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Alexander Moseley & Richard Norman (eds.)

Human Rights and Military Intervention

Alexander Moseley &
Richard Norman (eds.):
Human Rights and Military Intervention.
Burlington: Ashgate, 2002.
296 pages
ISBN 0-7546-0867-0
book cover
Ashgate Publishing:
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»John Stuart Mill famously asks whether it would be better to be a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied fool, but arguably it is better to secure the ideas of Socrates for posterity than to let them perish and save the fool.«

Alexander Moseley / Heather Eisenhut

The articles of the anthology Human Rights and Military Invention are arranged in six very different sections and present a rather heterogeneous discussion about the topic. In the first contribution Gideon Calder opposes Richard Rorty's point of view that human rights do not require a theoretical basis, pointing to the undesirable effects of Rorty's perspective and subsequently identifying human nature as the main basic principle. O'Reardon also sees a necessity for reasoning, but, with a background in theology, he especially criticises John Rawls and Rawls's concept of the exclusion of the unreasonable individual while praising Charles Taylor. In another article, Maria Michela Marzano attempts to undermine the condemnable ethical nature of female circumcision with charts and figures. For her, diversity can only arise from a finite number of acceptable values and reaches its limits when human dignity is jeopardised.

In the following contribution Nigel Dower no longer concerns himself with the theoretical basis of human rights, but considers the ethical aspects of a humanitarian intervention. Gandhi's quotation »The means are the ends in the making« accompanies him until the conclusion, in which he eventually expresses a preference for renouncing violence. The position of the following author, Paul Robinson, is similar, Robinson emphasising the erraticness of the logic of war from the very beginning. Interestingly enough Robinson considers humanitarian intervention as an exception, but vehemently opposes any (institutionalised) right for any such intervention. He further argues that the relatively recent appeal of humanitarian interventions essentially derives from the military superiority of western countries, which, precisely because of this superiority, do not need to fear becoming a target of their practices.

In the next section Stephen R.L. Clark and Mark Evans disagree with a well-known argument against humanitarian interventions – that is, that they are neither fair nor impartial, but ultimately always trace back to »realistic« political motivations. Subsequently, Chris Brown demonstrates that this »new« interventionism goes back to customary, »Westphalian« traditions and believes that the problem is in principle exaggerated. The determination of those striving for a just world order should not waver because of more far-reaching obstacles like global inequality.

Brendan Howe advocates a further development of international law, his reasoning primarily attempting to develop a theory on the basis of the weaknesses of Michael Walzer's position. Jamie Munn also bases himself on Walzer's theory, highlighting the double-edged meaning of the term self-determination. He shows that this term can be used in support of as well as against an intervention. Paul Gilbert raises the question about the constitution of political communities, using it essentially to criticise the cosmopolitical position. Ian Brassington attempts to prove through theory that we are always affected by the fate of other people – or at least since the existence of the »global village«. Philip Ross wants to resist a liberal world order through discursive means and attempts to develop a »republican« alternative.

In the final contribution Alexander Moseley and Heather Eisenhut jointly pose the following question: What is it worth dying for? They come to the conclusion that interventions should not only take place because of humanitarian reasons, but also to protect cultural achievements. They state pointedly, »John Stuart Mill famously asks whether it would be better to be a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied fool, but arguably it is better to secure the ideas of Socrates for posterity than to let them perish and save the fool.« (276)

The book manages to assemble many interesting articles and approaches, with the majority of the authors believing that humanitarian interventions are justified – although for rather different reasons. A clear conclusion or an implementable recommendation however is not provided by the anthology.

Georg Maißer

Translation from the German by Marlies Gabriele Prinzl.

polylog: Forum for Intercultural Philosophy 5 (2004).
Online: http://lit.polylog.org/5/smnmg-en.htm
ISSN 1616-2943
Author: Georg Maißer, Vienna (Austria)
© 2004 Author & polylog e.V.
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