Justice and Natural Resources

By Chris Armstrong, Professor of Political Theory at the University of Southampton.


Struggles over precious resources such as oil, water, and land are increasingly evident in the contemporary world. States, indigenous groups, and corporations vie to control access to those resources, and the benefits they provide. As the controversy over the Dakota pipeline in the US illustrates, those conflicts can be intense. Moreover, whereas international law provides states with an extensive set of rights over domestic resources, these conflicts are rapidly spilling over into new arenas, such as the deep oceans and the Polar icecaps. Engineers and scientists are hard at work developing the technology which would be needed to access mineral deposits, or valuable forms of biodiversity, in these otherwise inhospitable regions.

Humanity will therefore face crucial decisions, in coming decades, about how these precious resources should be governed, and how the benefits and burdens they generate should be shared. This is a question political theorists have argued about for centuries. Should our ‘appropriation’ of the world’s resources be relatively unconstrained, so that they can be gobbled up on a first-come-first-served basis? Or should appropriation be constrained in light of the claims we all have on these precious resources, which none of us, after all, played any hand in creating? Should the world’s resources be seen as a treasury for the alleviation of global poverty or inequality?

Questions of natural resource justice, then, are crucially important. Our answers to those questions will resonate with some of the most significant controversies within political theory today: what are the demands of global justice? How can we fairly share the costs of dealing with climate change, or threats to biodiversity? What, if anything, justifies the territorial rights of states, including the right to ‘freely dispose’ of the natural resources within each state’s territory?

Justice and Natural Resources is the first book-length treatment of these issues, and provides a systematic theory of natural resource justice. It argues that we should use the benefits and burdens flowing from these resources to promote greater equality across the world, and share governance over many important resources. It also illustrates the implications of this theory for a series of pressing real-world issues, including the scope of state resource rights, the claims of indigenous communities, rights over ocean resources, the burdens of conservation, and the challenges of climate change and transnational resource governance.

Responsibility for Refugees

By David Owen, Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at University of Southampton (@rdavidowen, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by David here.


 

How should responsibilities for refugees be distributed? According to the UNHCR, at the end of 2014 there were 19.5 million refugees among a total of 59.5 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide. 1 Developing countries hosted 86 % of this refugee population (up from 70 % ten years previously.) 2 Lebanon (26 %) and Jordan (9.8 %) have the highest per capita ratios of refugees worldwide. 3 Is this a fair distribution of responsibilities?

Considerations of fairness have been much to the fore in the political rhetoric of debates concerning current flows of Syrian refugees into the European Union (although to put this into perspective, from the beginning of the crisis up to the end of 2015, the total number of asylum applications from Syrians in the European Union reached 681,713, 4 while in the same period the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey amounted to 2.18 million 5). But at least one of the difficulties in this debate is that there is no agreement among states, globally or within the EU, concerning what would count as criteria of a fair distribution of responsibility for refugees.

The current EU crisis also illustrates a further question that is urgent in the contemporary context: what are the limits on state’s obligations to refugees? Is it, for example, sufficient to have done one’s fair share or, in the absence of established criteria, to have done what a good faith effort to work out one’s fair share required? Or do states that have done their fair share have an obligation to take up the slack consequent on others failing to do their fair share?

In ‘Refugees, Fairness and Taking up the Slack’ – available open access here – I argue that in circumstances where not all states do their fair share, human rights protecting states are morally obliged to do more than their fair share, i.e., that refugee protection takes priority over fair distribution of responsibility for refugee protection. However I also draw attention to the prudential point that effective refugee protection is likely to depend on states being willing to do their fair share. Combining these claims, I argue that states have a duty to come to arrangements that, as far as plausible, aim at ensuring a fair distribution of responsibilities.

If the political task is thus that of establishing effective mechanisms for determining fair shares and generating reasonable compliance among states, what are prospects for the fulfillment of this duty? The article provides some reasons for thinking that any general rule for directly determining fair shares is both open to reasonable disagreement and is liable to be skewed by states’ perception of their own interests. It further argues that we have little reason to be confident that states will support the establishment of effective compliance measures – a point sadly illustrated by the failure of EU cooperation in the current refugee crisis.

Refugee crises as political crises are always a combination of a crisis of production and a crisis of response. As things stand, there is little reason to think that both types of crisis will not continue to recur. What this suggests is that we need both to recognize that the existing refugee regime – for all its limitations – is a considerable political achievement – and to acknowledge the extent of the hard political work that will be needed to address current and future refugee crises.

