Thursday, October 10, 2002

American Unilateralism: A Vigilantism

Millions upon millions of people do not like the idea of America attacking a country without UN permission. One has to abide by law, consensus, the democratic process, and a spirit of cooperation, it is said. "Unilateralism" has become a pejoritive term, as has "vigilantism".

I say that American unilateralism is vigilantism. But it's a good thing. Vigilantism is wrong when there is a government in place that enforces good laws well. But in the case of the international sphere, there is no such government. The UN is not a government that enforces good laws well. It's not much of a government, with very little law enforcement might. It is like the lack of government in the Wild West of two hundred years ago. And its laws are not much better, in some cases, than the 19th C. American laws permitting slavery. Blacks in the 19th C. American South were morally entitled to ignore American law and defend themselves and their liberty with force. Blacks were morally permitted to free themselves by force, even though this was "illegal". By the same token, in the absence of governmental law enforcement, Wild West cowboys were morally entitled to form posses of vigilantes and, by force, punish wrongdoers.

When the law enforcement is too feeble and the law beyond the pale of one's reasonable self-interest, one is morally entitled to take the vigilante path. The reason is that one is never morally obligated to submit to oppression. "Oppression" is a strong term. There are cases in which one is obligated to accept a law that one deems less than perfect; the democratic spirit of compromise requires this. But when the law is largely against one's self interest or feebly enforced, one may "take the law into one's own hands". You might object, "But that is to countenance anarchy! You can't just allow every country to do as it pleases!" Yet, in this case, when one faces one's own oppression at the hands of others, it is morally permissible to wage war and make anarchy. You certainly wouldn't chastise the slave of the 19th C. for breaking his shackles, on the grounds that it is an anarchistic move. When what government there is will not protect you, you have a right to take matters into your own hands. Yes, we can't just allow every country to do as it pleases. But this is precisely why we're justified in using force against our enemies, whether the UN gives its okay or not. For our enemies are precisely countries that do as they please. And we certainly can allow every country innocent of any aggression to defend itself. The decision to go against the international community's request that we not invade Iraq does not commit us to the view that any country may do as it pleases; it only commits us to the view that an innocent country may defend itself whether others approve or not.

The standard to live by is a moral standard, not the democratic/statist standard of political consensus. The minority has a duty to bow to majority consensus only when the majority protects all of the minority's important interests (in other words, the interests any reasonable, moral person would deem important). But even that democratic/statist standard rests upon the moral principle that at the level of arbitration of less important values, in other words, the level we are concerned with only after the fundamental level of important interests is secured, the minority has no right to force it's morality on a majority but must acquiesce to the majority's preference. When we are forced to choose amongst principles each of which is reasonable, the only moral reason to be found is majority rule.

But when circumstances force us to revisit the fundamental level, we see that there is no such democratic duty. America (nor Israel, by the way) is not obligated to submit to oppression by Arabs, just because the UN determines that it must do so. The UN does not make and enforce laws sufficient enough to protect Americans from suitcase nukes and other weapons of mass destruction delivered by Arab states. A vigilantistic unilateralism is in order, therefore. There's no good sherif in these parts, boys; time to round up a posse.