January 22, 2012


Andrew Altman & Christoper Heath Wellman, A Liberal Theory of International Justice (Oxford & New York: Oxford U. Press, 2009) ("This book advances a theory of international justice. The theory is a liberal one in that it places the individual and her rights at center stage and insists that political states are legitimate if they adequately protect the human rights of their constituents and respect the rights of others. It is not uncommon to insist that a state enjoys authority over its individual members if it satisfactorily protects their rights, but it is becoming increasingly controversial to suppose that any state has a moral right against the rest of the world to order its affairs as it sees fit. In other words, while few doubt that a state may justifiably coerce its constituents when this coercion is necessary to adequately secure their human rights, thinkers increasingly defend a certain form of cosmopolitanism, arguing that every state has a moral right of political self-determination that not only grounds its authority over its own members, but also absolves it of any duty to alienate its sovereign powers to international arrangements. As long as state adequately protects and respects human rights, it possesses such a right of self-determination Moreover, we contend that this right of self-determination is irreducibly collective and so held by the group of persons who constitute the stare. The theory is thus quite distinctive insofar as it combines the orthodox liberal notion that the lives of individuals are what ultimately matter morally with eh putatively anti0liberal idea of an irreducibly collective right of self-governance." "In the course of exploring the implications of our theory, we address issues of justice that arise in a world of politically independent, modern states. In particular, we seek to illuminate and answer questions relating to democracy, political self-determination, secession, international criminal law, armed intervention, political assassination, global distributive justice, and immigration. Some of the views we defend run against the grain of current academic opinion. Here are some example: there is no human right to democracy; separatist groups can be morally entitled to secede from legitimate states; the fact that it is a matter of brute luck whether one is born in a wealthy state or a poor one does not mean that economic inequalities across states must be minimized or even kept within certain limits; most existing states have no right against armed intervention; and it is morally permissible for a legitimate state to exclude all would-be migrants. Id. at 1-2. It should not surprise the readers of this blog that "The Cosmopolitan Lawyer" would tend to advance some form of egalitarian cosmopolitanism, a position which Altman and Wellman explicitly reject. "An increasing number of theorists are coming to espouse what might be called 'egalitarian cosmopolitanism,' the view that it is unjust for a person's life prospects to be substantially affected by the country in which he or she happens to be born. We reject this position. A reasonable egalitarian principle of distributive justice would not require the elimination of the effects of brute luck on the lives of individuals. Rather, it would demand the elimination of conditions, whatever their origins, that make the less advantages vulnerable to exploitation and oppression at the hands of the more advantaged. It is perfectly possible, even in today's increasingly globalized world, for different states to have very different level of average wealth, without the less wealthy being vulnerable to oppression by the more wealthy. Despite resisting egalitarian cosmopolitanism, however, we do not defend anything like the status quo. Among the many things seriously objectionable about the global economic system is the fact that the citizens of wealthy states fail to meet their minimal samaritan duties to assist the hundreds of millions of people who live and dies in absolute poverty." Id. at 9-10. Much food for thought!).