Tue Apr 5th, 2011 at 05:46:41 AM EST
A few days ago Frank Schnittger posted a very interesting diary on Samantha Power, the Monster, and the Libyan Intervention, inviting a discussion on what I think are fundamental questions and problems in liberal thought and political philosophy in the context of the Libyan Intervention. Later in that diary, ceebs posted another quite interesting discussion of the origins and evolution of the idea of military humanitarian interventionism from the Adam Curtis Blog, Goodies and Baddies.
However, the diary got hijacked by a discussion of DPU ammunition without really addressing the matters initially presented for discussion. So, round 2!
front-paged by afew
In particular, I would like to bring up the fundamental issues of political philosophy that are brought to light in this context, and the ways they seem to have irreconcilable conflicts. In this way, I hope to preempt the easy, cynical comments that have often arisen to this issue - "Oh, this is just Empire 2.0" and whatnot. It may be, but that's not the point I think is particularly interesting.
As I see it, this key issue at the heart of this issue is human rights. The idea of human rights is a core part of the basic political philosophies built into Liberal Democracy, and it is the extension of this idea of human rights to the world as a whole that is at the heart of the Liberal Interventionist argument. Namely, that all people in the world have basic human rights, and that when these rights are violated, some sort of criminal action is taking place. Thus the idea of War Crimes.
The problem with rights is that if they are not enforced they do not exist. So, if the human rights of <insert oppressed group here, or X> are being violated, and those who violate them are not taken to account in some way, then it exposes the idea as a sham.
So, given that the rights of X are being violated, by-standers in powerful country A have a couple choices.
- Stand by and do nothing, showing clearly their indifference to the violation of X's rights. For many, indifference of this sort is tantamount to support for the violation, along the lines of being accessory to a crime. If you see someone committing a crime, and do not stop them, then you too are guilty, at least a little, of that crime.
- Try to help those suffering, and use non-violent methods to try and stop the violations of human rights. This is the response of the Doctors without Borders group, I gather. But while a band-aid is better than nothing, it's not going to stop a massacre. And while diplomatic pressure may stop large states from engaging in full-scale war, it has repeatedly proven ineffective in stopping local militias from using small arms and machetes to commit horrible atrocities.
- Use military force to stop the atrocities, or to punish the guilty.
All three options are obviously problematic. 1 and 2 both seriously question one's commitment to the notion of human rights, as they are incapable of either stopping atrocity or of bringing those responsible to justice.
3 brings up an entirely different sort of philosophical conflict, though - human rights versus self-determination (or anti-imperialism), and human rights versus pacifism.
Namely, does anyone have the right to judge the actions of a group or sovereign entity to which one has no direct connection? Do they not have the right to determine their own actions and behaviors, without judgment from the outside? If so, then what right do liberal do-gooders in rich, peaceful societies have to question whats going on in the rest of the world? Further, how is such interference any different from Imperialism?
On the other hand, if one does not believe in the use of violence or force in any context, or believes that all violent deaths are the same no matter who the perpetrator, or will not countenance the use of violence to stop other acts of violence, than the idea of a military intervention over human rights is obviously unacceptable.
From the other side, a strong supporter of human rights can very easily come around to supporting Global Empire, and though not particularly popular at the moment I can imagine the outlines of a very coherent and well-argued case for the issue, so long as one is not particularly worried about either self-determination or non-violence.
Now, if someone can come up with a coherent way to blend these three basic liberal beliefs - human rights, self-determination, and non-violence - in a manner that actually works, I'll be very impressed. But I really don't think it's possible, as the notion of human rights has a clear statement of value at its core, while self-determination and non-violence both seem to be positions of moral-relativism. As such, there is an inherent and un-resolvable conflict at a very basic level. I think that a lot of the moral confusion over events like the Libya intervention stems from this conflict between incompatible political beliefs, and that further this incompatibility is the equivalent of an oozing wound on the side of liberal philosophy in general, one that saps its supporters of the energy and will necessary to make strong arguments and win debates in the public arena as a whole.
But maybe I'm missing something. Any thoughts?