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The problem of inconsistency has always plagued the idea of rights, but without some such doctrine it becomes very, very difficult to make arguments in favor of any sort of checks and balances in a democracy - or even in favor of democracy at all.  Notions of rights do not mix well with utilitarianism at all, and one can make all kinds of rather nasty utilitarian arguments in favor of non-democratic systems.

However, I think it's important to come up with a vaguely coherent statement of value as part of any political project, and right now the obvious and glaring conflicts at the heart of the modern liberal program have rendered it incoherent on issues of foreign policy.  Incoherence and a lack of principle make it impossible to advocate with any force for . . . well . . . anything.

You mention that anarchists would place human rights above all, and I think I can agree with that basic position.  However, in doing that anarchists also reserve for themselves the basic right of self protection, through violence if necessary.  After all, a radical construction of human rights which includes absolute human freedom by necessity rejects any restraints on one's ability to do violence to others, and thus any violation of the freedoms of another could be met with lethal violence.  Endless spiral of chaos, anyone?

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.

So, is your opposition to European domination of North Africa entirely practical/utilitarian in nature?  If the Italians, Spanish, or French could go in and sort things out with a new Imperial settlement, that would be okay?  The principles of self-determination have no sway with you at all?  In all likelihood a re-conquest scenario is not very probable or realistic, but to say that is just skirt the philosophical issue entirely.

What I mean is, if one is going to have any sort of program or goal in mind beyond "do whatever seems like the best idea at the moment," then one needs to coherent explain and defend that position.  If one is comfortable with "do whatever seems like the best idea at the moment," than any principle-based denunciations or attacks on the Western intervention are nothing but hot air.  In my opinion, that includes cynically dismissive statements along the lines of, "it's empire 2.0" or "blood for oil" and whatnot - because if everything is about contingency and the moment, than what on Earth is wrong with that?  Where is the basis for criticizing those objectives?

by Zwackus on Sat Apr 2nd, 2011 at 02:23:06 PM EST
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