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THE INDIVIDUAL V. COLLECTIVE QUESTION

This point leads us straightaway to the individual v. collective question, to wit, how to account for the inherently collective dimension of war, and of peace after war. War is of course fought by individual combatants; the suffering it occasions is felt by individuals. To the extent that individual acts of maiming and experiences of suffering are what ultimately needs justifying, it is appropriate to approach war from the standpoint of moral individualism. At the same time, individual combatants do not act on their own, but as part and at the behest of a collective—usually, their political community; individual non-combatants who participate in war also do so as part and at the behest of a collective, and are maimed and killed by dint of the fact that they belong to such a collective. The collective dimension of war raises a number of difficult issues for an individualist normative account of peace after war. First, it raises the issue of the imposition of post-war burdens. That issue—of harm imposition for participation in collective enterprise—also arises in war itself. Admittedly, when a combatant attempts to kill another soldier in prosecution of an unjust cause, one can say without too much difficulty that he is liable to be killed. However, many participants in war each contribute in marginal ways to the collective enterprise (think about the munitions factory worker, the taxpayer, the soldier who never fires a shot). The question then is whether they are liable to be killed (on the grounds that they are participating in a lethal enterprise even if they themselves do not kill), or whether they are liable to lesser harm (on the grounds, precisely, that they themselves do not kill). Post-war, the question is whether the reparative and punitive burdens to which participants in an unjust war/phase of war are liable ought to be calibrated to those participants’ individual contributions (or, in the reparative context, to the unjust benefits they individually derive from the war); or whether they ought to be calibrated to the wrongful harms occasioned by the war collectively understood as the sum total of those individual contributions. On the sum-total view, the risk is that many of those participants will be unjustifiably overburdened; on the individual contribution view, the risk is that they will be left off the moral hook, at the expense of their victims. In answering this difficult question, I have argued with respect to reparations that we must eschew tracking all but the most grievously and obviously wrongful individual contributions and instances of wrongful benefiting, and settle in all other cases for a Reconstruction Principle. Its constitutive duties fall on rights violators, justified rights infringers and unjust beneficiaries, as well as on bystanders, who do not fall into either category. In the case of bystanders, the reconstruction duties are justified both at the bar of an ethics of assistance and on the grounds that non-participants and non-beneficiaries must work on the realistic assumption that, sooner or later, they too will be embroiled in unjust wars, either as participants or victims. With respect to punishment, I have argued against collective punishment, on the grounds that to risk letting wrongdoers go unpunished, except in the most egregious cases, is better than to risk punishing the innocent. However, I have also argued that an agent who takes direct part in the commission of a collective war- related crime such as genocide is liable to punitive harm for that collective crime, even if he did not know or intend to take part in a genocide, it is enough that he could reasonably have been expected to know that his contribution was a contribution to this collective crime.

The second issue raised by the individual v. collective question pertains to the ways in which belligerents sue for peace and negotiate and enforce peace terms.

As a matter of fact, these are collective acts, in the sense that some public officials (typically the head of state or government, or the guerrilla leaders) make the relevant declarations, announcements, and offers on behalf of the political community on whose behalf they claim to act. As a matter of principle, this is how it should be. For just as I cannot, as a private agent or indeed as a citizen acting on my own, declare that my country is now at war with yours, I cannot declare that it is no longer at war and that it accepts these or those peace terms. This second issue yields several interesting lines of inquiry. In particular, it invites us to think about the relationship between individuals’ and public officials’ rights. It is a key assumption of this book (and in line with my argument in Cosmopolitan War) that public officials’ rights to govern supervene on individuals’ pre-institutional rights; moreover, public officials have the right to govern if and only if, through the laws for which they vote and enforce and the executive decisions which they make on the basis of those laws, they respect the human rights of both state members and outsiders. In the context of this book, for example, public officials’ right to punish war criminals supervenes on the right which victims and all other human beings have to see to it that war crimes not go unpunished; they have that right, moreover, only if they better enable victims and all other human beings to exercise their pre-institutional right to punish and fulfil its concomitant duties (such as the duty not to punish more harshly than is warranted, out of a thirst for revenge). Similarly, a public official’s right to extract reparation payments supervenes on claimants’ pre-institutional right to do the same, etc.

Another line of inquiry pertains to the importance of ensuring that a public official is authorized so to act on behalf of individual agents to whom her decisions will apply. When, in virtue of occupying a public role, she can better enable those agents to fulfil their general duties—for example, their duty not to take part in a wrongful invasion, or not to commit atrocities, or to accept the presence of peacekeeping forces—that alone is enough to render her decisions binding. Put differently, the consent of agents to whom her decisions apply is not a necessary condition for her decisions to be binding. In the language I used when discussing peace agreements, declarative clauses, and by implication declarative decisions, derive their authority solely from the fact that they instantiate or act as a vehicle for discharging the duties which correlate with human rights. Often, however, individuals will not regard themselves as so bound unless they consent to that official’s decisions: while they are mistaken, the risks that they might resume war, or at any rate fail to support the peace process, might be great enough that their consent should be sought all things considered. Moreover, general duties need specifying, and can often be specified in different and morally equivalent ways. In such cases, respect for individuals’ interest in shaping the conditions under which they conduct their life dictates that they should have a say in the negotiation of peace terms; it thereby requires both that they authorize public officials to act on their behalf, for example through elections, and that they endorse the resulting peace terms. The more wide-ranging peace terms are, the more important it is that individuals each have a say over those terms, via proper authorization procedures.

The latter point occludes two different difficulties. The first difficulty is this. Assume that we can plausibly aver that the citizenries of two countries recently at war authorized their respective governments to settle on peace terms at t1, and endorsed those terms at t2. Are those terms still binding several decades later, when no individual member of those citizenries as they existed at t1 and t2 is still alive? Yes, to the extent that those terms instantiate general, independently justified, and time-independent rights and obligations. When those terms create new rights and obligations, or specify general rights and obligations, the answer to that question is also ‘yes’, so long as each cohort of citizens does not in its majority signal to the other and contemporary citizenry that they do not consider themselves so bound.

The second difficulty arises from the fact that some of our post-war obligations—namely our obligations to apologize and express regret for war-related crimes, and more generally to remember war itself—have affective valence. When the Queen stands at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, she represents all British citizens in that commemorative act. Yet, British citizens may not in fact all feel the same way about the wars in which the United Kingdom has been involved, and it seems overly ambitious to say ‘the British together feel that...’—more ambitious indeed than saying ‘the British have decided to do x (for how on earth can we know what anyone, let alone several people, really feels?) Moreover, even assuming a collective affective agency (as it were), the Queen’s affective attitude may not itself match ours. Those remarks raise the problems of ascribing agency and intention to a collective of individual agents, the related problem of minorities, and the problem of mismatch between citizens’ commitments and officials’ decisions. These are familiar problems in democratic theory, but they arise in this context too—and if nothing else are a salutary reminder of the importance of drawing on various areas of political philosophy when thinking about what is required of belligerents after war.

 
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