Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law

Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law

Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law

Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law

Synopsis

This book articulates a systematic vision of an international legal system grounded in the commitment to justice for all persons. It provides a probing exploration of the moral issues involved in disputes about secession, ethno-national conflict, "the right of self-determination of peoples," human rights, and the legitimacy of the international legal system itself. Buchanan advances vigorous criticisms of the central dogmas of international relations and international law, arguing that the international legal system should make justice, not simply peace among states, a primary goal, and rejecting the view that it is permissible for a state to conduct its foreign policies exclusively according to what is in the "national interest." He also shows that the only alternatives are not rigid adherence to existing international law or lawless chaos in which the world's one superpower pursues its own interests without constraints. This book not only criticizes the existing international legal order, but also offers morally defensible and practicable principles for reforming it. Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination will find a broad readership in political science, international law, and political philosophy.

Excerpt

In Chapter 1 I showed why a moral theory of international law is needed, criticized various views that purport to rule out a significant role for moral theorizing about international law, explained what a moral theory of international law should do, set out criteria for the comparative evaluation of rival theories, and argued that beginning with the assumption that the existing international legal order gives a prominent role to states need not result in overly conservative conclusions. This chapter begins the task of laying the foundations for a justice-based theory of international law.

The moral theory of international law whose main elements I develop in subsequent chapters is justice based in two senses: (1) justice, understood chiefly as respect for basic human rights, serves as the fundamental vantage point from which to evaluate the existing international legal system and to formulate proposals for improving it; and (2) a recognition of the moral obligation to help ensure that all persons have access to institutions of justice—understood as institutions that protect their basic human rights—supplies the chief moral reason for trying to develop an international legal system guided by the ideal of justice. In the next chapter, I begin to flesh out the understanding of basic human rights that is the core of the justice-based approach.

In the present chapter I argue that justice should be a primary moral goal of the international legal system. This is a normative statement about the value that should shape the construction of the international legal system, not a description of the purpose for which the system was created, and not a claim about the main function of the system as it now exists or has existed in the past. In making the case that justice should be a primary goal, I first rebut the charge that peace is the only proper goal for the international legal system and argue that the pursuit of justice in and through international law need not be inimical to peace.

Second, I argue that justice is not only a permissible goal for the international legal system—something we are permitted to pursue—but a morally obligatory one. In other words, I argue that the enterprise of trying to construct a just international legal system is morally required. To accomplish this step in the overall argument, I explain and support what I call the Natural Duty of Justice, the principle that each person has a limited moral obligation to help ensure that all persons have access to institutions, including legal institutions, that protect their basic human rights.

Third, I show that taking seriously the idea that justice is a primary, morally obligatory goal of the international legal system requires a particular conception of the state. On this conception, the state is to serve in part as an instrument of justice; it should not be conceived as a discretionary association whose sole function is to serve the mutual benefit of its members. In rejecting the conception of the state as a

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