Tag Archives: Moral Obligation

Diaspora and Apartheid: Study Abroad Research

“If we can prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing something of comparable moral importance, then we ought, morally to do it.”

-Peter Singer[1]



This summer I will be participating in the JSIS/Hellenic Studies program hosted by the University of Washington in partnership with Harvard University in Greece, which is a research project that will analyze how apartheid and diaspora have and continue to impact the people in the Baltic region.


Any system or practice that separates people according to race, caste, etc.


Any group that has been dispersed outside its traditional homeland, especially involuntarily, as Africans during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

People may choose to migrate of their own accord for many reasons, such as, migrating for survival or to improve their life chances, and in other situations people may be forced to migrate by an individual, group, institution or regime that has more coercive power than their victims. Regardless of our feelings about the morality of legal and illegal migration, and whether migrants should be allowed access into other states, the fact remains that our planet is stratified in a hierarchical system of inequalities wherein certain citizens of different countries (and even between citizens within a given country, such as those with caste systems) have different levels of access to opportunities and life-chances. And if it is the case that we have the “right” to seek the improvement of our lives, then their choice to migrate is justified by that right. How much more so is there a need to uphold this right when people mass-migrate to avoid a national catastrophe, such as famine or genocide because without such a right, then these people would be doomed to tragic deaths? In regard to the latter situation of forced migration of many people, which is most often associated with diaspora, violates the “right to improve one’s life” because the imposed migration supersedes the individual’s choice not to migrate and to improve their lives in the way they see fit.

However, in either case, one of individual choice (whether legal or not), or one of forced migration, the citizens and/or the governments of the host nations may or not welcome the migrants. In such cases where migrants are not welcomed, the potential for forced segregation, or apartheid, becomes much more likely and with the prevalence of language barriers it is even more difficult for the migrants to seek protection and reparation for the harms done to them. Harm in this context is being defined as making something or someone worse off than before the act was carried out. Recently, the New York Times published an article titled, “Africans, Battered and Broke, Surge to Europe’s Door,” about the migration of Africans into Spain, many of who were fired upon by the border control while attempting cross the border, the remainder were living in shelters for immigrants or in immigration centers waiting to learn of their fates.[2] This report reveals two phenomena; first, that there is a difference between countries and some are more desirable than others to live in; second, that states attempt to control who migrates and when with borders are protected by military forces against foreigners; third, that if and when people do make it across the borders of protected countries that they are segregated and mal-treated; and fourth, that this is still a prevalent and troubling issue for many people.

The issues that migration, especially, when it involves diaspora and apartheid, reveal violations of human rights, listed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR). Within the UNDHR, are such rights as the “right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state” (Article 13), the “right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution” (Article 14), the “right to life, liberty and security of person” (Article 3), and the “right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services” (Article 25).[3] The importance of the legal status of a migrant is undermined by the violations of their rights, which assume precedence. We have a moral obligation “not to harm” others, and I am sure that you will agree with me that being forced to leave your home by one power and then being forcefully segregated by another power in terms of nationality, country of origin, religion or race is a worse harm than their being in the county of another illegally.

Even if it can be shown that illegal immigration is somehow a harm to the citizens of the host-nation, say by appealing to an over-taxation of a nation’s resources, or even a violation of a citizen’s right to the “freedom of association,” two wrongs do not make a right, and that would not justify the harmful treatment that migrants are receiving. Responding to the former claim, Charles Beitz, in the article, Justice and International Relations, argues that the possession of resources is “morally arbitrarily,” and as such no one individual has a moral claim to any particular resource that is morally justifiable.[4] This only becomes important because of the concepts of scarcity and resource distribution, wherein there is a limited amount of resources and those resources are spread around the planet in an unequal distribution between the nations. What this means for people is that in the dependent on the places that they live, they have different levels of access to resources and thus, access to different resources that are positively correlated with life-chances. Responding to the second claim, Joseph Carens in, Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders, suggests that:

Citizenship in Western liberal democracies is the modern equivalent of feudal privilege – an inherited status that greatly enhances one’s life chances. Like feudal birthright privileges, restrictive citizenship is hard to justify when one thinks about it closely.[5]

In other words, this “right to freedom of association” is used as a means to sustain the hierarchical status quo of inequalities based on the morally arbitrary possession of resources. Both objections fail to establish the fact that illegal immigrants cause more harm and also fail a justification to project harm onto migrants, regardless of their legal status.

