Saturday, March 19, 2005

Declaration of Interventions

This is a very interesting post (hat-tip: Jonathan Dresner at Cliopatria). The question it brings to my mind is: Can it really be considered a self-evident principle "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of its ends, it is the Right of the Intervener to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government"?

But, of course, the original statement of the Declaration of Independence brought up exactly similar questions. There was at the time an interesting sermon by George Campbell, one of Scotland's great early modern philosophers, that discussed the Declaration of Independence, and he actually mocks the document for accepting as self-evident so many things that few reasonable people had ever thought self-evident before. It's a bit jarring to read it; it's one thing to read someone who might quibble with some of the language -- it's something entirely different to read someone (and what is more, someone quite brilliant and rational) who thought that the argument of the Declaration of Independence was irrational and incoherent.

But to get back to the right of intervention issue; the real issue is what lies behind this right. In just war theory, for instance, as it has usually been conceived, there is no right of military intervention, properly speaking, whatsoever. The just war tradition sees war powers as an extension of the responsibility of the governing agent(s) to protect the people they govern. On this view, the only military intervention that can even conceivably be legitimate, therefore, is defensive, i.e., what is strictly required to defend one's own citizens. And this suggests to me that one reason the post is a bit unnerving is that, unlike the Declaration of Independence, it is not unified; the first part of the second paragraph (the right of intervention part) actually is completely separate from the second part (the abuses and usurpations part). In the Declaration of Independence, the two go together because the people whose safety and happiness underlies the right of abolition are the same people against whom the abuses and usurpations are committed. But in the post, the two are split: the people are the ones who have the right to abolition, because it is their safety and happiness that are at stake; and they are the ones who would suffer by the imprudent abolition of longstanding authority. But it is the intervener who is worried about the particular abuses in question, since we have moved from the intention to place its people under despotism to the intention to endanger others with certain kinds of weapons.

It's interesting how this sort of thing makes you think through things you otherwise would never have thought through.

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