Debating IR

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


Friday, March 10, 2006


Postmodernism contends that events have no meaning in themselves; instead, their only meaning lies in the values we ascribe to them. As such, it's a really intriguing theory and completely unlike the things we've studied so far.

Like several other articles, it chooses the Kosovo conflict for illustration. According to postmodernism, the nineteen nations intervened because "they recognized the specter of dissolution that haunts all civilizations... They needed to convince their citizens of the 'justness' of the use of force... to reiterate their state's own sovereign value" (179). In other words, they had no interest in either the humanitarian situation that critical theory would suggest as a good justification, or the various state interests that would be satisfied by intervening, as pointed out in the public goods liberalism chapter; they used an invasion in Kosovo to create the impression within their own citizens that state dissolution is so bad that aiding nations which dissolve is a moral duty of other states.

I subscribe to the idea that there is objective truth that can be known - that genocide isn't wrong because someone said it was, but wrong because it murdered individuals who did not deserve to be killed. Certain actions that are so gut-twistingly wrong that you can't pretend that they only bother you because it's ingrained in your upbringing. On that level, postmodernism's denial of any objective morality disturbs me. However, I would not be surprised if leaders did in fact make the decision to intervene in Kosovo based on the grounds described in the article, and I do think that states attempt to ascribe value to actions that may or may not deserve these values.

For example, the United States tries to portray pursuing nuclear arms as wrong and dangerous when done by, say, Iran, but acceptable when done by Western nations. This is obviously serving U.S. interests; one threatens it while the other does not, and by portraying the threat as a moral problem, the U.S. can theoretically gain the legitimacy to intervene and remove the threat.


Blogger -r|e|w- said...

i did a presentation on postmodernism today...i wish i read this post first ;-(

it wasnt bad though...

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