The concept that more harm is being done to migrants than to the citizens becomes exceedingly more apparent when we realize what Carens says about the average migrant, that they are seeking “an ordinary life,”[6] which includes working for a living, paying taxes, caring for their families, living in homes and peacefully interacting with their neighbors. In other words, being functional and contributing members to society and becoming part of the communities in which they live. Furthermore, when these migrants are discovered, if they have been able to achieve a measure of social stability like Carens suggests, they are then ripped from the homes they have made and extradited to their countries of origin, which is arguably more disruptive and harmful than granting them citizenship. There may be moral grounds to limit the migration of people, but once they have migrated, the obligation to treat migrants with dignity and integrity takes precedence to any previous claim to the right of freedom of association.

The situation that migrants face is plagued with injustice from beginning to end, from their reasons to migrate to their treatment after they migrate. However, in order to make the types of changes in policy and social behavior that will actually make a difference in regard to diaspora and apartheid we have to have accurate data about what the issues and concerns are from all the parties concerned. This is necessary if we are to make any arguments about the harms being done and further, to suggest plans of action to mitigate those harms. That is why we are traveling to Athens, we are on a social fact finding mission to ascertain the truth about the situation and are going to make recommendations based on the evidence we gather about how to address the problems our nations face. The results of the research will be evaluated and summarized in research papers and there will be a formal presentation of that material prior to leaving Greece before the parties that can make a difference in these people’s lives.


To Help Me Make This Research Possible, Please Contribute to the Fund to Get Me to Athens @ http://www.gofundme.com/7wx9m0





[1] Singer, Peter. Famine, Affluence ,and Morality, p. 231

[2] New York Times, Africans, Battered and Broke, Surge to Europe’s Door, February 28, 2014.

[3] United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. http://www.ohchr.org/en/udhr/pages/introduction.aspx

[4] Beitz, Charles. Justice and International Relations, p. 367-370.

[5] Carens, Joseph. Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders, p. 252

[6] Carens, Joseph. The Case for Amnesty (Boston Review, May/June 2009)


Global Government: A Remedy to Collective Action Problems

All the states and all the individuals on the earth share one planet, with one finite pool of resources that everyone depends upon, yet there is no ultimate authority which has the jurisdiction and enforcement power to manage that finite pool of resources. Currently the world is composed of sovereign states that claim to have jurisdiction and enforcement power over their citizens and their territories, and they expect other states to honor the principle of non-intervention, thereby leaving each state to act autonomously in its own interest. However, I believe that each individual on this planet has an obligation to more than just the citizens of the state they happen to be from precisely because we all share a finite pool of resources, so each individual is responsible for how they use those resources because they directly affect everyone’s ability to use those resources. However, as will be shown, if states are allowed to remain autonomous, then there is greater incentive for each state to act in its own interests as oppose to cooperating with the other states to manage our finite pool of resources. For these reasons, I believe that we have a moral obligation to create a governing institution that has jurisdiction and enforcement power for the entire globe because there does not seem to be another way to manage our resources effectively.

