Friday, July 12, 2002

Robert Musil has written an unutterably goofy response to my points on the concept of sovereignty.

Why is it unutterably goofy? Well, for several key reasons:

1)He mixes up concepts of sovereignty and international law. Sovereignty predates international law and international bodies as they exist today, and the necessity of such treaties is due to the nature of the sovereignty of the nation-state. (or of any government- a tribal leader can be as sovereign as a president.) I wonder whether Musil even understand what the word "sovereign" means, and where a state derives its power from- the reason why I argued that "sovereignty exists" is because somebody has to, by definition, wield governmental power.

2) No, Robert, anarchists do not reject "all law"... they reject a state body, but most true Anarchists believe in radical democracy... government by consensus. In any case, he obviously missed why I cited anarchists- they are an example of a group of people who do not hold his "universal truths" to be "self-evident". No argument that reasonable people disagree with can be "self-evident". This is not some sort of radical PoMo argument (as Musil seems to imply)... it's simply an observation of reality as it exists. I can see how he'd make this mistake, though: anarchy is a tricky concept, and there's a difference between the concepts of anarchy-as-chaos and big "A" Anarchism.

3) He seems to think that I'm against the concept of human rights. Musil, nothing could be further from the truth, but rights don't exist in a vacuum. They are defined by society and protected by the state- that's one of the roles of the state that, if abrogated, can lead to the loss of its legitimacy, because the people will rebel against it. What those rights actually are varies from society to society and from state to state, of course, and other states are free to criticize if they feel that rights are not being adequately protected. (This is the foundation of the Marxian critique- they believe that economic equality is a human right, that liberal systems cannot provide it, and therefore should be overthrown. Even Marxists don't deny the idea of state sovereignty and the idea of legitimacy derived from the people, however).

Indeed, many of the "deals" I mentioned earlier have to do with states agreeing to certain ground rules in how they define and defend human rights in exchange for other goods (such as increased international prestige, increased popular support, or more tangible things like military aid and freer economic trade).

4) He tries to cite South Africa, yet it's a perfect example of the dealmaking I talked about. The UN boycotts were part of the deal that the U.N. members had made with each other to act collectively, and can easily be explained as "proxy" morality... it wasn't that the U.N. forbade South Africa from acting as it saw fit, but because it didn't believe that its members should encourage or aid South Africa in an act it found immoral by trading or associating with it (and therefore tacitly approving its behavior), it decided to require those members not to trade with South Africa. That wouldn't stop, say, Switzerland from trading with South Africa, and it certainly didn't affect South Africa's sovereignty within its own borders. South Africa ending Apartheid was, in the end, its own doing.

If Musil's argument were actually correct, the U.N. would have authorized forcible change in South Africa, and it knew that it had no authority to do so. (Nor did it in the informal traditions of the international system... one of the key precepts of that system is that what goes on within a state's own borders is its own business, although other nations are free to disassociate and/or condemn that state if they wish). He also attempts to argue that the U.N.'s exclusion of South Africa meant that South Africa wasn't legitimate. That, of course, wasn't true: it simply meant that the U.N. would not accept the membership of any country that engaged in Apartheid. Whether the language reflected that or not is immaterial- as I said earlier, legitimacy is derived from the subjects (or citizenry.) Nobody else gets to decide that, and that includes the U.N.

5) and finally, he does a little free-form ranting about how evil my position is. Ah, ad hominems. Musil, it isn't a normative statement, it's an empirical statement ("Ought implies Can"). I merely described how systems of power, sovereignty, and legitimacy work by definition- normative claims have nothing to do with empirical observation, and these concepts are hardly original to me: basis of modern international relations. (Yes, I tend towards a Neo-Realist analysis of I.R., mostly because the school of I.R. thought that Musil unknowingly advocates, Liberalism, failed so spectacularly with the League of Nations.) Normative questions only come into play when that state (and by extension that society) decide what they want to do with that power- and in some cases, they decide that liberal democracy is the safest, stablest, and most economically effective system, so they decide to switch to that system. (or social democracy, or the odd Asian free-economic-but-restrictive-social-systems such as those that exist in Singapore, or mixed monarchy/democracy systems such as the English one, or whatever.)

In the end, democracy shouldn't be defended because it is the only legitimate system... that's nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that. It was that sort of blindness that hamstrung and eventually destroyed the League. Democracy should be defended because it does the jobs of the state best- protecting the rights that the society deems important (as well as helping the society to determine which rights it deems important... a more important question than it seems when you get into the question of human rights vs. property rights), defending the subjects (or citizenry) of the state, promoting economic growth, ensuring domestic tranquility and stability, and best reflecting the wishes of the society. This is why democracy can't be imposed, however, but must grow from the desires of the people themselves... because if they don't grant a democratic government legitimacy, Robert, it doesn't matter how much you rant: it isn't legitimate.

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