Friday, April 02, 2010

If you don't like it you can go and live somewhere else

Tell me what's wrong with this argument?

On the subject of the recent attacks in Moscow by Chechen suicide bombers, Dave Osler says:
"The first point to make is that those whose lives have been ended do not include Putin, or any of the military commanders behind the wars in Chechnya. Almost all the dead will have been office cleaners and shop assistants and others in routine employment.

Those are by definition the only kind of people to be found on tubes in rush hours, and they were no more complicit in Russia’s crimes then their London counterparts on 7/7 were responsible for the invasion of Iraq."
I think there's a problem with that last sentence. I don't buy this 'not in my name' argument at all. Some of the casualties in 7/7 would have voted Labour and more would have voted for the other major party that also backed the war.

And even having voted for a party that didn't support the war offers no get-out here. If you were of voting age on election day 2001, no matter what your individual views are on this subject, it's part of the arithmetic of The General Will and the social contract. We implicitly accept and support our current form of government because it is the currently accepted alternative to a state of nature. We may quibble about the way that power is distributed. We may be unhappy about how decisions are made or by whom.

Perhaps the only possible way of absolving yourself of responsibility for the actions of the UK government during the Iraq war is to have renounced British citizenship and acquired citizenship of a country that had opposed the way prior to the election of the 2001 election. Failing to vote in that election would, for opponents, have been a sin of omission - you could have altered the result by voting. Having voted, say, Lib Dem would also be no defence as the people you voted for accepted the result of that election.

Now, I suspect that there is a glaring hole in this argument, but I don't know what it is. I think that it would become a muddy argument that is a great deal more complicated in the case of people who live in Northern Ireland and voted Sinn Féin by virtue of their abstentionist attitude to Westminster. In their case, I've written around this subject before and I suspect that I could even apply this argument to them, but for now I'd prefer to stick to the case of people who voted for every other party or abstained in the 2001 election - just to test the point.

So go on then? Tell me where I'm wrong here?


MatGB said...

I pretty much agree, it's been something I've been trying to put into words for ages but keep hiting up against a few, well, moral qualms.

Essentially, the argument boils down to "in a democracy, is there any such thing as an innocent civilian", yes?

In which case the voters of Israel (or indeed Palestine) are legitimate targets.

As were the citizens of Coventry and, to a slightly lesser extent (not a democracy) Dresden.

You see why my moral qualms come in there, right?

Essentially, if this is correct, that all are culpable, where do you draw the line?

Paulie said...


"..."in a democracy, is there any such thing as an innocent civilian", yes?

In which case the voters of Israel (or indeed Palestine) are legitimate targets.

As were the citizens of Coventry and, to a slightly lesser extent (not a democracy) Dresden."

Good point. Certainly the population of Baghdad were the innocent victims of any casualties that they suffered - either directly from, or as a response to the actions of their government. Democracy and all of its wrinkles and imperfections muddies this one.

The thing is, democracies rarely go to war with each other, but I think that national populism is an emerging political phenomenon, and it effects this question.

For instance, populist considerations result in politicians making sub-optimal decisions. If they don't make them, they get replaced by someone who will. If - using your example - Israeli politicians were to play their hands badly, promoting short-termism over their long-term strategic interest, then it would be only fair to blame their electorate along with their politicians.

No-one in their right mind would generally defend 'collective punishment' either. But I think that it is hard to argue anything other than that we *are* (contra Dave O) complicit in the actions of our leaders.

BTW, surely the Russian population - with their low standard of democratic practices - are perhaps less complicit than British citizens.

As you know, I've always believed that the quality of *representative* democracy should be a factor in the assessment of a country's democratic credentials - something that I don't believe indexes like the Economist's one does.

Dave O said...

Hmmmm. At the philosophical level, not all of us buy into social contract theory, Paulie, for reasons I suspect I do not have to rehearse with you. You will be well aware of the standard Marxist critiques of Hobbes/Locke/Rousseau.

It it wrong for you - as a supporter of the invasion of Iraq - to generalise from your own policy preference to the statement that it is therefore the implicit policy preference of all those who do not renounce British citizenship.

On your argument, all Germans in the 1930s were therefore fascists, even those that actively participated in resistance. It's hardly a tenable stance.

Paulie said...

I was opposed to the Iraq war as it happens, but my opposition to it was a bit more equivocal than most lefties and I was not keen on a lot of anti-war expression.

I suspect that Democratic socialists don't get the Marxist get-out anyway, do they? I thought you'd joined us anyway? ;-)

Dave O said...

OK, let me rephrase the point; was there ever a state of nature, in which a social contract was signed? No.

What, in fact, is the nature of the state? We cannot be reductionist/essentialist on this point, it obviously has many functions.

But all socialists who think in terms of class analysis surely concede that one of those functions is to maintain the dominance of the ruling class.

Wouldn't have had that down as controversial to you, P?

Paulie said...

This almost qualifies as a ruling I think?

"...political guilt - arising from the fact that everyone 'is co-responsible for the way he is governed' - while it can involve, for example, the indirect penalty that would fall on individuals through a state's liability for reparations after a war, is not said by Jaspers to legitimize acts of violence against individuals who have a share in this general co-responsibility."

About as comprehensive as you can get in a blog-post I think?

I've one minor quibble, relating to what may be Norm's reading of my post. I wasn't saying that the passengers on the underground - in Moscow or London - were legitimate targets for violence in any way. I was just saying that they do bear responsibility for the actions of their governments.

'Political responsibility' as he outlines just about sums it up I think?