The planet and all of its citizens are faced with problems that supersede the jurisdiction and enforcement power of any individual state or group of states, and currently there is no governmental agency or entity with the authority to mitigate these problems. According to David Held, since the signing of the Westphalia treaty in 1648, states have operated on two principles; sovereignty and non-intervention.[1] Held also goes through great effort to establish the point of globalization by showing that as states have expanded, populations have grown, and new technologies have emerged; that the decisions and actions now made and taken have impacts that increasingly cross borders  and affect more than just the citizens of a self-contained, sovereign state and its citizens.[2] The easiest example and perhaps the least refutable example of this phenomenon that can be made, is in the case of pollution, or environmental effects. Peter Singer notes in his chapter One Atmosphere,  “that Britain’s Sellafield nuclear power  plant is emitting radioactive wastes that are reaching the Norwegian coastline,”[3] which although is just one example, should serve to establish that the actions of one state can and often do affect other states. Yet, while Singer uses this example to show that there is an international law which allows suits to be brought against states for affecting other states, there still remains yet to be over-arching jurisdiction and enforcement power to stop such actions from happening in the first place. The current situation between states resembles a Prisoner’s Dilemma, and I think the problem is the structure of the system because when every individual and state is in competition for limited resources (land, fuel, energy, potable water, clean air, food, etc…), even though the best outcome for all is to be found in cooperation, there is no reason to trust that the other agents will not defect and “free-ride” on the efforts of the rest.[4]

The most practical and imaginable form of world government in the current political environment of the 21st Century, is a federation of states, or as Held called it, a “cosmopolitan community,” a democratic community of democratic communities.[5] States should exercise jurisdiction and enforcement power over the territory and the citizens they represent, and the federation should have jurisdiction and enforcement power to regulate the interaction between states and any action that may either, be taken by a state or the citizens of a state, that will have an impact beyond the state’s immediate jurisdiction. The closest contemporary example of what this federation could look like is the European Union, which has an EU council (representing states) and an EU parliament (representing citizens), but the states also retain absolute veto power.[6] At all levels of the federation, the federation would operate by democratic principles, wherein representatives are elected by the group they are directly responsible to.  And policy decisions would made by what Peter Singer called the principle of “subsidiarity,” whereby issues are managed “at the lowest level capable of dealing with the problem.”[7] Such an institution would thus have democratic accountability and the authority to address and mitigate the collective action problems individual sovereign states are now faced with.

However, there are obvious moral problems with forcing states and the citizens of those states to become a democratic society because it supersedes their right to plan their own future; their right to self-determination.  And as John Rawls, in The Law of Peoples (1993) identifies, there is the capacity for states to develop as “a well-ordered hierarchical society,” or in other words, not as a liberal society wherein all people are free and equal, but are not expansionists and the government derives its legitimacy from its citizenry.[8] The point Rawls made with the discussion of “well-ordered hierarchical societies” is that there are forms of government and society that do not fit the democratic model, but no less deserve to have their rights to self-determination respected. After the end of World War One, the British and French Mandate systems established at the Sam Remo Conference of 1920 were imposed on the Middle Eastern countries of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Under the guise of Wilsonian “Self-Determination” and a civilizing mission, Britain and France claimed to be assisting these Middle Eastern countries to become self-sufficient democratic societies, but did not anticipate the severity of opposition from the people in these diverse countries. The mandate system drew arbitrary borders and set up unequal systems of representation that did not represent the population, so, not only were people forced into political debate with others they had previously not debated with, but they also felt the pains of an unequal distribution of power that was primarily located in the hands of a minority population. Essentially, the problem was that the mandate system created a series of governments that had not achieved legitimacy because the people themselves neither selected the systems of government, nor the representatives. The imposition of Western forms democratic government upon hierarchical societies, was a recipe for disaster and led to a series of revolutions and counter revolutions in many of the countries that left thousands dead and futures uncertain.[9] Yet, my concern here is not how to influence or encourage non-democratic governments and societies to become democratic societies, it is to derive whether we have a moral obligation to form a global government. So, for the sake of argument, I will assume that societies and governments have not been coercively forced to become democratic, but have rather chosen of their own free-will as agents who have exercised their right to plan their own futures to become democratic societies.

