Justice Everywhere

a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Category: International (Page 1 of 5)

What should I do about climate change and other global environmental problems?

In this post, Christian Baatz, Laura García-Portela and Lieske Voget-Kleschin present the special issue on questions related to individual environmental responsibility they recently published in Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics (JAGE).

Is it enough to lobby for climate change politics? Or do I need to limit my personal greenhouse gas emissions? While these questions seem like a non-starter for environmentally aware people, they are actually at the core of a broad ethical debate. The special issue tackles what individuals should do, when moral requests become overly demanding and if we need new ethical theory to adequately address these issues.

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People versus Parliament: an interpretation

Motto: Would it not be easier

In that case for the government

To dissolve the people

 And elect another? 

(from ‘The Solution’ by Bertolt Brecht)

The UK Parliament has been prorogued from the 9th of September to the 14th of October 2019 – days before the UK’s scheduled exit from the European Union. On its final day before suspension, the Parliament acknowledged Royal Assent on the Benn Bill (which effectively turned an act blocking No Deal into law), made a formal request to the Government to acknowledge obeying the rule of law regarding Brexit, and passed a binding motion for the Government to disclose private communications concerning its decision to prorogue Parliament and its No Deal plans.

Whether the final day of parliamentary proceedings has been a moderate triumph or an unmitigated tragedy depends on whom you ask. For opponents of the Government, what really happened is that MPs defeated an abusive PM six times out of six within six days. For PM Boris Johnson, what really happened is that the Parliament took away a crucial card the UK might have played in its negotiations with the EU, making the threat of No Deal no longer credible.

The existence of different views, of winners and losers, and of mixed blessings is a fact of democratic life that does not merit special reflection. The more worrying trend regarding differences in interpretation has been that in the past week such disagreements have ranged over an alarming number of factual issues. Trick questions include: Is Parliament suspended for 2 weeks or 5 weeks? Does proroguing parliament facilitate or impede pursuing the Government’s new agenda? Is the prorogation constitutional? Would No Deal be ‘a clean break’, or merely the beginning of a long process of negotiation? And – though ultimately it did not come to this – when does Wednesday end in the House of Lords when under threat of filibusters?

The answers to such questions map onto increasingly polarised lines. Conservatives loyal to Johnson point out that the prorogation is in reality for only two weeks as party members usually take a three week conference recess in September anyway, and that such a break is needed for a clean start of the Government’s new agenda. They also regard the prorogation as a ‘perfectly normal’ and constitutional procedure, and instead, as MP Steve Baker did on SkyNews yesterday, that in reality the Benn Bill is the unconstitutional one.

Opposition MPs, however, claim the prorogation will in reality hamper their activities for the full 5 weeks, given that Parliament was planning to cancel the recess period. MPs also, understandably, express doubts that the best way of speeding up Parliamentary discussion on the new Government agenda is by suspending Parliament, and claim that in reality the motivation behind the prorogation is a desire to remove Parliamentary scrutiny at a critical time. If confirmed by evidence retrieved through the motion passed yesterday, such a motivation would be a decisive argument that the prorogation was in reality unconstitutional and, as John Bercow called it upon leaving Parliament at 1.30 AM on the 10th of September, ‘not a standard or normal prorogation.

This contestation of what happens ‘in reality’ shows a worrying rift within the interpretative community of UK representatives. Instead of a common reality providing a framework for mitigating differences and adjudicating disagreements between contesting parties, the debates of the past six days seem to have gone the other way around: not from a common reality to reducing disagreements, but from different commitments to weaponised differences in the ‘reality’ that each faction perceives. Each side has carved out pieces of reality to fit its own interpretation and has even – in the case of the Conservative party – carved out members who refused to comply with it.

This rift of the interpretative community is problematic in itself, both for the polarisation it ushers in and for vindicating concerns of an undemocratic loosening from a commitment to tell the truth. But what is more, such a rift is particularly problematic given the way the show-down between the Government and opposition MPs has been framed – as one of People vs Parliament.

The reason for this is that the meaning of the will of ‘the people’ is highly volatile. Indeed, this volatility has allowed Johnson to insist on contradictory interpretations: on the one hand, that the will of the people is clearly for a No Deal Brexit, requiring no further consultation; on the other, that we must urgently ascertain the current will of the people on Brexit through a general election. Conversely, opposition MPs regard it as urgent to ascertain the will of the people through a referendum on the final Brexit deal, but less urgent to organise general elections as required by Johnson. Yet another possibility, hinted at by John Bercow in his passionate defense of the Parliament as an institution during the speech announcing his imminent resignation, is to give less weight to the ‘will of the people’ as expressed through a referendum. This is implied by his assertion that MPs are ‘not delegates but representatives’, i.e. act not merely as mouthpieces for constituents, but as potentially a corrective force on ill-informed preferences of the kind that might be expressed in such a referendum.

This volatility of meaning of a central concept in the debate interacts dangerously with the quick dissolution of shared norms of the interpretative community. In a situation of partisan interpretations, each side can claim to act on behalf of a bedrock democratic principle while further carving out the ‘real’ will of the people to suit their agenda. Combined with the tendency to present ‘the people’ as a force under attack, such differences in interpretation diminish the possibility of dialogue and consensus, by linking the grounds of disagreement to a principle that is not negotiable. This can lead to a political landscape in which each faction paints itself as the purveyor of truth and legitimacy in a way that is by definition opposed to the others. For this reason, when following the fate of ‘the people’ as decried by the UK Parliament or Government it is important to ask which version of ‘the people’ is being erected – and which is being dissolved.

