Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Jonathan Berman Searches for Consensus on the Morality of the State System

The interesting thing about Lynch's piece is how different it is from the other things we've read. The articles on liberalism, realism, and constructivism all try to be predictive and find the true causes of events in international relations. This is known as a positive approach and this approach goes along with the assumption that there are objective facts out in the world that we can know.

On the other hand, Lynch's piece takes a normative approach which is inherently prescriptive and uses norms and standards which stands in contrast to the positive approaches that we usually see in IR. This approach brings morality, principles, and values into international relations. Thus, when judging Lynch I believe we need to judge him on the principles he lays out, not on whether his system is feasible.

When reading his article the question we must ask is whether or not the system he lays out is a moral one. If Lynch's system is moral and right then we need to ask ourselves if international relations as it is practiced today conforms to this morality. After reading his article it is clear that it does not. Thus, if Lynch's values are moral and the international system as it is currently constructed does not match those morals then we are left to conlcude that the international system is inherently immoral.

However, I disagree with Lycnh's prescriptions. Namely, including everyone in the dialogue. Lynch's prescription taken to its natural conclusions means that in the case of Kosovo not only would the world have to be involved in the dialogue but the Serbs who were committing genocide would have to be included as well. I think that is wrong because by committing genocide in the first place I believe they have forfeited their right to be part of any consensus and treated as equals. The equivalent of letting Lynch's prescription coming to pass is allowing murderer's to sit in on the deliberations of a jury and giving them a vote. Clearly, this would be ridiculous.

Even though Lynch is wrong I think the notion that the international system could be immoral brings up some interesting issues. If international system conflicts with what we know to be moral can we still allow it to stand as is?


Blogger Kat said...

On the other hand, Lynch's piece takes a normative approach which is inherently prescriptive and uses norms and standards which stands in contrast to the positive approaches that we usually see in IR.

Ahh, I'm really glad you posted that. I was trying to nail down the difference between those two types of articles, and I couldn't define it. I feel a little silly now, but thank you. :)

I agree that Lynch is wrong, but for different reasons. Although you argue that we should judge Lynch based on his principles, not his feasibility, I think feasibility is important. If his system is completely unrealistic, in my opinion, it cannot be valuable.

I do agree with you that those who transgress against the international system -- by committing genocide, for example -- forfeit their right to be involved in a consensus. Does this imply a preexisting social contract that is valid only for people who are willing to abide by it?

12:11 PM  
Blogger Johnny B. said...

There are a lot of things that are feasible and possible in this world but that doesn't mean we should do them. Before we talk about whether something is possible, let's talk about whether we should do it in the first place.

I think you're dodging the question that I asked in my blog. Is international relations as it is currently practiced right or wrong?

According to Lynch's critirea the international system is morally wrong because it excludes people from decisions that concern them and do not allow them to engage in a communicative dialogue.

In principle I can agree with Lynch, international relations as it is currently practiced excludes people and therefore is morally lacking.

However, I disagree with Lynch that we should include everyone because some of those people are just plain evil and have done horrible things. I think Lynch's critirea works if we start from a "tabla rosa", (blank slate) much like the state of nature.

Unfortunately, social contract theory is mostly bunk because there never was any great negotiation where the social contract was hammered out and signed by sovereign and society. As a result, we're left in a social world that is constantly changing and people are born right into the middle of it.

Thus, things like genocide don't imply a preexisting social contract, just something that society used to find acceptable, but doesn't find acceptable today, and perhaps in the future may acceptable again depending on what happens or the needs of society.

2:34 AM  
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