Saturday, September 01, 2018

Nationalism 001: Goodin: Fellow Citizens

Goodin, Robert E. (1988). "What is so special about our fellow countrymen?" Ethics 98 (4):663-686.

Goodin argues for a certain brand of globalism.

By the way, globalism does not deny the existence or even the value of nations. It simply denies a certain set of moral claims regarding these entities. In the same way, nationalism does not deny the existence or even the value of states, counties, and cities as important political districts. They have a certain utility. It simply denies that there is any reason to give nations a particularly high moral status, and to build certain rights and duties into them.

Goodin's thesis as expressed in this article is consistent with this view.

On Goodin's account, specific duties are the result of assignments of certain general duties.

He uses an example of somebody who is drowning in the ocean off of a beach that has a few hundred people enjoying their weekend. There is a general duty to rescue this person.

If everybody tries to rescue this person at once - everybody were to jump off of the beach and rush out into the sea to save this person - not only would this person likely drown, but so would many of the would-be rescuers. The situation will be made much worse.

On the other hand, if nobody rescues the poor swimmer, she drowns - when she could have very easily been saved.

The smart thing to do is to assign somebody - the best and strongest swimmer - with the task of watching for drowning swimmers and, upon finding one, to rescue the poor unfortunate individual. This way the drowning person gets rescued, and we avoid the catastrophic results of having 200 would-be rescuers rushing into the ocean.

Goodin doesn't make this specific point, but I think it is useful in illustrating his thesis.

For exactly the same kind of reasons that are used to assign the task of lifeguard to the best and strongest swimmers, the same types of reasons suggest some criteria for assigning different life guards responsibility for different sections of the beach. If a section of the beach is particularly crowded, then perhaps we should make the sections assigned to each lifeguard smaller. If there is a rock formation jutting out into the ocean that blocks the view, then it would be useful to draw the boundary between assigned sections down the middle of those rocks.

These additional rules have the effect of assigning specific beach-goers to specific lifeguards. Each beach-goer will know which lifeguard has the responsibility of rescuing her if she should get in trouble in the ocean.

On Goodin's account, these same types of principles determine the assignment of citizens to nations. This should be done in such a way that each nation has the capacity to take care of the citizens assigned to it.

In the case of nations, Goodin draws the conclusion:

Special responsibilities are . . . assigned merely as an administrative device for discharging our general duties more efficiently. If that is the aim, then they should be assigned to agents capable of discharging them effectively; and that, in turn, means that sufficient resources ought to have been given to every such state agent to allow for the effective discharge of those responsibilities. If there has been a misallocation of some sort, so that some states have been assigned care of many more people than they have been assigned resources to care for them, then a reallocation is called for.

In short, wealthy nations have an obligation to give assistance in poorer nations in taking care of the people assigned to them.

One may want to think of this as a utilitarian argument - we make this arrangement because it produces the best consequences. However, the way Goodin presents the case, it is more deontological than utilitarian. A utilitarian would say that, if it is more bother to rescue somebody than the benefit one can get from it (e.g., to recuse a handicapped swimmer who will not be a net benefit to society), then let her drown. Goodin speaks more of a deontological right to be rescued that each person has, regardless of that person's capacity to contribute.

Recall that desirism allows for the possibility of difficult moral questions. The right act is the act that a person with good desires and lacking bad desires would have performed in this circumstance.

Desirism, I would argue, would endorse the general concern for others expressed in this deontological right. It would recognize the means-ends utility of a particular set of rules for assigning beach-goers to lifeguards. It would recognize a type of territorialism that would get in the way of implementing such a solution as a "bad desire," so it is a desire that would not prevent a good person from endorsing this proposal. Consequently, the proposal has merits.

Unfortunately, these merits presuppose globalism - it does not prove globalism. If Goodin's task is defend his principles on the basis if it conforming to our moral intuitions - as it seems to be. Then, the fact that he has failed to account for our nationalistic intuitions (which, I agree, exist, because they have been taught and learned, though they ought not to have been), then he would need to either accept nationalistic intuitions as evidence against his thesis, or give us a reason as to why he does not consider them to be objections. Without that, he has no argument against nationalism.

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