I was recently reading an article about the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how civilians are in great danger from the fighting going on. I thought about the ways in which their rights are being infringed upon and wondered how I could apply some of our readings to the situation.
Part of the official position put forward by our government is that we are in the region helping the citizens of these countries. We invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein was a dictator that oppressed his people and we are similarly helping the people of Afghanistan escape the rule of extremist militant groups like the Taliban. Now, I’m not particularly interested in whether or not this is the truth of the matter. I would rather take the admittedly naive approach and assume that this really is the case and analyze the situation from there.
Does a government have any obligation or right to try and protect people that are not members of its society? This issue has received little to no attention in the texts that we have read. In fact, the people outside of a certain social contract are only really mentioned as people who must be defended against by the government. Rousseau states that societies are formed in order to advance the “general will” of all of its individual members. It then seems to follow that aid should only be given to outsiders if the act will somehow benefit the giving society. I think that Machiavelli would also agree with this way of thinking since self-preservation and self-gain are the basic tenets he recommends to base one’s decisions on.
What about writers like Locke, who talk about basic rights? Well, in his Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke says that, “The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests.” Hear he says that people all have rights, but society is only responsible for protecting the rights of those within the social contract. Again, it seems that this protection does not extend to those outside of the contract.
I personally believe that if, for example, a genocide is taking place in another country and no one else is stopping it, we as a country have an obligation to help those in need. This seems to be reflected in things like the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a set of rights declared to be the property of every human being and violating them should subject the offender to some sort of punishment by the international community. However, it is also a valid argument that as a country we have no business interfering in foreign affairs that don’t concern us and we should simply worry about our own citizens.
Where do you fall on the issue? Do you agree with my interpretations of our theorists? Should we involve ourselves in order to protect people even if they are not members of our social contract? Let me know.