Friday, September 28, 2018

Nationalism 009: Securing Basic Rights

In my previous post I discussed David Miller's defense of national sovereignty, which covered the nation's rights of jurisdictional control and control of resources within, as well as a right to control the movement of people across, national boundaries.

Miller defended these rights as a matter of people controlling the economic and cultural values that tie them to the land in a particular region.

Using the Confederacy as an example, I argued that there are limits to the controls that one can justifiably place on others in order to preserve a given "way of life". It can't justify slavery, and it is questionable whether it can justify the right to impose criminal penalties and control the movement of people. These cultural values may count as one reason among many for certain principles and institutions, but it it must be weighed against - and does not automatically trump - rights to liberty.

Chris Armstrong, in contrast, accepts Miller's claims that these attachments to the land generate certain rights - but not necessarily a right to state sovereignty. (Armstrong, Chris (2014). "Against 'Permanent Sovereignty" Over Natural Resources", Politics, Philosophy, and Economics pp 1-23.

He argues that, in some cases, the rights of people cross national borders. As an example, he points to the Saami people in northern Europe. Their cultural traditions involve the managing of reindeer herds as they migrate across the far north. Their cultural traditions carry them across four nations - Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Preserving their way of life does not allow any of these countries, individually, to claim exclusive resource sovereignty over the reindeer herds. Rather, it would seem to require that they release sovereignty to the Saami people, giving them the right to cross national borders with impunity.

Another example of how cultural values can cross national borders involves, "a Canadian Hindu wishing to perform puja at the Ganges." Preserving this interest would prohibit, rather than permit, India from controlling who can cross its borders. We may say the same of Saudi Arabia attempting to ban Muslims from performing the Hajj - a pilgrimage to the holy sights within its national borders.

At the same time, many of these cultural values involve a few people in a community and does not require control over all of its natural resources. Within any nation-state, there may well be supplies of natural resources that have no cultural or social significance whatsoever - other than to provide a source of income. If this is all that it is being used for, then it may make more sense to use that income to secure the cultural rights of people living in a different country.

The Lockean Proviso states that a right to own property is limited by the proviso of leaving "as good and as much for others". A standard case used to illustrate this proviso is that of a person who claims property in the only source of water for a community. His control over the water would allow him to virtually enslave everybody else in the community. Since his claim does not leave as good and as much for others, others are left with a claim to some of that water. The agent does not have exclusive rights over its distribution.

We may apply this principle to nations. Assume a particular nation is the sole source of a particular resource. Indeed, we may assume that the question of national ownership of a resource would not even come up if there was as much and as good left for others. The very fact that people are asking questions comes from the fact that there are those who do not have as much and as good. In order for the people in one country to pursue their cultural values, they may have a need for this resource that is within another nation's boundaries. Cultural values, then, would provide a poor justification for the other country having exclusive ownership and control over those resources.

More specifically, a people cannot pursue their cultural values in any sense if they do not have nourishing food, clean water, sanitation, and basic medical care. Even if the resources within another country does not serve their cultural values directly, it could provide them with the income to acquire these basic goods that are necessary for enjoying any cultural values - with perhaps a few exceptions. Considering these basic needs and the ability to satisfy them with income produced by the sale of nearly any natural resource, the "ability to pursue one's cultural values" argument would imply giving them the revenue from the sale of surplus resources in another country.

In short, even if we grant that cultural values are a reason for action, they are not necessarily a reason for preserving the doctrine of natural sovereignty over resources. In many cases, they provide a reason for abandoning the doctrine of national sovereignty, allowing the people in one nation to obtain the benefits of natural resources in another country precisely so that they can better secure and engage in the practices that are common to their culture.

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