Saturday, March 29, 2003

"We Are All Interventionists Now"


Through Matt Yglesias I discovered this fabulous little essay by Timothy Burke. Without going into any of the philosophical speculation which has characterized my (much too long) posts on the need for a new kind of anti-imperialism and learning from the history of the British empire, Timothy pretty much just cuts to the chase. Here's the best bit:


"When you defend sovereignity as the only moral principle in all the world, and say that all intrusions, forcible or otherwise, are wrong by their very nature, you ought at the same moment to deny yourself any and all judgements about the places and peoples you deem sovereign. If East is East and West is West, then the twain really must never meet, and humanity is sundered from itself, the globe inhabited by ten times ten thousand variants of the genus Homo. If you rise to sovereignity as the singular sacred principle, then human rights, civil liberties, democracy, and freedom are no more than local and parochial virtues....We lose also the ability even to criticize forcible imperial interventions into other cultures or sovereignities because some cultures are demonstrably imperial by their 'nature.' If it is the culture of Islamic societies to convert other societies to Islam, by trade or by force, or the culture of early 21st Century America to bomb and invade, then who are we to criticize? That’s just their way, and in an ethical system that vaults respect for sovereignity to the supreme position of virtue, all ways have their own legitimacy, even violations of sovereignity committed in the name of cultural authenticity. A journey through that hall of mirrors always brings us back to interventionism. We are all interventionists now. The question of the 21st Century is not whether interventions should happen, but how they should happen. It is a question of method and result, not of yes or no."


I'm sure Timothy and I would disagree on a lot, but when he asks just what "sovereignty" means today, and who possesses it (states? nations? cultural groups?), and on what basis can we (if we can) distinguish between "imposing Roe vs. Wade...on a town of Southern Baptists in Georgia" and "invading Iraq with tanks," he's asking the right questions. Read the whole thing.