Works in Progress

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

This book project, based on my dissertation, develops ethical standards to govern attempts to promote justice in foreign societies. It engages with prominent thinking on topics such as toleration, legitimacy, collective self-determination, and the perils of activism in a non-ideal world to produce a more complete, nuanced ethics of foreign political influence than others currently on offer. In so doing, it seeks to help us better understand the proper place of cross-border political contestation in global politics.

I hosted a manuscript workshop at Chapman University in November 2018, sponsored by the Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy. Michael Blake, Simone Chambers, Aaron James, Inés Valdez, and Bas van der Vossen participated as discussants.

"Toleration as Engagement"


Conventional wisdom, which says toleration requires we refrain from promoting justice in foreign societies, encourages complacency in the face of global injustice. Alternative views avoid encouraging complacency by arguing that a principled commitment to toleration is compatible with promoting justice abroad. But this comes at a cost—denying that toleration gives us principled reason to respect foreigners’ domestic political choices, even when (we think) they create injustice. Neither the conventional view nor the alternatives recognize how themeans by which we promote justice in a foreign society (e.g., persuasion, incentivization, negotiation with local elites, coercion, force) can affect whether or not our influence is compatible with toleration. Here, I develop a novel view of international toleration that explains how we can avoid both complacency and disrespect—and that does so by accounting for how the means by which foreign influence is exercised affect whether it’s compatible with toleration.

"Promoting Justice Across Borders"


Political theorists have written a great deal about the ethics of “intervention,” defined as states using coercion or force to interfere in foreign societies’ politics. But this work leaves much of global politics un-analyzed—both because non-state actors play an increasingly significant role in it and because its practitioners use many tactics besides force and coercion.We need an ethics of foreign influence to help us navigate the global political arena in all its complexity. Here, I begin to develop a unified theory of the ethics of deliberate attempts to promote justice in foreign societies, whether undertaken by state or non-state actors, and whatever tactics they employ. I identify two important but under-appreciated dimensions along which instances of foreign influence can differ and argue that, once we appreciate the full range of forms foreign influence can take, we’ll see it’s often immune to the common moral objections against intervention.

"Does Positive Liberty Encourage Authoritarianism?: Berlin's Account of Freedom Revisited"


In “Two Concepts of Liberty,” Isaiah Berlin famously argues that adopting a “positive” conception of liberty would incline us toward the belief that authoritarianism could be both morally acceptable and compatible with the freedom of those subject to it. Here, I defend a conception of positive liberty that avoids this “authoritarian objection.” I argue that Berlin underemphasizes one key element of the rationalist metaphysical tradition he claims underpins theories of positive liberty—namely, that all persons have equal epistemic access to the moral truth. Giving this aspect of rationalism proper attention allows us to develop a positive conception of liberty that not only doesn’t give us reason to support authoritarianism, but that actually gives us strong reason to oppose it. Here, I develop one such conception via critical engagement with Charles Taylor, demonstrating that positive liberty can ground a robust principled commitment to resisting authoritarianism.

"The Possibility of the Political"


Here, I attempt to vindicate John Rawls’s idea of public reason against a common objection. Specifically, I address the objection that governance by a purely political conception of justice is impossible, because there can be no such conception that is entirely freestanding from any comprehensive doctrine whatsoever. I argue that recognizing each person has equal epistemic access to the moral truth allows us to affirm Rawls’s justice as fairness while simultaneously rejecting comprehensive liberalism. I then examine the ways in which liberal states not only allow but also subsidize non-liberal lifestyles and social formations within their civil societies. Taken together, these contributions illustrate how political liberalism (presented as an example of political conceptions of justice generally) can be both logically and practically independent of any specific comprehensive doctrine.