Most proponents who believe that human rights and justice are important also believe that a democratic form of government is necessary to achieve those ends however they may differ in opinion in regard to the structure that government should assume. Some like, Will Kymlicka, while acknowledging that globalization is occurring, challenges the conception of a cosmopolitan citizenship by suggesting that although, “a new civil society” is emerging,” it has not yet produced anything that we can recognize as transnational citizenship.”[10]  The hinge-point of Kymlicka’s argument rest on his assertion that “democracy is not just a formula for aggregating votes, but is also a system of collective deliberation and legitimation,”[11] and since he believes that people decide to deliberate and share the “blessings and burdens”[12] of those political deliberations with people who share similar histories and circumstances, a cosmopolitan citizenship is not practical at this time because people will either choose not to participate or will be incapable of deliberating  on that broad of a scale. If this is true, then the system will fail to meet the necessary conditions of a democratic society of free and equal persons contributing to deliberations because only those who could communicate in a broad range of languages and felt comfortable enough to debate political issues would be party to the decisions made, and as such would not be just Kymlicka believes that making individuals citizens of a world government before they are ready to form one would undermine and potentially ruin the democratic process, which would entail not achieving the objectives of human rights and justice. Kymlicka does however assert that we should, as a civilization, be progressing toward a more cosmopolitan citizenship, especially in terms of the “principles of human rights, democracy, and environmental protection,” but does not believe it is achievable in our life –time.[13] He argues that although a greater territorial range of voters may influence a global government in some way, that the government “would cease to be accountable to citizens through their national legislatures,”[14] where democracy is “more genuinely participatory,”[15] it would essentially, form a tyranny of the majority over the minority. Kymlicka argues that the citizens who cannot take part in the cosmopolitan debate only have their local governments to appeal to, but if that local government’s authority is undermined and superseded by a transnational vote, then they lose the only agent capable of representing their interests internationally. Thus, unlike Held who argues in favor of a “cosmopolitan citizenship,” Kymlicka believes in a parochial democratic institution of government because states are not only responsible for, but are also accountable to and are thus responsive to their citizens’ needs. Whereas, a global government cannot be because the system has the inherent flaw of denying minority populations a voice in the decision making process, which would have the unintended effect of making the system unjust.

Kymlicka’s argument has merit and it is founded on a keen observation of human behavior and the desire to invoke the right to freedom of association. Perhaps the most pressing moral justification for individual states retaining autonomy, as opposed to a world government, is the concept of “Communities of Fate,” first presented by Held and furthered by Kymlicka. According to Kymlicka, “[p]eople belong to the same community of fate if they feel some sense of responsibility for one another’s fate, and so want to deliberate together about how to respond collectively to the challenges facing the community.”[16] Kymlicka draws the conclusion that it is impractical, and potentially impossible to expect individuals to be citizens of a global democracy because of the factors which constitute a “community of fate,” and because of the requirements for full democratic participation. The most compelling argument that he makes concerning the factors of a “community of fate” is about the language that people share, of which he argues that average people prefer to deliberate democratically in their native tongue and will opt out of multilingual transnational democratic deliberation.[17] This being the case, then the state, or as Kymlicka puts it, the “nation,” would feel the obligation of a special social contract with its citizens that it does not with the citizens of other states and as such, would be the most appropriate authority to have immediate jurisdiction and enforcement power.

Kymlicka concludes his argument by stating; “our democratic citizenship is, and will remain for the foreseeable future, national in scope,”[18] suggesting that a global government is unjustifiable because it is impractical at this time. However, even Peter Singer, who is a huge proponent of a global government with jurisdiction and enforcement power, agrees that we should not rush into federalism and instead suggests “a pragmatic, step-by-step approach to greater global governance.”[19] So, while Kymlicka successfully argues the point that “democratic politics is the politics in the vernacular,”[20] wherein citizens debate in the self-interest of their own nations and states, with those who speak their language, and without undermining the state’s accountability to its citizens; by drawing from his redefinition of “community of fate,” it can be shown that people within one state are more likely to feel a sense of obligation to citizens of their own state as oppose to another because they share a common identity, and I also think it serves to bolster Held’s concept of “multiple citizenship” within a “cosmopolitan model of democracy.”[21] Because if the global government was structured to operate on the principle of subsidiarity that Singer promotes, then citizens would still debate in the vernacular in parochial democratic bodies, and  function as democratic members of the cosmopolitan community managing issues greater than the states’ jurisdiction. Thus, it does appear that a practical and responsive global government can be conceived, and to potentially be structured to function in a way that responds to Kymlicka’s very serious and relevant concerns. What remains is to establish what obligation we as citizens of this planet have in terms of a global government.

