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Part of the problem is that there is no accepted hierarchy of rights and there is a tendency to conflate various types of rights. What we have is a cafeteria approach to rights, where the assortment selected on any given day can vary according to taste.

An anarchist might place individual human rights at the very top of the list. These must be preserved and cannot be violated. But this position is routinely rendered meaningless by rich and powerful elites being able to grab control of the state and use its powers against the rights of all who oppose the agenda of those elites. The favorite justification for so doing is to preserve "order", which, after some time, devolves into preserving a social order, and the political order through which that social order acts and the virtues of continuity and stability usually come to be emphasized.

The idea of self-determination seems largely derived from cultural and linguistic nationalism. Each ethnic group is entitled to select its own form of government. This is challenged by the de-facto intermixing of ethnicities within defined geographic locations and the lack of any standard for the sort of government that is suitable for a particular people or collection of peoples. Often the result is rule by the most determined and/or sophisticated user of some combination of violence and rhetoric, as in Libya.

Non-violence is great as a social goal, but weak as a guiding principle. It is, on its own, helpless against determined violence exercised without conscience. The best that can be achieved would seem to be to have as a goal a society in which there is the least level of violence possible. Post WWII Japan ranks high on this scale. But this was made possible by the existence of the USA as the military guarantor of Japan's independence and there are costs to that arrangement.  

When we allow the "principle" of self-determination and national sovereignty to trump the principle of universal human rights we set the stage for debacles such as the various genocides of the 20th century. So self determination and national sovereignty is supported most by those who fear they might have to violate the rights of their citizens in order to remain in power.

A state run in the interests of its elites, be they hereditary nobility or financial elites, and comes to value the institutions that serve their interests. Only fortuitously do their actions seem to conform to any collection of principles. An excellent discussion of this problem in terms of "the real" vs. "the ideal" is provided in E.H. Carr's The 20 Year Crisis.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Apr 2nd, 2011 at 11:08:24 AM EST

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