Tuesday, June 9, 2015

When language, religion, and urination collide

This NYT column from last month (h/t HC) by Tahmima Anam focuses on the shortage of public toilets in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  The result has been a great deal of outdoor excretion by men (but not women).  To discourage it, the government has hired an ad agency and covered the walls in Arabic, urging the populace not to urinate on a language most of them can't read because it is the holy tongue (or some such reasoning).  This is beyond stupid.  As Anam writes:
[The program] tells Bangladeshi citizens that it is acceptable to urinate on their own language, but not on Arabic. At a moment when the shadow of Islamic fundamentalism looms large, the subtext of the signage is to declare the conservative religious forces triumphant in this symbolic struggle over language. Predictably, the ministry has been heavily censured. Critics argue that the government should spend its money on building toilets, not painting signs.
No! What a concept! Use the money to build more toilets. Duh. Of course one of the underlying problems is that Dhaka was never designed to be a city of tens of millions of people (it's projected to have 20 million people by 2025, Anam notes; Wikipedia, citing Mike Davis's book (Planet of Slums), says 25 million by 2025).  Anyway, having 67 public toilets, many of which apparently don't really function, in a city of some 15 million people, a fair portion of whom are either working outdoors or scrounging survival on the streets, is absurd.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Scalia: Pres. must not have "uncontrolled mastery" over foreign affairs [cough]

The SCOTUS passport case that came down today (pdf here) reflected mostly a liberal-conservative split (Kennedy writing the majority opinion), with Thomas wandering off on his own.  At issue was a statutory provision requiring the State Dept., on request, to list Israel as the place of birth in a passport of a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem.  The majority struck this down, saying it improperly constrained the President's power to recognize foreign governments and noting that the official executive-branch policy is (in the words of the syllabus, i.e. the opinon summary) that it "does not recognize any country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem."

Scalia, writing the main dissent (which was the only opinion I spent any time looking at), was indignant ("nonsense," logic worthy of "Mad Hatter") and professed to have enormous concern for the separation of powers and that the President should not have "uncontrolled mastery" over foreign policy.  Two things: first, Scalia insisted that recognition is "a type of legal act," not "a type of statement," which ignores or glosses over the fact that legal acts of recognition are themselves statements; second, one might be forgiven for wondering whether Scalia would have been so concerned about untrammeled presidential power in foreign affairs if this case had concerned something other than Israel and Jerusalem.

Note: Post edited slightly after initial posting.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Another Ataturk?

Margaret Warner on the upcoming Turkish elections (here):
this is an election at which you don’t have at stake the classic issues of war and peace or the economy. It’s really about Erdogan’s wanting to fulfill this lifelong dream of becoming another Kemal Ataturk, the all-powerful Turkish president who founded modern Turkey almost 100 years ago.
Of course, Ataturk founded Turkey as a secular state and Erdogan's party is an Islamic one. Details, details.

The usually perspicacious Ms. Warner also said this:
And so what you have now is, of course [Erdogan] still has a huge base of rural, conservative, Islamic support. And nobody thinks he won’t win most votes or his party won’t win most. But enough voters are telling pollsters that they are worried that, if he gets the kind of huge margin he wants to ram through this constitutional change [increasing executive powers], then he will become very much like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, in other words, an elected, but authoritarian ruler.
'Competitive authoritarianism' much? Where are Levitsky & Way when you need 'em? [link]

Update (6/10): The election is over and Erdogan did not win by the margin he needed to revamp the constitution.

The just war tradition and sovereignty (book review)

James Turner Johnson, Sovereignty: Moral and Historical Perspectives. Georgetown University Press, 2014. 181 pp. (including bibliography and index).


James Turner Johnson is an expert on 'the just war tradition,' and in Sovereignty he considers the co-evolution of ideas about sovereignty and just war.  Indeed the book probably should have been called something like The Just War Tradition and Sovereignty, since that would have more accurately indicated its contents than the title it actually carries.

Johnson's starting point is a conception of sovereignty that predates the modern state, one that defined sovereignty "in terms of the moral responsibility of the ruler for the common good of the people governed" (p.2).  Johnson is rather vague about what this meant in practice, but at a minimum a ruler's "moral responsibility" entailed meting out just punishments and protecting the political community from external (and internal) threats.  The 'sovereign', a ruler "without temporal superior," was sometimes required to wage war for these purposes.  This particular notion of sovereignty thus developed in tandem with what Part 1 of the book calls the 'classic just war tradition.'  One probably could also make a case, though Johnson does not do so, that this somewhat paternalistic view of authority traces back, at least in the West, to Plato's description of the guardians in the Republic

In any event, one of the book's main arguments is that this older view of sovereignty, in its concern with the quality of rule and the sovereign's responsibility for the common good, has a moral dimension that the modern view, with its emphasis on territorial integrity and non-intervention, lacks.  Yet some writers, such as Robert Jackson in The Global Covenant and Brad R. Roth in Sovereign Equality and Moral Disagreement, have argued that the principles of territorial inviolability and non-intervention have their own moral foundation, inasmuch as they allow, at least in theory, each 'political community' to shape its own destiny with a minimum of external meddling.  Roth's position is that "...international law's highest and best uses remain those given pride of place in the United Nations Charter: the establishment of a platform for peaceful accommodation among states representing a diversity of interests and values, and the protection of weak political communities from overbearing projections of power by strong foreign states"
(Sovereign Equality and Moral Disagreement, p.5).  By contrast, Johnson is less concerned with "overbearing projections of power" from outside and more concerned that existing sovereignty norms often serve to shield bad behavior by oppressive or murderous rulers.  This in turn raises questions about, among other things, the moral status of state boundaries and state autonomy, questions that Johnson tends to answer only indirectly. 


