Works in Progress

Justice Across Borders: The Ethics of Foreign Political Influence

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"


This article develops a novel conception of international toleration according to which toleration sometimes gives us reason to (1) engage with people in other societies (2) in an attempt to change their behavior (3) based on our assessment of how well it aligns with the full requirements of justice. This conception, which I call toleration as engagement, challenges prominent views on international toleration, such as Rawls’ and Walzer’s, that say toleration requires us to stay out of other societies’ politics. My analysis goes beyond that of other critics of Rawls and Walzer (such as Michael Blake and Kok-Chor Tan) who have also argued that toleration doesn’t always preclude justice-promoting intervention. Though they give accounts of for what ends toleration gives us reason to get involved in other societies’ politics, they say little abouthow (i.e., using what tactics) we should do so. But this question of tactics also implicates the value of toleration—some tactics are more tolerant than others. My argument for toleration as engagement will take the question of tactics as central, thus allowing me to address a set of normative questions about global politics that Blake and Tan largely overlook.

"Promoting Justice Across Borders"


Extant literature on the ethics of foreign political influence centers narrowly on states using coercion or force. But this belies the nature of global politics as actually practiced—alive with pluralities of state and non-state actors trading influence in every way imaginable. We need an ethics of foreign influence more sensitive to these conditions, lest we be left without the resources to analyze much of global politics. This article begins to develop such an ethics. Focusing on foreign influence meant to promote justice in recipient societies, I develop ethical standards to identify which kinds of foreign influence undertaken by which actors are morally permissible. I argue that, once we account for the full range of forms foreign influence can take, we’ll discover that some are immune to the moral objections usually leveled against “foreign intervention.” This, in turn, suggests that we should adopt a more global perspective on political contestation.

"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.

"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.