Why peoples and not states?

As the title shows, the actors and parties who formulate the law of peoples are peoples and not states, like the domestic case in which the citizens are the actors within society. The merits of peoples over states are that the former lack traditional sovereignty, which endorses the powers, including the right to go to war in pursuit of state policies - Clausewitz’s pursuit of politics by another means - with the ends of politics given by a state’s rational prudential interests (Rawls, 1999, p. 25). The powers of sovereignty also grant a state a certain wrong autonomy in dealing with its own people. In this view, the peoples are free and equal.

So the law of peoples has two important factions: the liberal peoples and the decent peoples.

The decent peoples

In the performance and execution of ‘the law of peoples’, two types of society have a moral role. The first is composed of liberal peoples who have three basic features: a reasonably just, constitutional, democratic government that serves their fundamental interests; citizens unified by what Mill called ‘common sympathies’; and, finally, a moral nature that requires a firm attachment to a political (moral) concept of right and justice. The second type of society is that of decent peoples. The basic structure of one kind of decent people has what Rawls called ‘decent consultation hierarchy’ and is worthy of membership in a society of peoples. These two types are ‘ well- ordered peoples’. Rawls asserts that there may exist decent non-liberal peoples who accept and follow the law of peoples. To this end he gave an imagined example of a non-liberal Muslim people, calling it Kazanistan. This people satisfy the criteria for decent hierarchical peoples: it is non-aggressive against other peoples, it honours and respects human rights and its basic structure contains a decent consultation hierarchy (Rawls, 1999, pp. 4, 5, 23).

The main component of the law of peoples is not a fantasy that cannot be reached.

Being realistic

Political philosophy is realistically utopian when it extends to what is normally thought to be the limits of the politically practicable and, in so doing, it reconciles us to our political and social conditions. What makes it possible is the diversity among well-ordered peoples, therefore, the law of people as acceptable and fair and effective in shaping the larger schemes of their cooperation. The society of well-ordered peoples is realistic in this way: it is workable and may be applied to ongoing cooperative political arrangements and relations between peoples. It does not require religious unity. Rather it concentrates on toleration. In this way the great evils would vanish and such peoples would not seek to convert others to their religion, or to conquer more territory or to wield political power over another people. Through negotiation and trade they can fulfil their needs and economic interests (Rawls, 1999, pp. 11, 17, 19).

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