Kymlicka astutely asserts that people in a community of fate feel a unique obligation to one another that they do not share with people of other communities of fate. However, entailed within that assertion is the implicit claim that there is not currently a global community of fate, and I disagree with that assumption because I believe it can be shown that we do. It would nonetheless be foolish to assume that we feel the same obligation to people that we have never met as we do with residents of our neighborhood. Yet, although a person living in Tripoli would not be obligated to prevent or promote the construction of a road in Denver, or vice-versa, because the construction of a single road is of little consequence to the other party, promoting or preventing total world annihilation, say from nuclear war, is quite a different story because the consequence of such an event is of great consequence to both parties. This makes intuitive sense because people tend to acknowledge that we as citizens of the planet have an obligation not to unjustly deprive people of their right to life. So, while Kymlicka is correct in asserting that parochial communities of fate share certain obligations, it is also the case that there are varying degrees of obligation depending on the circumstance in question. Thus, when issues have global ramifications and something can be done to prevent that which we share obligations to prevent; those who have a choice in the prevention of it also have the responsibility to prevent it.

If my argument has thus far been sound, then it follows that we as citizens of the planet have a responsibility to prevent the types of collective action problems that pose a threat to the entire globe. If that is the case, then we are responsible for the creation and implementation of some type of institution that can adequately prevent those collective action problems. While it is the case that states as sovereign entities do have the capacity to adequately address certain types of collective action problems, as has been shown, states also fall victim to the prisoner’s dilemma and have more incentive to defect than to cooperate and as such, are inadequate for addressing problems that pose a threat to the entire globe. That being the case, then the most practical alternative is to create a world government that has jurisdiction and enforcement power over states to address the types of collective action problems that pose a threat to the entire globe. An objection may be made here, one which appeals to transnational institutions, but transnational institutions have historically lacked the jurisdiction and enforcement power necessary to address these threats because states have been reluctant to relinquish their autonomy. Thus, unless we as a global community of fate decide to enhance the jurisdiction and enforcement power of “neutral third-party” transnational institutions, the only other viable option at this time to meet with our obligation is the creation of a world government composed of a federation of states, or as Held called it, a “cosmopolitan democracy.”


[1] Held, David. The Transformation of Political Community: Rethinking Democracy in the Context of Globalization, 87.

[2] Held, 92.

[3] Singer, Peter. One World: The Ethics of Globalization (One Atmosphere), 20.

[4] Gardiner, Steven M. A Perfect Moral Storm: Climate Change, Intergenerational Ethics and the Problem of Moral Corruption, 399.

[5] Held, 106

[6] European Union. (http://europa.eu/eu-law/decision-making/procedures/index_en.htm)

[7] Singer, Peter. One World: The Ethics of Globalization, (A Better World), 200.

[8] Rawls, John. The Law of Peoples (1993), 530.

[9] Cleveland, William L. and Martin Bunton. A History of the Modern Middle East. (Westview Press, 2013), chapters 9-13.

[10] Kymlicka, Will, 125.

[11] Kymlicka, Will, 119.

[12] Kymlicka, Will, 115.

[13] Kymlicka, Will, 125.

[14] Kymlicka, Will, 124.

[15] Kymlicka, 120.

[16] Kymlicka, Will, 115.

[17] Kymlick, 121

[18] Kymlicka, 125.

[19] Singer, Peter. One World: The Ethics of Globalization, (A Better World), 200.

[20] Kymlicka, 121.

[21] Held, 107