June 18, 2002

A Declaration of the Rights of Thugs: The American Left Loses Its Way Even More Completely

This is weird. Not, "we believe that all people everywhere have the right to free speech." Not, "we believe that all people everywhere have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Not, "we believe that all nations have the right to a republican form of government." Not, "we believe that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Instead, we seem to have a hunting license for thugs: "we believe... peoples and nations have the right to determine their own destiny, free from military coercion by great powers." Does this mean that U.S. intervention in World War II was criminal? After all, we did use "military coercion" to keep the Asian and European peoples from "determin[ing] their own destiny."

Is this just badly drafted? Or is this just not well thought-out at all?

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | We won't deny our consciences

We won't deny our consciences: Prominent Americans have issued this statement on the war on terror: Friday June 14, 2002: The Guardian

Let it not be said that people in the United States did nothing when their government declared a war without limit and instituted stark new measures of repression. The signers of this statement call on the people of the US to resist the policies and overall political direction that have emerged since September 11, 2001, and which pose grave dangers to the people of the world. We believe that peoples and nations have the right to determine their own destiny, free from military coercion by great powers...

Posted by DeLong at June 18, 2002 01:11 PM


Umm. I don't think that Germany invading France, Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Denmark, and the Soviet Union counts as "nations determining their own destiny, free from military coercion by great powers".

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on June 18, 2002 02:01 PM

Hmm... I'm really not sure about this. In principle, I'd like to see a United Federation of Planets-style world in which every country keeps tabs on each others' elections, and prevent each other's governments from falling into the hands of single-party governments or dictators (not to mention giving aid to the poor countries effectively, allowing extensive capital mobility, abolishing barriers to free trade, reducing the size of military establishments, establishing equitable, efficient welfare states, responsible-but-undogmatic central banks, and... hell? Why not develop the warp drive and phaser beams while they're at it!). In reality, the policy of the rich democracies of the U.S. and Western Europe ousting thugocracies have happened to work at least somewhat well when applied, but I have my doubts about the workability of establishing a uniform standard of government across the world. For example, what if two governments, each great powers, had different standards for what was a government-by-thugs? Well, fortunately, in the Cold War, there was never an outright attempt by either to use military force to impose their government on the other. Basically, my concern is that in an ideal world, there are only a few thugs and the democratic, free countries always get along with each other, but in reality, the precedent set by any country having the right to oust any regime which it deems immoral and unrepresentative of the people of that state is a recipe for global chaos. Perhaps in the future, there will be some kind of global, UN (or something) based standard on acceptable government, and there will be an actual, effective enforcement mechanism for deciding which regimes are worthy of existence, and which ones should justly be destroyed by the military power of regimes that are democratic and free.

Of course, congress would never ratify it unless there's a very, very dramatic shift in U.S. politics, and even if it would, an actual, effective enforcement mechanism, which does NOT, for example, spend 40% of its time talking about Israel (as it probably would in the current U.N.) would be a long way off. Until then, I think the idea of countries policing each others democracies sounds nice in principle, but has too many practical problems unless those powers which control most of the economic, political, and military power (U.S., Western Europe, Japan) also happen to be the countries that are free and democratic and also happen to agree with each other most of the time, some disputes notwithstanding.

Julian Elson

Posted by: Julian Elson on June 18, 2002 02:23 PM

What Daryl said, with the additional notification that every empire was started with only the best of intentions.

States do have the right to determine their own destiny. That goes back all the way to the Treaty of Westphalia, and is the fundamental reason behind the concept of national sovereignty. While you may wish to critique this document, that particular section has a very, very strong historical backing.

Posted by: Demosthenes on June 18, 2002 03:11 PM

The authors of the Peace of Westphalia also thought that the hereditary monarchy was a good form of government, too.

Me, I'm with Brad. The concept of national sovereignty is a pragmatic accomodation to the limits of power, not a moral principle. A government that engages in the wholesale oppression and murder of its own people is illegitimate, period. Overthrowing such a state is a morally positive and justified act, and it's not just stupid but actively disgusting to shed tears about the violation of national sovereignty involved in doing so. There are plenty of good reasons to oppose foreign adventurism: me, I don't like the wartime tendency for national security to start trumping due process. But all good reasons justify themselves with reference to the rights and material conditions of actual people -- not of "states".

Posted by: Neel Krishnaswami on June 18, 2002 04:26 PM

Is it your view that military coercion of another country is licit if we don't like shape their government or society is taking? Hasn't that been the rationale for every instance of military agression in history, including al Qaida's attack on us? If your response is that it's okay for the good guys to use military coercion against the bad guys, but not the other way around, I won't wrap my self in the mantle of cultural relativism--I happen to think that our society is objectively better than, say North Korea's--but I will point out that your position eliminates any basis for peaceful coexistance and change by persuasion. We have neither the right nor the power to remake the world in our image by force.

Posted by: rea on June 18, 2002 04:32 PM

Yes, I think that military coercion of another state is licit if we don't like their government, if by "we don't like the shape of their government" we mean "it doesn't conform to any sort of liberal norm, and shows no signs of improving". It would be wildly immoral for the USA to invade, say, Canada, even if W. thinks Chretien is a doofus, because it is a democratic nation. But I don't think any such moral constraint limits us wrt to Burma or Iraq.

Instead, if we did invade, we would have the obligation to make sure that a fairer order took the current regime's place. It's not right to conquering a land against the wishes of its people, like the US did in the Phillipines at the turn of the century. It's also the case that if we reasonably expect our intervention to cause more harm than we would stop. So toppling Saddam to stop him nerve-gassing Kurds would be okay, but not if we had to atom-bomb Baghdad to do it.

