Book Project

Promoting Justice Across Borders: Political Theory for the New Global Politics

The global political arena is diverse and dynamic, alive with multitudes of state and non-state actors striving to influence each other with every tool at their disposal. We need a political theory of global politics to help us navigate this arena in all its complexity. And this requires moving beyond the field’s traditional focus on states engaging in global politics by waging wars or employing other conventional tools of coercive foreign policy. Promoting Justice Across Borders develops a new political theory of global politics better suited to our increasingly interconnected world, in which non-state actors play an ever-more-important role, and in which global political actors of all sorts influence each other using many tactics besides force and coercion. I construct a more complete, nuanced ethics of foreign political influence than any currently on offer by paying attention to how these varied modes of influence raise correspondingly varied moral issues.

The ethical standards I develop call on us to rethink received notions about the ordinary bounds of politics, and to abandon the thought that politics does and should take place primarily within the state. These ethical standards give us a model for how to engage in political struggles for justice on a global scale—not only in conditions of supreme emergency, but in the ordinary circumstances of everyday global politics. They therefore form the basis of a cosmopolitanism that is neither premised upon nor aimed at bringing about the end of politics. They show how the promotion of justice everywhere can be the legitimate (political) concern of people anywhere.

More specifically, I develop ethical standards for what I call reform intervention—a broad category, encompassing any deliberate attempt to promote justice in a foreign society. Reform intervention has the potential to be a real force for good in the world, but it has often, understandably, been subject to significant moral criticism. There are three standard objections frequently levied against reform intervention: first, that it treats recipients with intolerance; second, that it fails to properly respect their legitimate political institutions; and, third, that it undermines their collective self-determination. We must take these objections seriously, but the impression that they apply to all instances of reform intervention is mistaken. The error results from two things: (1) a failure to recognize the full range of forms reform intervention can take, and (2) a widespread mis-understanding of how appropriate commitments to the values underlying the standard objections (toleration, legitimacy, and collective self-determination) would require global political actors to behave.

 My book addresses both problems, correcting the misconception that reform intervention is generally impermissible because it’s vulnerable to the standard objections, and providing a philosophically-grounded, principled account of when it is and isn’t. In Chapter 1, I construct a typology of reform intervention, identifying the different forms it can take and their morally significant distinguishing features. This typology provides a conceptual framework we can use to morally evaluate all kinds of reform intervention—even those current scholarship neglects. Chapters 2-4 examine under what conditions the different types of reform intervention are impermissible because they fall prey to the standard objections. These chapters also offer important correctives to the way prominent political theory scholarship treats the foundational political-moral values of toleration, legitimacy, and collective self-determination. 

Taken together, Chapters 2-4 present a vision of conscientious global political contestation undertaken by both participating in and opening up our own societies to reform intervention. They articulate a new way of thinking about what it means to treat people in other societies well—not by leaving them to tend to their own affairs or insisting they leave us to tend to ours, but by engaging with them in political contestation to advance the cause of justice. 

Chapter 5 argues that this vision isn’t simply a high-minded ideal, but one we can put into practice in the real world. Though there are serious pragmatic obstacles to implementing the ethical standards I defend—such as the lack of global institutions capable of effectively coordinating compliance with them, and the risk that even well-intentioned reform intervention will produce negative side-effects—Chapter 5 develops strategies to surmount them.

 Ultimately, I argue that some identifiable types of reform intervention (and some actual reform interventions) are all-things-considered morally permissible. They are compatible with appropriate commitments to toleration, legitimacy, and collective self-determination (they aren’t rendered impermissible by any of the standard objections) and they successfully surmount the main pragmatic obstacles to responsible reform intervention in a non-ideal world. 

Further, if you believe—as I argue in Chapter 1 we should—that there’s a globally-applicable natural duty of justice requiring us to help support and establish just institutions everywhere, you should conclude that some of these morally-permissible reform interventions are in fact morally required. This is especially true in an increasingly globalized world where engaging in political contestation across borders without substantial cost to oneself is arguably easier than ever. Indeed, I argue we are each morally required to adopt a set of life-projects that involves promoting justice (including in foreign societies) whenever we can do so without significantly disrupting the pursuit of whatever other projects we see as central to our lives. Further, not only does the natural duty of justice sometimes require us to engage in reform intervention, it also requires us to open up our own political institutions to certain kinds of potentially justice-promoting intervention from abroad.