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Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Bollettino

Further thoughts on Israel and Palestine.

As we said before, we doubt that the roadmap to peace is either a roadmap, or one that leads to peace. The problem, as we see it, of Israel and Palestine is that both are states claiming legitimacy as representatives of a mystical ethnic group: the Jews, on the one side, the Palestinians, on the other. This isn't to say that ethnic division isn't sufficient for the claim of nationhood - this would be way too unrealistic. Our point, rather, is that ethnic purity is not a claim that a nation can put forward - at least, a civilized nation. We've seen this war fought before - in 1860, in the U.S. - in 1939, in Europe - and in the innumerable small skirmishes that make up the resistance to apartheid, in South Africa.

Martha Nussbaum wrote a famous essay on the cosmopolitan alternative to nationalism - at least it was famous in the 90s. She references the cynic, Diogenes, as the first man who said he was a citizen of the world - and she digs into what that meant for the Stoics, who adopted it during the eclipse of Greek state-nation power. The stoic ideal had, of course, a tremendous influence on the humanists, and on the philosophes. Since the Bush White House is supposedly bursting at the seams with eager Straussians, perhaps they will want to plunge into their copies of Kant's essay on Perpetual Peace - a sort of cosmopolitan manifesto, insofar as Kant was capable of writing a manifesto. The first two points are interesting:

1. "No Treaty of Peace Shall Be Held Valid in Which There Is Tacitly Reserved Matter for a Future War"; and 2. "No Independent States, Large or Small, Shall Come under the Dominion of Another State by Inheritance, Exchange, Purchase, or Donation" One can take the last point as the typical reactionary defense formation of the small German states in the face of the threat of Prussia - or France. But Kant, who is a thoroughgoing philosopher, binds the second point to the wording of his more famous categorical imperative. Just as the duty forbids treating a person as an object, so, too, the usurpation of the power of one state by another is a violation of a state's subjective autonomy: it is to treat the state as a thing: "A state is not, like the ground which it occupies, a piece of property (patrimonium). It is a society of men whom no one else has any right to command or to dispose except the state itself. It is a trunk with its own roots. But to incorporate it into another state, like a graft, is to destroy its existence as a moral person, reducing it to a thing; such incorporation thus contradicts the idea of the original contract without which no right over a people can be conceived."

We've never thought Kant's argument about thinghood, and its morally low status, was very convincing; but we recognize its resonance with the whole moral thematic of liberal politics. Actually, if it wouldn't entail a long detour, we think we could make a convincing case for cynical thinghood as the moral basis of cosmopolitanism -- but never mind that. The thing to hold in mind here, qua Israel and Palestine, is that enforced respect which, at least, allows the cosmopolitan moment. Practically, that would mean the building of certain transnational institutions between Palestine and Israel, such as a court that could fairly try both the encouragers of suicide bombing and the killing of civilians by soldiers. This would provide another route for retaliation, instead of the routes followed by both parties, as in today's paper -- and tomorrow's, and tomorrow's...

LI doesn't believe our suggestion is going to be followed, of course � we hasten to say that. But we do think a real peace plan would address the causes of hostility, instead of endlessly bargaining settlers against the repression of terrorists. Finally, there's a lot to be said for Kant's sixth point:

"6. "No State Shall, during War, Permit Such Acts of Hostility Which Would Make Mutual Confidence in the Subsequent Peace Impossible: Such Are the Employment of Assassins (percussores), Poisoners (venefici), Breach of Capitulation, and Incitement to Treason (perduellio) in the Opposing State";
These are dishonorable stratagems. For some confidence in the character of the enemy must remain even in the midst of war, as otherwise no peace could be concluded and the hostilities would degenerate into a war of extermination (bellum internecinum). War, however, is only the sad recourse in the state of nature (where there is no tribunal which could judge with the force of law) by which each state asserts its right by violence and in which neither party can be adjudged unjust (for that would presuppose a juridical decision); in lieu of such a decision, the issue of the conflict (as if given by a so-called "judgment of God") decides on which side justice lies. But between states no punitive war (bellum punitivum) is conceivable, because there is no relation between them of master and servant."

Oops. The Straussians aren't going to like that phrase about there being "no relation between them of master and servant." Kant, as always, goes too far! Out with the guy -- let's get another court philosopher. How about Tom DeLay?

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