As for the right to remake the world, I think that it's morally right to free slaves from their master, to imprison gangsters and bandits, and in general do whatever is necessary to make sure that individuals get a shot at liberty. Nationality simply doesn't enter into this. I don't believe that "peoples and nations have a right to determine their own destiny", I believe that actual distinct humans have the individual right to determine their own destiny. A state's legitimacy comes from the consent of its governed, and if there is no such consent there is no legitimacy.

I don't think that this eliminates any basis for change by persuasion, though. It's morally laudable but not a moral obligation to replace scummy repressive regimes with nice liberal-democratic regimes, for precisely the same reasons that it's morally laudable but not morally obligatory to rush into a burning building to save a stranger. Obviously, war runs risks, and a rational calculation can judge that risk unwise. For example, war might might make our own institutions corrupt and illiberal, or might strengthen the political position of the very autocrats and thugs we are opposing, or might get a lot of innocent people killed. As the man says, jaw-jaw is better than war-war, and free trade with China probably is the best way of getting the ROC's government to loosen its hold on its people. (It worked in South Korea and Taiwan, after all.)

But all that said, I don't want peaceful coexistence with tyranny. Freedom is for everyone. I want my country and every other free nation to apply pressure -- moral, political, and sometimes even military -- to replace repressive governments with liberal ones.

Posted by: Neel Krishnaswami on June 18, 2002 07:29 PM

Remember, the Bush II administration isn't aiding people in their right to self-determination, unless by accident. Overthrowing the Taliban was only done when the Taliban became too much of a pain in the a** to the US (by harboring Al Qaida,

*after* they killed a few thousand US citizens).

Up until Aug 2000, the Bush II administration's backers (the oil companies) were negotiating a pipeline deal with the Taliban. If the Taliban had agreed, on the condition that they get some nice weapons (or cash, with Uncle Sam looking the other way as they hit the arms bazaar), the administration would have undoutedtly agreed. And a Carlyle group salesman would have been on the next flight to Kabul. And the fact that the Taliban's first target would be the Afghani people would have not caused any Bush/Carlyle/Oil guys to lose a single night's sleep.

And the same goes for Saddam. The US backed him right up until he went rogue - 'rogue' defined as attacking us. Even after that, we didn't overthrow him - because the Shia majority might have gone to Iran, the Kurds would have sought to liberate the rest of Kurdistan, etc. Bush I would have been ecstatic if some of Saddam's generals had overthrown him, and proclaimed a new government (same as the old one, minus the threatening the gulf thing).


Posted by: Barry on June 19, 2002 06:13 AM

Neel, if you think it's okay for us to go around overthrowing tyrannies, what about duly elected tyrannies, like, say, Venezuela? Isn't there a little consistency problem if we say that we're going to give everyone freedom and democracy, whether they like it or not? Who elected us world ruler?

And which tyrannies do we chose to overthrow? All of them? Isn't that a recipe for perpetual war against most of the world? Even if we had the strength and will to do that, wouldn't it warp our own society away from the very values for which we would be fighting (see, for example, the Padilla case)?

Of course, we must defend ourselves when attacked, but if we want to make the world a better place, we'll have more success setting a good example that by imposing our will by force.

Posted by: rea on June 19, 2002 06:43 AM

Barry asks:


Actually, I do _not_ remember. Cite,


Assuming for the sake of polite discussion

that you are wholly correct -- so what?

Would a Gore administration have intevened

in the private negotiations of oil

companies or suppliers, (Exxon-Mobil,

Haliburton, Hunt-Wesson...) even

if such companies were, as suggested

but not documented, wholly in opposition

to the Gore administations' energy

and ecology plans, foreign policy, or

diplomatic (as opposed to commercial)

negotiations? On what legal and

constitutional grounds would ANY

administration undertake to prevent

talks? Particular _deals_, such as

the implied exchange of weapons (maybe

STINGER missiles) for pipeline easements,

might be and should be properly challenged

by the Commerce Dept. But to

condemn (a) Bush for (b)oil companies'

(c) talks with (d) the only power

available to talk TO in Afghanistan ...

seems to me to be stretching for reasons

to criticize.

Not that such is "hate speech", mind you.

No "haters" around here, no sir.

Posted by: Melcher on June 19, 2002 07:53 AM

I personally would go along a long way with the declaration. In general, I believe that true democracy can only spring from the people ourselves and cannot be forced upon a country from above.

Yes, there are post-WWII Germany, Japan and Italy as counter examples but I think the circumstances in which their conversion was handled were somewhat extreme: losers of a particularly destructive war, with the threat of the Soviet Union hanging over them.

I don't want to give any country the right to intervene with another country's government, as I don't think this would lead to any good. Any newly enforced democracy will probably be more like Weimar Deutschland then postwar West-Germany.

I certainly don't trust the US government, which has a history of bad interventions -one need only think of the CIA supported US vetted 1973 Chilean coup.

I'd rather put my faith in the people, in ourselves to "make the world safe for democracy" then in a saviour state.

Posted by: Martin Wisse on June 19, 2002 12:58 PM

Your company was made known to us on the internet.

Our company is consulting for one of the major oil companies in Nigeria for the security coverage of it's oil pipelines.We are therefore sourcing for our foreign contractors for the project.Details of the contract will be send to you immediately we hear from you.

Also we are redy to have you here for futher discusion.


Best regards

Alhaji M. Lukman

Posted by: ALH. M.LUKMAN on June 26, 2002 08:58 AM

Your company was made known to us on the internet.

Our company is consulting for one of the major oil companies in Nigeria for the security coverage of it's oil pipelines.We are therefore sourcing for our foreign contractors for the project.Details of the contract will be send to you immediately we hear from you.

Also we are redy to have you here for futher discusion.


Best regards

Alhaji M. Lukman

Posted by: on June 26, 2002 08:59 AM
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