 

SUVs and suspicion: climate change scepticism on the populist right

By Dr. Eloise Harding, Teaching Fellow in Political Theory at the University of Southampton (Academia.edu)


 

“It’s snowing and freezing in NYC. What the hell ever happened to global warming?”

Tweeted by @RealDonaldTrump, 21/03/2013

With this tweet, Donald Trump – now a presidential hopeful – places himself firmly in the canon of populist climate change scepticism. This embodies some of the hallmarks of Trump’s rhetoric: sustained use of conspiracy theories and greater faith placed in big business than in science. It also ties in to a wider ideological pattern of climate change scepticism (and occasional denial) on the political right. At the core of this ideological tendency lie the following concepts: deep anthropocentrism, technological optimism (also known as Prometheanism) and a suspicious interpretation of the motives and intentions of environmentalists.

Climate change scepticism is a broad field which spans from the left liberal Bjorn Lomborg to right-wing populists such as Trump and UKIP MEP Roger Helmer. The common elements named above are shared across this spectrum: the difference lies in how they are framed. In particular, deep anthropocentrism focuses on a different set of human interests when applied by the populist right, and a ‘green scare’ becomes almost a logical conceptual extension of the earlier ‘red scare’ in the US context.

Deep anthropocentrism, broadly speaking, refers to the assumption that ‘the needs and desires of humankind represent the crux of our assessment of the state of the world’ (Lomborg 2001, 11). Anthropocentrism is decontested in such a way that human interests are perceived to be directly threatened by excessive concern for the nonhuman world. These human interests range from the treatment of pandemics (threatened by competing for resources with environmental concerns) in Lomborg’s case, through discussion of the benefits of fossil fuels to the global poor, to the populist end of the spectrum in which conceptual stretching comes into play. Marc Morano of the website Climate Depot expresses outrage at a particular potential extinction, arguing that ‘we’re allowing the American SUV to die right before our eyes’ (Klein 2014, 32). This is a broader-than-usual conception of human interests, and one which is likely shaped by proximity to business interests. A cynic might also suggest that, in the case of politicians, reassuring the public that their current habits need not change is liable to win votes.

The interpretation of environmental campaigners’ motives, Naomi Klein notes, is in the US case drawn almost unchanged from Cold War rhetoric regarding tendencies perceived as left-wing. The rhetoric of individual freedom – decontested as freedom to pollute, rather than (say) freedom to breathe clean air – features strongly. There are two strands in play here: firstly the perceived infringement on liberty by legislation designed to limit pollution, and secondly the apparent fear that an authoritarian (by most readings communist) regime is lurking behind the ecological façade.

See for example the predictions of Bay Area Tea Party activist Heather Gass:

“One day (in 2035) you will wake up in subsidised government housing, eating government subsidised food, your kids will be whisked off by government buses to indoctrination training centres while you are working at your government assigned job on the bottom floor of your urban transit centre village because you have no car and who knows where your aging parents will be but by then it will be too late! WAKE UP!!!!”

(Cited Klein 2014, 38: original punctuation and capitals)

Ms Gass, Klein points out, is responding to relatively mild sustainability initiatives with minimal impact on everyday life.

Factors more familiar in the context of the market economy are also brought into play here. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump is on record as stating that ‘The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive’ (Tweeted by @RealDonaldTrump, 06/11/12). The common thread here is a suspicion of the ‘other’: be it the left or a rival economic power, the populist strand of climate change scepticism hinges on a perception of environmental discourse as a smokescreen set up to mask something less benign.

While Lomborg and his ilk make it their mission to debunk climate science (albeit on dubious grounds at times), the populists prefer to elide the issue entirely by citing shadowy paymasters in the background of the scientific establishment or merely by dismissing evidence in favour of the sort of wild claim made by Trump above. If anything, claims originating from the realm of conspiracy are harder to disprove than those drawn from the realm of science, since contradictory evidence is no more readily available than the confirmatory variety.

The likely solution to this problem hinges on recognising the debate as a political, rather than scientific, one and acting accordingly. The approach taken by climate scientist Mark Maslin sets parameters as to which aspects are up for discussion (for example the nature of human interests, and the question of whether nonhuman interests should be considered) and which are not. As we adjust to the Anthropocene era – the first geohistorical period in which humans have had more impact on the planet’s development than natural forces – it is reasonable to insist as Maslin does that the scientific aspect of climate change be placed firmly in the latter category.

 

 

 

 

 

After Brexit, What Next? Not Much Mandate for Anything…

By Ben Saunders, Associate Professor in Political Philosophy at University of Southampton (@DrBenSaunders, Academia.edu).


