Friday, December 08, 2006

The assumptions behind border-drawing

It's a truism, or should be if it isn't, that we can learn a great deal about ourselves by examining our assumptions. This is as true of nations and cultures as it is of individuals.

That lesson got reinforced for me yet again, this time as regards the West's basic instinct to say to the Middle East something along the lines of, "Oh, behave!" as I read Chris Bertram's comment on Crooked Timber about this passage from fellow CTer Jon Mandle's book, Global Justice:

When we face the question of how state borders should be drawn, it would be utopian in the pejorative sense to consider carving up territories from an imaginary state of nature. That is not a problem we will ever face. Because the current world is already divided into states, the question we must face concerns the possibility of redrawing existing borders. (p. 89)

As part of Bertram's response (a lot of which was frankly above me owing to my utter lack of knowledge of political theory) this passage nevertheless stood out to me because of my own recent "collage student" posts:
One of the most annoying responses we get from our students is when we ask what (if anything) might justify some aspect of social life (income inequality, say) and they shrug and reply “That’s just the way the world is”. Maybe. And maybe it always will be. But that doesn’t mean we should shirk the task of justification. Of course there’s a difficulty here, because we often aspire to practicality. But utopianism in the pejorative sense is surely theorizing that assumes crazy things about human nature (universal perfect altruism, for example). Discussing state jurisdiction isn’t like this. We have states now but they aren’t a permanent feature of the human condition in the way that some psychological or physiological facts plausibly are. (italics in the original)

Jon Mandle responds here. I'd try to excerpt, but to do so would distort his post. Suffice it to say, though, I now have a more flexible way of thinking about the claims of nations on citizens and foreigners as expressed via the drawing of their boundaries.

1 comment:

Conrad H. Roth said...

I was once taught political philosophy by Bertram. He is a rather accountantlike man, and didn't inspire any enthusiasm in me. I was quite surprised to find him a popular blogger.