 

Should we obey immigration laws?

In many countries, governments impose legal duties on citizens regulating their interactions with unauthorized immigrants. It is for example forbidden to provide them with access to employment, housing or transportation, and even sometimes to merely assist them in some way. In France, for example, there has been a lasting debate about the so-called “délit de solidarité” (offense of solidarity) – a law forbidding citizens to bring assistance to illegal immigrants.

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "délit de solidarité"

Are we, citizens of rich countries, under a moral duty to obey or disobey such laws?

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Earth Day 2019 – Protecting Species or Individuals?

Today – the 22nd of April – hundreds of millions of people across the globe will come together to participate in Earth Day. This is a day dedicated to political action, activism, and engagement, on matters of climate justice, environmental rights, and environmental protection. However, the theme this year – Protect Our Species – raises important questions: Should we be concerned about protecting our species, rather than nonhuman individuals?

Photo by Frans Van Heerden

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What would it take to turn Facebook into a democracy?

by Severin Engelmann and Lisa Herzog*

When the relation between “Facebook” and “democracy” is discussed, the question usually is: what impact does Facebook – as it exists today – have on democratic processes? While this is an urgent and important question, one can also raise a different one: what would it mean to turn Facebook into a democracy, i.e. to govern it democratically? What challenges of institutional design would have to be met for developing meaningful democratic governance structures for Facebook?

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Technological Justice

Relaxed senior adult wearing eyeglasses works on a laptop computer at home.

At least in the developed world, technology pervades all aspects of human life, and its influence is growing constantly. Major technological challenges include automation, digitalisation, 3 D printing, and Artificial Intelligence. Does this pose a need for a concept of “technological justice”? If we think about what “technological justice” could mean, we see that the concept is closely connected to other concepts of justice. Whether we are talking about social justice, environmental justice, global justice, intergenerational justice, or gender justice – at some point we will always refer to technology. It looks as if a concept of technological justice could be useful to draw special attention to technology’s massive impact on human lives, although the respective problems of justice can also be captured by more familiar concepts.

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Why central banks must change before the next crisis hits

Our recent book Do Central Banks Serve the People? sheds a critical light on the actions of central banks in the wake of the 2007 financial crisis. Using the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, and the Bank of England as examples, we show how they have stretched their mandate beyond their traditional tasks of price stability and financial stability. This short introduction to the book summarizes the argument that the expanded role of central banks has three serious drawbacks.

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Debate the Future of the European Union with Political Philosophers

Together with an amazing group of people, I have initiated Twelve Stars. Twelve Stars in Europe’s flag symbolize Europe’s unity in diversity. The Twelve Stars project  brings together citizens and practical philosophers from all over Europe to discuss proposals for the future of the European Union. Twelve Stars is premised on two assumptions. First, that the ideas of political philosophers can make a real contribution to improving the European Union. Second, that political philosophers have much to learn from discussing their proposals and arguments with a wider audience.

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A Moral Case for Strikes against Syria? Part I: Humanitarian Intervention

Early on Saturday, 14 April, it was announced that the US, UK and France had conducted targeted strikes on three targets in Syria – a chemical weapons and storage facility, a research centre and a military bunker – in response to Assad’s (alleged) use of chemical weapons in Douma.  The reaction to this news was mixed. One key problem that was highlighted was the question of the legality of the strikes, under both domestic and international law. However, although these are of course very important issues, a different one has remained relatively unexplored: could these strikes be permissible from a moral perspective? Given that international law is largely customary, and given that law doesn’t exhaust the limits on our behaviour, this is a crucial question.

There are a number of ways in which the resort to strikes on regime targets in Syria could be justified. The common moral framework for thinking about the morality of war, just war theory, recognises a number of reasons for legitimate use of force: self-defence against aggression, defence of another state against aggression and, increasingly, intervention to alleviate humanitarian suffering. In this post and the next, Anh Le and I will consider whether the strikes could be justified according to the standards set by just war theory. Here, I will consider possibly the most controversial just cause: intervention in order to stop severe suffering. In the next post, Anh will investigate whether the strikes can be considered morally legitimate as forms of punishment.

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Against Indiscriminate Killing Even in Supreme Emergencies

For the past few weeks, people on- and offline have spoken up to question Winston Churchill’s legacy. They generally highlight his racism, his support for the use of concentration camps, his treatment of Ireland, his complicity in the Bengal famine, and more. Some protested in a Churchill-themed café. In response, others argue that he nevertheless deserves to be remembered for his role in fighting off the Nazis and inspiring the British public in dark times. There are, however, important questions to ask even about Churchill’s role in fighting the Nazis. Churchill authorised the indiscriminate killing of civilians by bombing German cities. In justifying this tactic, Churchill appealed to the extraordinarily dangerous nature of the situation. But does this justify indiscriminate killing? This question still has relevance today. US drone strikes in the Middle East and Afghanistan in many respects resemble a campaign of indiscriminate violence, and so it is necessary to ask if this campaign can be justified. I will here argue that the logic of Churchill’s defence does not, and indeed cannot, justify the use of indiscriminate violence.

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