Although there is a nod in the first chapter in the direction of Augustine and "the Augustinian heritage," the book's historical discussion really gets underway with Aquinas, who listed "three requirements for a war to be just: the authority of a prince [auctoritas principis], a just cause, and a right intention" (pp.16-17).  The prince's responsibility was to uphold "the moral order itself" and thereby "the divine will," by punishing injustices and those who had committed them (pp.19, 20).  Aquinas distinguished between rulers who acted in the interest of the political community and 'tyrants' who did not; however, he was not consistent on "how to respond to tyranny" (p.41).   

quinas's main concern was jus ad bellum, i.e. the grounds for starting a war, rather than what came to be called jus in bello, i.e. the conduct of a war once begun.  The latter considerations entered the tradition via the writing of Honoré Bonet and Christine de Pisan during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) (p.43).  These writers "joined the chivalric 'law of arms'" to Aquinas's jus ad bellum requirements, and the "combined conception was then passed on into the debates over warfare in the early modern period" (p.43).  Thus by the fifteenth century, if not before, 'just war theory' already encompassed two basic questions: (1) Under what circumstances is it just to begin a war? and (2) What constitutes just conduct on the battlefield (and in the treatment of noncombatants, prisoners, etc.)?

After discussing Aquinas and several of Aquinas's Neo-Scholastic successors, Johnson moves on to Luther and some other Reformation thinkers, and then to Grotius.  Grotius (drawing on some previous writers such as Vitoria) shifted "the locus of authority to wage just war...from the prince to the commonwealth," with the prince now seen as the polity's agent or representative (p.82).  Grotius also put more emphasis on defense, especially defense of the polity's territory, as a justification for war (p.84).  The political community's right to defend itself is now seen as derivative of the individual right to self-defense, and the authority to act in the community's defense is delegated from its members to the ruler.  

Johnson sees the Grotian emphasis on self-defense as a narrowing of the earlier conception of just war and sovereignty.  Here Johnson takes the traditional view of the Peace of Westphalia, i.e., he regards it as having laid the ground for the close connection between sovereignty and territory that has characterized the modern state system.  However, this view of the Peace of Westphalia has been quite persuasively criticized in recent years.  Older, 'feudal' notions of territoriality and authority clearly persist in the Westphalian treaties; Johnson neither acknowledges this nor quotes any articles of the treaties.  He does say that the shift in focus from the ruler-as-independent-actor to the ruler-as-the-polity's-agent resulted from reading the Peace of Westphalia through a Grotian lens (p.93), but that's a different point.  There's nothing wrong with accepting the dominant linguistic conventions and retaining the adjective "Westphalian" to refer to the current sovereignty regime (or key aspects of it), provided one notes -- as Johnson fails to do -- that its link to the actual provisions of the Peace of Westphalia is rather tenuous, to say the least.       

In the book's second part Johnson discusses issues of contemporary resonance, namely Islamic views of just war (ch. 6) and 'the responsibility to protect' (ch. 7), taking a broad view of the latter.  He is, however, unduly critical of the UN (p.160).  I'm not going to summarize these chapters in any detail here (so readers who are interested in them will have to consult the book).

The brevity of this book is welcome but it comes at a cost: Johnson does not engage with most of the secondary literature on the writers he discusses.  A fairly standard work like Richard Tuck's The Rights of War and Peace is not in the bibliography; nor is Edward Keene's Beyond the Anarchical Society, which connects Grotius to colonialism.  (Nor, with a couple of exceptions, does Johnson reference recent work on sovereignty and territoriality, though it's admittedly somewhat more removed from his main concerns.)  Still, Johnson's core chapters do provide an overview of some of the main lines of thought on just war and sovereignty in the Western tradition.  Rather than adopting the neutral tone of a textbook or survey, Johnson makes a definite argument, and one that might be questioned on certain points; this book is therefore probably best read in conjunction with other treatments of the same general ground that take a different perspective.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Demography 101

There seems to be a fair amount of misinformation being purveyed in the comment thread to Loomis's post about population, though at least a few of the comments are accurate, such as the one that noted that global population is on track to level off at about 8.5 or 9 billion.  The problem is not the simple one of too many people, but rather, as a few comments noted, how environmental issues, land use, consumption patterns, and maldistribution of resources interact with population density.  The projected impact of climate change on the low-lying areas of Bangladesh (which comprise a large part of the country) is a case in point.  

The fertility trend in many countries has been downward, often sharply so, in recent decades, with sub-Saharan Africa, if I'm not mistaken, being an exception.  One would expect the poorest countries in the world not yet to have completed 'the demographic transition', i.e., birth rates in those countries have remained high while death rates have fallen (e.g., infant and child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, although still substantial and unacceptable from a human-rights standpoint, is notably lower than 20 or 30 years ago).  I don't follow these issues all that closely but I believe what I've said here is roughly correct.  The 'demographic transition' is Demography 101, and the apparent absence of reference to it in the LGM comment thread is perhaps indicative of the thread's quality.