The Requirements of Morality and Politics

By Pratt, Larry; Craig, Leon H. | Inroads, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

The Requirements of Morality and Politics


Pratt, Larry, Craig, Leon H., Inroads


A RESPONSE TO GARETH MORLEY

IT IS WELL KNOWN THAT CANADIANS dislike the idea and practice of power politics. Like pious puritans who prefer not to acknowledge the realities of sex, Canadians avoid the subjects of power, national security and war. Instead, they place their bets on international institutions, champion "soft power," and believe a new age of "human security" is upon us.

Above all, Canadians believe in the international legal order of independent sovereign states, which Gareth Morley calls Westphalianism. Canadian scholars like Morley don't just deny the realities of international relations - a world of intervention, terrorism, war and fierce transnational doctrinal disputes. They are also, in many ways, fervid advocates of 19th- and early-20th-century American views of international politics. From the Monroe Doctrine to Republican isolationism in the 1930s, many Americans thought the appropriate response to the world's problems was to assert moral superiority and avoid engagement. Having lost their empire and disliking much about the European Union, many in England did something analogous in recent decades. They trumpeted British virtues, and appropriately came to be known as "Little Englanders." In effect, Morley is a good advocate for what we might label the "little Canadian" syndrome.

The entire gamut of problems posed by "failed states" in sub-Saharan Africa, by "rogue states" such as North Korea and Saddam's Iraq, by viciously corrupt states such as Uzbekistan and Bangladesh, can allegedly be resolved within the framework of national sovereignty, generous foreign aid and eloquent rhetoric on human rights. Tyranny for Morley, is a problem for internal revolution, not intervention. He writes in the tradition of Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Tom Paine. Let us, then, think of Morley as Canada's Bentham.

The unwillingness to face ugly facts - for example, that war is a permanent human institution - is characteristic of the Canadian approach to international affairs, and it helps explain why we have never produced a first-rank scholar of international politics. Our international scholars are, like Captain Ahab, too obsessed with their noble chase of the white whales of peace, international institutions and disarmament to give much attention to the realities of power politics. While Morley thinks of himself as a multilateralist, as a supporter of institutions such as the UN, his refusal to address the failures of these institutions makes him effectively an isolationist. He condemns realist approaches to world politics, even though policy rooted in the national interest of the world's superpower may offer solutions to some of the complex conflicts we face.

A great power is by definition one that intervenes in the affairs of other states. Whether a particular intervention succeeds and can be justified depends on the merits of the case. In 1941, Britain intervened with force in Iraq because the Iraqi government was aligning itself with Hitlers forces. The intervention was a success. In 1942, as Rommel's armies approached Cairo, the British surrounded the king's palace and forced a change in Egypt's government. Count this intervention as a failure. It helped create a powerful nationalist myth among Egyptians, which later strengthened Nassers hand during the 1956 Suez fiasco. As a third example, consider the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939. France and Britain officially supported nonintervention. Such nonintervention was actually a form of unofficial intervention on the side of the Fascists.

What of Canada's role in the recent war in Iraq?

Morley says that because the war "was neither just nor prudent," the Chrétien government "was wise to stay out of Iraq. …

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