inconsistent - allowing some parents to abuse their children with impunity while ending abuses in households where we have something to gain from the prosecution, the correct answer is not to allow abuse everywhere, but to treat more seriously those abuses we currently ignore.

While some of us can't know about every abusive, murderous regime on the planet, we can insist that those international agencies involved in identifying and ending these abuses take a more impartial view of the matter. Just as I do not know about every abusive parent in my community, but I can demand that community services not give special treatment to certain classes within the community.

Then comes the question of where we are going to draw the line on allowing different states to experiment. Is gay marriage one of those things where there should be a federal standard? Abortion? Physician-assisted suicide?

We are going to dispute the answers to these questions. That is a fact. I would argue that there should be a national standard - one that requires each state to recognize gay marriages, that protects a woman's right to refuse consent to the unwanted use of her body by another person, and . . . .

. . . and, on the question of physician assisted suicide, I have to say that the right answer depends on getting some data I do not yet have. This is one of the implications of being a moral realist. Moral facts are facts about the world to be discovered. They do not automatically appear in the mind perfectly formed and totally accurate.

So, even where there is a national standard to be adopted - a right answer - it may take some state experimentation to determine what that right answer is.


Mr K said...

My problem with this kind of principled intervention you believe in is that it means you stand alongside the people who are only thinking strategically. Such motives were leveraged to support the invasion of Iraq, yet its clear that those doing the planning had no real idea of what an intervention would look like. It turned out to look like most modern wars: an utter destruction of the opponents ability to wage war, incidentally utterly destroying the nations ability to function as such, and leading to the chaos that reigned in that nation for a very long time.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Technically, this is like arguing that there should be no laws against rape because some people will make false accusations for personal reasons.

Yes, there will be states that will attempt to exploit such a system, just as there are people who exploit the criminal law.

For that reason, you introduce safeguards.

(1) No unilateral action (except for cases of immediate self-defense).

(2) A strong presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The burden of proof is on the accuser.

(3) An impartial body to hear the evidence and make the decision.

Bush’s action in Iraq failed all three of these tests. The Bush Administration put the burden of proof on Saddam Hussein. They presented their evidence to an impartial body – but that body rejected the evidence as being insufficient. At which time, they took unilateral action.

Kristopher said...

Mr K i see two arguments in your comment

1. you would be standing with people not acting from a moral intent. which is not relevant. if A does not kill C for moral reasons and B does not kill C for strategic reasons, this does not mean that A should kill C to avoid taking the same action as B.

2. assesing the war in Iraq on purely humanitarian grounds; it failed to create a better enviroment for the citizenry then the previous regime. (assuming this was true) we should therfore not get into wars for humanitarian reasons.

this doesn't work in the same way that the tragedy of waco texas does not mean we should prohibit any and all police action when laws are broken. it rather means we need to do a better job.

unfortunately helping other countries is a field that does not easily lend it self to study. there are so many variables and no control groups when building or disciplining nations. further exaserbated by the bias of the builder or discplinarian nation

but these are not reasons to quit, they are reasons to be careful. and multilateral co-operation is a good way to limit the bias of the disciplinarian nation.

Alonzo in your article you used the analogy of family abuse in a community and if i expand on that with finite rescources. it would look like this:

in the community there are 10 households wich we are reasonably sure have abusive parents. in five of these households the abuse is considered severe. due to resource constraints we can either try to, and completely fail to, help all 10. or we think we have the resource to help 3 but the methods at our disposal are unproven and the outcome of the intervention is difficult to judge. furthermore there is one household that the process of interveneing will potentially increase our resources in some way.

in your article i got the imprssion that you didnt want the potential of added resource to be part of the equation in a Just decision. but i dont think that it is unJust to prioritize based on the added resource, if you prioritize first on the severity of abuse and ability to rectify.

since we dont have the resources to make humanitarian war on every instnace of extreme injustice i think resource gain could be a helpful determining factor in who has the highest priority. if all other considerations are roughly equal

furthermore while it is true that america only tends to help countries with natural resources of value, we tend to use those rescources to help pay for the reconstruction and (in theory) punish theft of said resources. so it might not be an issue of what we get out of it (we are obviously not making a profit on Afghanistan, Libya, or Iraq as a nation) but invading those countries that are in the best position to fund their own recovery.

Bradley said...

There are alternatives other than waging war and doing nothing. War is very distructive, and there are likely to be more humane alternatives.

The safeguards you proposed are good ones. On number 3 I don't think we have anything like an impartial body to judge such matters. In criminal law we call up a jury and dismiss any members who have a real or perceived bias in the case. Judges are expected to recuse themselves from cases in which they have a personal interest.

In contrast to this we have the Security Council, where the most powerful countries get together and vote on whether or not an action is acceptible. Members are not expected to excuse themselves on the basis that they have some sort of national interest in the case other than seeing that justice prevail. So long as none of the permanent members object, the action is considered legitimate. Abstentions don't count as objections. I would point out here that the procedure seems considerably less favorable to the defendant, where a unanimous verdict is required for conviction.

Tristan Gall said...

"I am an advocate of humanitarian wars"

Has such a war ever been conducted?

Kristopher said...

kosovo and libya would seem to me to be examples. and maybe even the first gulf war to help kuwait. the government has many poeple doing many different things for many different reasons. there are portions of the government doing things for humanitarian reasons probably in every recent war. but i think the three above probably had a majority of the government decision makers thinking from the humanitarian angle