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I referred above to the arguments that some political theorists make
that today the scope of issues of justice is global as well as local and
regional. Wherever people act within a set of institutions that connect
them to one another by commerce, communication, or the conse-
quences of policies, such that systematic interdependencies generate
benefits and burdens that would not exist without those institutional
relationships, then the people within that set of interdependent insti-
tutions stand in relations of justice. Beitz, Pogge, and O’Neill, among
others, argue that the scope and complexity of economic, communica-
tion, and many other institutional systems constitute a sufficiently
tight web of constraint and interdependence that today we must speak
of a global society. Recent empirical and social theoretical scholarship
about globalization has raised a number of issues about globalized
processes of interaction and effect in various aspects of social life,
including economic interaction. Similarly, there has been no dearth of
challenges to the new theses of increasing globalization. A review and
analysis of these issues would occupy another book. Details of the
manner and extent of globalization need not be settled, however,
before we can cite some general conditions of global society that raise
issues of justice.

The first concerns the fact of the global distribution of natural
resources in the context of a world economic system where some
kinds of resources are more valuable than others. Resources such as
fertile land, economically valuable minerals, and so on are by no means
evenly distributed around the globe. Some states preside over a wealth
of such resources, whereas others have relatively little. Charles Beitz
questions the moral right of states to keep for themselves all the bene-
fits derived from the natural resources that happen to lie within their
borders. Because the placement of resources is morally arbitrary, no

246Self-Determination and Global Democracy

state is entitled to treat them as private property to be used only for its
own benefit. Beitz argues that because some resources are necessary
for the productive capacity of all societies, they must be considered a
global commons. Their use and the benefits of their use should be
globally regulated under a co-operative framework of global justice.12
Just how such a global framework might justly regulate access to and
use of resources is another complex question.
Many issues of environmental damage and sustainability are widely
recognized as global in their implications. As passengers on spaceship
earth, all the world’s peoples are inextricably together. If the ozone
layer thins, it potentially affects all of us; we are all affected by trends
of global warming. Pollutants that enter the air or water may not affect
all the world’s peoples, but they do not respect state borders. The
decade of the 1990s saw several significant conferences and treaties
premissed on the assumption of a need for global environmental reg-
ulation. In each issues of justice have been high on the agenda: What is
a fair distribution of the burdens and benefits of global environmental
regulation, given the fact that people in the relatively rich developed
onment for centuries, while those in less developed countries now face
potential environmental impediments to their industrialization? Are
not the peoples of the developed world obliged for this reason to take
more of the burden for saving the earth and to compensate the peoples
of less developed countries for their contributions to global environ-
mental preservation? Again, raising such issues of global justice
does not say how they should be addressed. The point here is that
such issues of justice cannot be dismissed by saying that the scope of
obligations of justice extend only as far as the borders of state juris-

The manner and degree to which there is one global economic sys-
tem that affects all the world’s people is a matter of dispute. Few ques-
tion that there are deep economic interdependencies among people in
the world, however, that cross state boundaries. These make it imposs-
ible to support the image of global society as a system of sovereign
independent states each of whose policies affects only its own people
except in so far as states or their people contract agreements. A change
in the value of currency or interest rates within one country often has
ripple effects on the financial markets of the whole world. Commodity
prices on the world market are determined by the interaction of many

Self-Determination and Global Democracy247


Beitz,Political Theory and International Relations, pt. iii, ch. 2. Interestingly, David
Miller accepts this argument; he says that every nation-state has a right to the resources that
will give each equal opportunity for economic well-being; On Nationality, ch. 2.

agents across borders; a change in the price of some key commodities
on that market can profoundly affect the lives and well-being of
people within a state, but often that state is relatively powerless to con-
trol or influence either the prices or their effects.
That interdependencies of this sort raise issues of justice between
people in different parts of the world is perhaps less controversial than
other claims that some people make, to the effect that historical and
current relations of exploitation among the world’s peoples raise pro-
found issues of justice between them. Some scholars argue that the
current wealth of Europe and North America compared to societies of
Africa, Latin America, and South Asia is due in part to the persistence
of colonial relations between North and South.13

The economies of
the South depend on capital investment controlled from the North
and most of whose profits return to Northern-held corporations.
Their workers are often too poorly paid by multinationals or their
local contractors to feed their families, and farmers and miners of the
South obtain unfavourable prices on a global resource market.
Such deprivation has forced many economies and governments of
the southern hemisphere into severe debt to Northern banks and
international finance agencies. This indebtedness restricts the effective
sovereignty of many Southern states, because powerful financial insti-
tutions outside them exercise effective control over their internal eco-
nomic policies. The standard of living and well-being of many people
within their jurisdictions declines because of structural adjustment
policies outsiders press them to adopt for the sake of foreign investor
confidence or international financial stability.14

Certainly the rich and
powerful within these countries should not be excused from respons-
ibility for the condition of their less well-off compatriots. However
the empirical details play out at particular times and places, there can
be little doubt that conditions like these raise profound issues of eco-
nomic justice among the world’s peoples. The operations of trade,
finance, investment, and production are global in their implications,
and within those processes some people benefit more than others. In

248Self-Determination and Global Democracy


The work of Samir Amin is classic here; see Class and Nation (New York: Monthly
Review Press, 1980). For a different and more recent formulation of an analysis coming to
a similar conclusion, see Fernando Henrique Cardoso, ‘North–South Relations in the
Present Context: A New Dependency’, in M. Carnoy, M. Castells, S. Cohen, and
F. Cardoso (eds.), The New Global Economy in the Information Age (University Park:
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993).