 

As the dust settles after June’s referendum, it’s notable that the leaders of the Leave campaign (Johnson, Gove, Farage, Leadsom) have all vacated the main stage, leaving it to others to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU. This is probably wise on their part, not only because the political divorce is likely to produce considerable short-term discomfort, but also because it seems that no one had any clear post-exit strategy.

We’re told that the British people have spoken and their will must be respected. But, even setting aside reports of widespread protest voting and regretful Leavers, it’s not clear what ‘the people’ (or 52% of them) voted for, beyond the obvious (leaving the EU). Leaving the EU doesn’t itself specify what alternative arrangements should be put in place.

Some want to withdraw as completely as possible from the European project – in particular, in order to control migration. Call this Total Exit, or TE for short. But not everyone in the Leave campaign favours TE. Others made quite clear that they welcome trade and cooperation with our European neighbours, they merely oppose the EU organisation and the threat of a federal European state. These people would be happy for the UK to adopt a position like Norway or Switzerland, not an EU member but not so different in practice. For want of a better label, call this Weak Exit or WE. (For simplicity, I’ll only consider two alternatives, though there are many possibilities.)

Obviously, these alternatives are incompatible. If the UK opts for WE, then we will have no more control over migration or over laws and regulations that continue to bind us. The referendum result will, officially, be respected – we’ll be out of the EU – but many of the 52% won’t be satisfied. But, on the other hand, if we got for TE then, though we’ll have control over these things, we won’t have the strong relations with Europe that were promised and, further, this is more likely to cause great economic disruption than WE. Again, a significant number of the 52% are likely to be dissatisfied – while they may have wanted out of the EU, they didn’t necessarily want TE.

It might be that the 52% are so strongly committed to leaving the EU that they would prefer either TE or WE to continued membership, but I doubt all of them feel this way. Someone who dislikes loss of sovereignty, but is also concerned about the possible economic effects of Brexit, might reasonably prefer WE to Remain, but also prefer Remain to TE. That is, their preferences might be WE > R > TE (with ‘R’ standing for ‘Remain). If they were moderately optimistic about what ‘Leave’ meant (i.e. WE), they would vote for Leave, but they would prefer Remain if the alternative were TE.

Conversely, someone whose chief concern was migration, while ideally wanting TE, might prefer Remain to WE. The Leave campaign emphasized the threat of Turkey joining the EU but, as a member, the UK would have a veto over this. If the UK ends up like Norway, having to accept free movement but without that veto, then the UK would actually have less control over migration than before. So it could be perfectly consistent for someone to prefer Remain over WE, even if their first choice would be TE. That is, TE > R > WE.

The Leave campaign was actually a coalition of people wanting inconsistent things. Some were voting for TE and some for WE. Since we can’t have both of these, it’s likely that a considerable number of Leave voters will end up disappointed, whatever the eventual outcome – and some of them might even have preferred to remain in the EU to the eventual outcome.

Given the closeness of the result, it might seem reasonably likely that, given a choice between ‘Remain or TE’ a majority of the population would have voted to Remain and, likewise, that given a choice between ‘Remain or WE’ a majority of the population would have voted to Remain. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. So far, I’ve only highlighted divisions amongst the Leavers, but the Remain voters might also have been influenced by lack of clarity over the options.

No doubt many amongst the 48% who voted to Remain prefer that to either TE or WE. However, it could be that some were simply pessimists about the likely consequences of Brexit. Suppose, for example, that someone would really prefer WE to Remain and Remain to TE (i.e. WE > R > TE). Such a person might nonetheless have voted to Remain if they (pessimistically) thought that Brexit was more likely to result in TE than WE. Had the ballot in fact given the choice between ‘Remain or WE’ then they would have switched their vote from Remain to WE. Likewise, someone whose preferences were TE > R > WE might have voted Remain had they feared that Leave would result in WE.

So, even if some Leavers would have voted Remain, given this choice, it’s also the case that some who actually voted to Remain might have voted to Leave, given a more concrete proposal. For all the talk about ‘respecting the will of the people’ the problem is that there are more than two options. The referendum didn’t really present a choice between two clear options, but rather a choice between the status quo and a mystery box. Now we’ve chosen to open the box, what’s inside is still unclear.

Though the referendum was not legally binding, I think it would be politically impossible for the government to ignore the result. The problem, however, with respecting the will of the people is identifying what it is that the people want. Given that the only really clear outcome of the referendum is that the people are deeply divided, and that both the Conservative Party and Labour Party have been plunged into leadership contests, probably the only certainty is that the political landscape will be unsettled for some time.

When the Party’s Over

By David Owen, Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at University of Southampton (@rdavidowen, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by David here.


