Society for Philosophy and Culture seminar, held at McMaster University, Canada, in March 2013, as part of our series "Crossing Borders". Violetta Igneski speaks on "Human Rights and Our Obligations to Persons Beyond Our Borders" with responses by Bonny Ibhawoh and Rhoda Howard-Hassmann.
The reason the move to liberal cosmopolitanism seems so attractive to many political philosophers is that by taking the individual as the basic unit of justice, it is able to justify a more robust redistribution of resources, wealth, capabilities (etc.), ideally leading to greater justice and equality on a global scale in contrast with state-centred liberals (such as Rawls, Nagel and Blake) whose emphasis on the state and recognition of the moral significance of state borders leads them to adopt relatively weak duties towards individuals outside our borders. While recognising some minimal “charitable” obligations, these state-centred liberals show that it is not possible (and possibly not even desirable) to justify the coercion necessary on an international scale to bring about global justice. In this paper, I ask if this gives us good reason to abandon state-centred liberalism in favour of cosmpolitanism. I answer in the negative, arguing that aside from the enormous theoretical and practical hurdles facing the cosmopolitan in achieving global justice, this isn’t the pursuit in which we ought to be engaged. Instead, we should reexamine what our goals should be at the global level and pursue the means necessary for achieving these ends. Working from within a modified state-centred liberal position, I would like to suggest that it is neither minimal charitable duties of rescue nor thorough-going egalitarian justice that is owed to individuals at the global level but rather to strengthen and uphold our system of international human rights. To achieve this goal, we need to both strengthen our national and international institutions. This may not bring about full egalitarian justice but if the consequence of having stronger global institutions would be a greater respect for persons and the enforcement of human rights for all, this is a good place to be.
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