Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Again on the new realism

We've talked a little about Mark Mazower here quite recently, a great writer whose work has delved into some of the most inhumane episodes of modern human history. So I note with interest his claim that "A new era of pragmatism seems to be in the making, and the concept of humanitarian intervention is dying if not dead." He is making, I think, exactly the same observation I made here, but draws the opposite conclusions.

Norm replies well, and here is an extract from his response:
the fact that assaults by a state on its own citizens are one of the more terrible fates that can befall people, a fate that usually leaves them with nowhere to turn, and the related fact that in certain circumstances humanitarian intervention is the only recourse, the only means of rescue - these two facts leave me puzzled over why Mazower should see fit so to talk down the importance of the problem in question: of 'the way leaders treat their people'; more particularly, of how to deal with situations in which governments commit crimes against humanity on a mass scale. 'Maturity' isn't the word I would choose to describe the attitude Mazower for his part is welcoming.[...]
Mazower also invokes the shadow of imperial ambition to cast doubt on the validity of the universal principles in light of which humanitarian intervention is justified (when it is). Yet these principles are not - or not just - the principles of the West. They are embodied in international conventions and legal instruments designed to protect all peoples from their own governments, as well as from the depredations of external enemies and invaders. At the end of World War II, after the horrors of Nazism, establishing these principles in international law was held to be a task of some priority and urgency. That it should now be thought immature to uphold a doctrine in which they are taken seriously is a remarkable testimony to the way in which a wide cohort of today's liberal intelligentsia has been knocked sideways by current political animosities it is unable to control.


ModernityBlog said...

That's a fascinating blog, some excellent reviews there.

The Contentious Centrist said...

I don't understand how "pragmatism" is posed in apposition to the concept of humanitarian intervention.

In what way is humanitarian intervention NOT a pragmatic policy?

The ancient Chinese sage Mencius (4th century BC) says:

"This is why I say that all men have a sense of commiseration: here is a man who suddenly notices a child about to fall into a well. Invariably he will feel a sense of alarm and compassion. And this is not for the purpose of gaining the favour of the child's parents or of seeking the approbation of his neighbours and friends, or for fear of blame should he fail to rescue it. Thus we see that no man is without a sense of compassion or a sense of shame or a sense of courtesy or a sense of right and wrong. The sense of compassion is the beginning of humanity, the sense of shame is the beginning of righteousness, and sense of courtesy is the beginning of decorum, the sense of right and wrong is the beginning of wisdom. Every man has within himself these four beginnings, just as he has four limbs. Since everyone has these four beginnings within him, the man who considers himself incapable of exercising them is destroying himself."

Self-destruction does not strike me as a very pragmatic policy.

bob said...

I agree. That is why I always put "realism" in scare quotes. See also Kellie on self-interested idealism in the comment thread to the post linked to with the word "here" in the first para of this post.