 

The age of party democracy has passed. Although the parties themselves remain, they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form. (Peter Mair, Ruling the Void)

In the UK, party politics has always been refracted through the first-past-the-post electoral system that demanded that both Labour Party and Conservative Party adopt ‘broad church’ approaches, representing and conciliating diverse sectors of society. Yet the cultural and social shifts that emerged in the 1960s and came to fruition in the 1980s as the twin phenomena of individualization and globalization have been enabling conditions for trends of declining party membership, declining voter turnout across elections, and declining partisan allegiance. It is an important consequence of these phenomena, however, that political parties can no longer play the role of mediating between society and state that emerged with, and sustained, mass party democracy.

With Labour and Conservative vote share declining from 97% in 1951 to 67% in 2015, electoral logic has driven both parties to a focus on key swing voters and a relative neglect of those who, in Peter Mandelson’s brutal phrase, ‘have nowhere else to go’. While with membership declining from 1950s highs of 1,100,000 and 2,800,000 respectively to figures under 200,000 for the Tories and under 400,000 for Labour (helped upwards by a rise under Corbyn), the local infrastructures of both parties have weakened at the same time that professionalization of politics under the discipline of a 24 hour new cycle drove centralization of party control and the disconnection of ‘the Westminster bubble’ from regional and local roots. The changing conditions of these political parties, no longer meaningfully ‘mass organizations’, was further impacted by the post-devolution boost to the SNP and Plaid Cymru as their ability to portray themselves as ‘national’ parties for the whole of the UK (excepting the special case of Northern Ireand) has become increasingly tenuous, with the Greens and UKIP adding to the electoral complexity.

It is commonplace to recognize that David Cameron’s reckless political gamble with Britain’s membership in the EU was driven by a failure of authority within a fragmented Conservative Party that was exacerbated by the rise of UKIP. But this is reflective of a wider phenomenon. As Will Jennings and Martin Lodge argue:

More generally, then, the increased use of referenda and other methods of direct democracy in British politics should not necessarily be seen as advances of participation. Rather, they should be seen as attempts by party leaderships to overcome their own internal party conflicts. In the case of Labour, direct elections of the leader offered the dual promise of reduced trade union influence and symbolic gesturing that office-seeking was somewhat checked by the party. In the case of David Cameron and the Conservatives, it was an attempt to maintain illusions of ‘governing’ (i.e. ‘control’) by offering voters a choice while the real world has turned ever more into one that demands compromise, bargaining and dealing in trade-offs.

The current internal debacle of the Labour Party presents itself as driven by the traditional competing logics of the Party as a vehicle for gaining power and as the medium of a social movement. But lacking the bulwark of mass membership, it is more accurately depicted as a competition for control between an organised sect and a professional elite.

The Brexit Referendum and the responses of the two parties to the outcome of this referendum demonstrate nothing more truly than Mair’s argument that mass party politics, and party democracy, is dead and we do not yet know how, or with what, to replace it.

In this context, what steps may help? Perhaps the first is to recognize the reality of this situation and that the social and political conditions under which our electoral system could be justified no longer apply. A shift to some forms of proportional representation is both democratically necessary as well as providing a mechanism for encouraging greater party responsiveness to people across the UK. A second possible move is for regional devolution in England (modelled on the Welsh Assembly) combined with a shift in the structure of Labour and Conservative parties to a more federal form and, quite possibly, the rise of regional political parties (such as Yorkshire First). In both cases, national government becomes more complex but the role of parties in mediating between society and state is given new, if different, life.

What is the right to asylum?: Debating the EU’s response to the refugee crisis

By David Owen, Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at University of Southampton (@rdavidowen, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by David here.


Listen to PAIR’s Professor David Owen debating with David Goodhart (director of the Integration Hub and former director of Demos) on the right to asylum and Europe’s response to the refugee crisis.

Whereas David Owen puts forward the view that the entire world order of states suffers a legitimacy problem when refugees go unprotected, David Goodhart argues that it is a fantasy to talk about people having human rights when their own states are not protecting them.

You can listen to the discussion in full below:

This debate was recorded for Talking Migration, a podcast produced by Dr Clara Sandelind at the University of Huddersfield and supported by the Centre for Research in the Social Sciences and the Division of Journalism and Media.

The New Alcohol Guidelines: Paternalism or Just Good Advice?

By Ben Saunders, Associate Professor in Political Philosophy at University of Southampton (@DrBenSaunders, Academia.edu).