See Stephen Haggard, ‘Markets, Poverty Alleviation, and Income Distribution: An
Assessment of Neoliberal Claims’, Ethics and International Affairs, 5 (1991), 175–96; Barry
Wilkins, ‘Debt and Underdevelopment: The Case for Cancelling Third World Debts’, in
Robin Attfield and Barry Wilkins (eds.), International Justice and the Third World
(London: Routledge, 1992).

this sense there exists a global society spanned by issues and obliga-
tions of justice.

In such a world as this the borders of state jurisdictions sometimes
function to allow some people wrongly to ignore the interests of oth-
ers whose lives their actions affect, simply because they lie outside
those borders. The citizens of some states have some of their options
constrained as a result of the policy decisions of other states or actors
within those states, but those citizens have no institutional vehicle for
influencing those decisions. Perhaps even more challenging to prin-
ciples of democracy and the rule of law, the activities of some inter-
national actors, such as transnational corporations, sometimes escape
the regulatory net of any state because they can shift jurisdictions.15

these ways, as well as others, states today find their ability to regulate
the institutional conditions within which their citizens live and work
severely curtailed.

Economic and environmental relations raise the most obvious
trans-border issues of justice. Other relationships suggest additional
issues, however. Developments in the kinds and costs of communica-
tion media and transportation, for example, help to produce denser
social interactions among the world’s people. Among other things, the
increased ease of communication raises issues of justice to do with cul-
tural difference and control over communicative form and content.
Peace and security issues have been candidates for international regu-
lation for centuries, but contemporary conditions now raise additional
issues of justice consequent on war. For example, when war forces
hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, how should the
responsibility for their protection and care be assigned, what are they
entitled to, and from whom? Economic, environmental, and media
interactions motivate millions of people to migrate from one state to
another, creating serious conflicts about rights and responsibilities of
both migrants and others in the societies they leave and enter.16
From all these considerations I conclude that the scope of relation-
ships across which principles of justice apply is often global. Let me be
clear, however, about what this conclusion does notimply. The claim
that there are global obligations of justice does not imply that every-
one in the world has just the same obligations regarding everyone else
in the world. Two sorts of consideration enter in considering the
weight of obligations, and to whom they are owed. Since institutional

Self-Determination and Global Democracy249


See Ulrich Beck’s discussion of the ‘virtual taxpayer’, in Was ist Globalisierung?
(Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1997), ch. 1.


See Rainer Bauböck, Transnational Citizenship: Membership and Rights in
International Migration(Aldershot: Edward Elgar, 1993).

and causal connections are the basis for standing in relations over
which principles of justice apply, the greater the connections, the more
principles of justice apply. Thus people who live within the state polit-
ical jurisdiction and/or who are closer rather than further away from
one another are likely to have stronger claims of justice on one another
than those more distant. The reason to presume stronger claims of jus-
tice among those in the same region or country, however, is neither
national identification, common constitution, nor geography per se,
but rather the scope and density of social and economic ties.
Responsibility for promoting global justice, moreover, just like
responsibility for promoting justice within a particular institution or
city, falls more heavily on those whose actions more profoundly affect
the condition of the actions of others.
Tosay that obligations of justice extend globally, moreover, does
not mean that moral action requires that every actor consider all other
individuals in the world in her or his deliberations. Obligations of
social justice are not primarily owed by individuals to individuals.
Instead, they concern primarily the organization of institutions.17
Individuals usually cannot act alone to promote justice; they must act
collectively to adjust the terms of their relationships and rectify the
unjust consequences of past and present social structures, whether
intended or not. They need authoritative institutions through which
to act collectively. The primary obligations of individuals regarding
global justice, as well as local and regional justice, is to do what they
can to promote institutions and policies that aim for fair relations
among people across the globe.
Other things being equal, I have argued in the previous chapter, the
scope of political institutions ought to correspond to the scope of
obligations of justice. Thus if the scope of some obligations of justice
in the world today is global, there ought to be stronger and more
democratic organizations of global governance with which to dis-
charge those obligations. Before I elaborate on that claim, however, we

250Self-Determination and Global Democracy


Thomas Pogge distinguishes two approaches to social justice, an institutional and an
interactional approach. Whereas the international approach focuses only on the actions of
particular individuals as they affect identifiable persons, the institutional approach theor-
izes moral responsibility for the fate of others in so far as agents participate in institutions
and practices that may do harm to them. As distinct from an interactional approach, an
institutional approach makes issues of international justice and moral responsibility with
respect to distant strangers more visible. I make a similar distinction between a distributive
approach to justice and an approach that focuses on the way institutions produce goods
and their distributions; see Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990). Focusing on how structures and institu-
tional relations produce distributive patterns makes more visible a connected international
society and the relations of moral responsibilities of distant peoples within it.

need to ask how this argument for global governance responds to con-
tinued strong political claims for local autonomy and the right of dis-
tinct peoples for self-determination.

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