Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

On Global Justice

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

On Global Justice

Article excerpt

On Global Justice. By Mathias Risse. Princeton University Press. 480pp, Pounds 27.95. ISBN 9780691142692 and 9781400845507 (e-book). Published 18 October 2012

A book like this makes me nervous. Here I am writing for Times Higher Education when I should be engaged in proper, serious scholarship. Look at this book: prodigious does not begin to do it justice. Three hundred and fifty-nine pages of text; a page of notes for every six of text; a bibliography with what look like more books than I have ever opened, much less read; a polymathic preface beginning with a countryman of mine who also intimidates me with his learning (James Joyce) and including an aphorism from a weighty name (Nietzsche) that I find as hard to spell as to understand.

And what ambition! There are "two traditional ways of thinking about justice at the global level" but they "either limit the applicability of justice to states or else extend it to all human beings". These approaches are both wrong - this author thinks (and says) that there are multiple grounds of justice (his emphasis) and that he wants to defend "a specific view of the grounds that (he) calls internationalism or pluralist internationalism" (his emphasis). Now in coming up with his scheme for global justice, he has, he thinks, pulled off "a philosophically convincing alternative" to the failed efforts of others, a task that is nothing less than "the most demanding and important challenge contemporary political philosophy faces (one that in turn reflects the significance of the political issues that are at stake)".

So what does his theory mean? Here is his answer, again from the very first page: "Internationalism grants particular normative relevance to the state but qualifies this relevance by embedding the state into other grounds that are associated with their own principles of justice and that thus impose additional obligations on those who share membership in a state. Other than shared membership in a state, it is humanity's common ownership of the earth that receives the most sustained treatment. And it is probably in the conceptualisation of common ownership as a ground of justice that my view seems strangest."

Strange, perhaps, but not quite in the way the author intends. I don't really understand what I have just quoted, and nor did the chapters devoted to the abstract theory help. …

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