Beer

The UK government recently announced new guidelines on the consumption of alcohol, recommending no more than 14 units per week (for both men and women), adding that there should be some drink-free days each week, and stressing that there are no ‘safe’ levels of alcohol consumption. The guidelines also recommend complete abstinence during pregnancy – an issue that I won’t touch on here, though colleagues in Southampton’s Philosophy department have been conducting important research on pregnancy, including the demands made on pregnant women, with implications for this.

While some health campaigners have welcomed this move, others have described this as another instance of ‘nanny state’ interference, or hyperbolic and puritan, with Nigel Farage hitting the headlines for advocating mass protest. Amongst political theorists, such objections are usually expressed in the (still unfortunately gendered) language of ‘paternalism’. The objection is that to interfere with someone’s conduct for their own good is to treat them as a child, rather than to respect their autonomy.

Traditionally, paternalism has been something of a ‘dirty word’, though recently some political theorists have endorsed state paternalism, using ‘nudges’ or even coercion to promote the good of citizens. These discussions raise important issues about the legitimate role of the state, which cannot be satisfactorily addressed here. However, even for anti-paternalists, it is not clear that the government’s guidelines are objectionable.

One classic anti-paternalist argument comes in John Stuart Mill’s 1859 On Liberty. In this work, Mill defends what has come to be known as the ‘harm principle’ or ‘liberty principle’, according to which the only legitimate reason for state or society to restrict individual freedom is in order to prevent harm to others.

Mill does not, however, forbid all interference, but only coercive interference. He thinks the state has no business prohibiting alcohol, powerfully attacking the temperance movement of his time. He adds that no one should be punished for conduct that does not harm others. As I’ve argued elsewhere (eprints), it seems that he would reject minimum pricing measures for much the same reason: though not intended as a punishment, like a fine, such measures make certain choices more costly (and, unlike taxation, cannot be justified on grounds of necessity).

But Mill does permit state or society to seek to persuade others to mend their ways. It’s perfectly legitimate, in Mill’s view, to encourage someone to drink less, provided that one does so through rational argument, rather than by threatening her with punishment. Such measures, though not coercive, might still be considered paternalistic, since they involve an attempt to alter another’s conduct for her own benefit. Nonetheless, if this is paternalistic, then Mill is not opposed to all paternalism, but only the coercive kind.

In light of such considerations, it seems that the government’s latest guidelines are legitimate state action, since they merely offer advice and are not backed by any sanctions. In fact, there is more to be said than this; it is not merely that such guidelines are compatible with autonomy, they may even be necessary for it.

As I argue, in a forthcoming article, the traditional interpretation of Mill’s principle as relying on a self-regarding/other-regarding distinction does not adequately capture Mill’s real concerns. The principle would be better formulated in terms of preventing non-consensual harm, which in principle permits some interference with ‘self-regarding’ conduct. For example, Mill asserts that it would be permissible to temporarily prevent someone from crossing an unsafe bridge, in order to warn him of the danger. If the person is unaware of the risk, then he cannot consent to bear it; but once apprised of the risk then it should be up to him whether or not he is willing to take the chance.

Before I can make an informed decision as to whether the pleasures of alcohol are worth the associated health risks, I need to be aware of what those risks are. Consider, for a moment, a contrary case, in which people are unaware of the dangers. Suppose, in fact, that the government were to cover up evidence of health risks, perhaps because beholden to the alcohol industry or reliant upon tax revenues. In such a scenario, those who choose to consume alcohol, without knowing the dangers it poses, cannot be said to have voluntarily accepted the consequent risks, so they would suffer those harms involuntarily or, at least, non-voluntarily.

Mill insists that each of us should have the final authority to decide how to balance benefits and (risks of) harm in our own lives, but we can only do this when we are aware of the risks associated with choices, such as alcohol consumption. Thus, it is not simply that public education does not prevent people from making their own choices, but it actually facilitates rational choice. It seems that even an anti-paternalistic liberal, like Mill, ought to welcome government guidelines that inform people of the dangers of alcohol consumption.

There is, however, one possible ground to object to the latest government guidelines, since they do not simply impart information, but also recommend a particular consumption limit (14 units per week), even while stressing that no amount is ‘safe’. This recommendation was apparently reached by considering an acceptable level of risk, in lights of the risks involved in other regular activities, such as driving. Few activities, if any, are risk free.

However, it should be up to each of us to decide how much risk we are willing to accept. A set of guidelines more in keeping with Mill’s liberal principles might compare the risks of particular levels of consumption with a variety of other activities. For example, they might list other activities that are similarly risky to consuming 7, 14, 21, or 28 units per week. This will enable us to make a better informed choice about the risks of heavier drinking than the new guidelines, which seek to make the risk trade-off for us.