Archive for May 11th, 2006

Spring lassitude

Sometimes I think the high energy of the spring-time season initiates periods of lassitude. That was me today. Still, I managed to encounter this, by Daniel Bell, that I excerpted from his experiences teaching political theory in China:

Then the student from the party school raised questions about sovereignty. He noted the Chinese view that human rights should not have priority over sovereignty. I replied that human rights—or at least, the functional equivalent of human rights, whatever we want to call it—is what gives the point to sovereignty. Sovereignty only has moral value because it serves (usually) to protect the fundamental human rights of people in the state, and it loses its value once the state infringes upon, or fails to protect, those rights. I asked the student whether I, as a leader of a sovereign state, could kill millions of my people, then be justified in telling you not to intervene because you’d be trampling on my sovereignty. He agreed that I could not do so. I then asked him what moral value sovereignty could have if not its contribution to securing the fundamental rights of people in the state. He seemed genuinely puzzled, and then repeated out loud, to the whole class, “Mmm, what you’re saying is very different from what we’ve learned.�?

As a result of this discussion, he assigns the students a debate about whether you would advise your country’s leader to intervene in a genocide situation in a neighboring country that isn’t supported by the UN.

In the debate, the students raised an interesting argument not covered in the reading: namely, that most soldiers sign up to defend national interests, and it would be hard to justify putting their lives at risk in another country if the intervention does not benefit their own country in any way (in other words, the convergence of national and humanitarian interests makes the moral case for humanitarian intervention stronger, not weaker).

Now, Bell doesn’t link this idea to what our current administration has done, so we must (wearing our critical thinking hat suggested by yesterday’s entry)…indeed, how can we justify continuing to send our soldiers to the Middle East to face IEDs in wars (yes, there’s more than one; remember Afghanistan?) we cannot win. Indeed, is there a winnable war in today’s world? I’m not a diligent student of world current events, but I seem to hear about many unresolved conflicts (including ones the US does not have soldiers participating in) and no wars that have been won/lost.