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Extrapolating Individual to Nation-State?

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I want to open a discussion among the members of this forum about international relations.

The Peikoff.com podcasts have a category for foreign policy, but it is currently empty. Aside from the published work of John David Lewis in the Objective Standard, I have not seen much about an approach to international relations that reflects the philosophy of Objectivism. Rand elaborated on some current events of the time, and her general attitude toward the UN (similar to her approach to the Libertarian Party, her critique being their philosophically groundless nature) is evident. (A separate forum for "international politics" has more to do with events in other countries than with theory of how a country's government should act in the international system). Most of the contemporary theory I've seen, including that of Lewis, has almost always to do with the right that our government has to protect its citizens or defend it from foreign invasion or attack (an extrapolation, it seems, from the individual's right to self-defense). I am interested, however, as a student of IR, in the other ways in which nations can interact. It seems that an Objectivist theory would be nearer to Liberalism than anything else, although I would like to see this developed further.

Thus I would like to incorporate or see incorporated the philosophical grounding of Objectivism in international affairs and diplomacy between nations (by nations, I of course mean governments). In order to do this, I have tried to apply the more fundamental branch of ethics, and have only found a way to do so by comparing countries' governments to relations between individuals.

So the central question of this thread is, is it proper to extrapolate relations between individuals to relations between governments?

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So the central question of this thread is, is it proper to extrapolate relations between individuals to relations between governments?

Not always. Governments must act in a very limited capacity, while individuals are free to act as they please, short of violating others' rights.

Relations between governments should be limited to issues concerning the protection of their citizens' rights, while relations between individuals should be unlimited.

But, within those limits, yes, some of the same principles apply (friends should be honest with each other, agreements should be honored, mutually beneficial agreements should be made - so long as they're limited to self defense and law enforcement, of course, etc.).

Edited by Nicky

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I'm interested to hear more about the limits on government as it pertains to interactions with other states.

Have any members read The Ominous Parallels? Does Peikoff address international relations in it, even in a non-normative context?

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Well the virtue of Justice is key. You have to evaluate the law and leaders of the government you are interacting with. Would you sign an extradition treaty with a country that executes homosexuals? Would you cooperate with police departments that don't have a good system for due process? I corruption a major problem in these countries?

While presidents in that past might follow that "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" logic, and Objectivist president would not. Selling guns to rebels only to find them used against us eight years later is not sound foreign policy. Half the time though I feel like the United States is fighting its ally in the last war it waged.

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I've read this a few times and I still don't get what you mean by "extrapolating relations between" individuals and governments. Do you mean to apply to governments the same rules of conduct as between individuals? Governments are only organized bodies of men, and every corporation, association, or organized body of men, having a legitimate corporate existence, can only have rights that the individuals comprizing it have, individuals neither gain nor lose rights when forming a corporate entity. Thus I don't see any reason to treat governments any different by the rules of methodological individualism.

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2046 has been arguing for corporate-anarchism on this forum. Which is fine, but the OP should know that what he wrote above is not the Objectivist position.

His post should serve as an example of how not to extrapolate from individual rights to the rights and duties of government agents. (because a government is in fact not a corporation, it is an organization that has more power than any organizations voluntarily formed by average citizens, and therefor there have to be more limits on its mandate than even that of a corporation).

This Ayn Rand quote sums up the difference between a private organization and the government best:

The fundamental difference between private action and governmental action—a difference thoroughly ignored and evaded today—lies in the fact that a government holds a monopoly on the legal use of physical force. It has to hold such a monopoly, since it is the agent of restraining and combating the use of force; and for that very same reason, its actions have to be rigidly defined, delimited and circumscribed; no touch of whim or caprice should be permitted in its performance; it should be an impersonal robot, with the laws as its only motive power. If a society is to be free, its government has to be controlled.

Under a proper social system, a private individual is legally free to take any action he pleases (so long as he does not violate the rights of others), while a government official is bound by law in his every official act. A private individual may do anything except that which is legally forbidden; a government official may do nothing except that which is legally permitted.

This is the means of subordinating “might” to “right.” This is the American concept of “a government of laws and not of men.”

Edited by Nicky

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I'm not seeing how you got that I was suggesting there were no differences between governments and private organizations, or what anarchism has to do with anything (how is anything I said not compatible with limited government??). I didn't see his question as "what differences are there between governments and individuals," it seems that his question implicitly assumes such differences. I interpreted it as a methodological question for approaching ethical relations, although I could be mistaken.

In fact, here is Ayn Rand saying the exact same thing I said: "A group, as such, has no rights. A man can neither acquire new rights by joining a group nor lose the rights which he does possess. The principle of individual rights is the only moral base of all groups or associations" (VOS 101.)

Secondly, a government is and can be a corporate entity in legal terms, as it is a group of individuals, even "voluntarily formed" by "average citizens," an association having contracts and corporate property, for a specified reason. Being committed to this view does not prevent you from also being committed to the view that there should be constraints on what this group of men ought to do, as per your Rand-quote.

And lastly, I think that is one of the more interesting statements by Rand, but not the part you highlighted, namely the "no touch of whim or caprice should be permitted in its performance; it should be an impersonal robot" part. This, of course, is totally impossible. Neither a government nor its constitution is or can be like an impersonal, self-enforcing robot, since it is comprised of individual human agents. Securing objectivity and reducing arbitrariness and whim in governmental decisions is not imposed from without, but is internal, among the branches of government through the function of "checks and balances" between one branch and another. It is an arrangement of different systems, legal interpreters, enforcement mechanisms and agents, none of which is outside of the constraints of being human.

Edited by 2046

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For instance: on the question of whether our government has the "right" to depose foreign governments, and presumably the right also to subsequently install those we consider sympathetic to us (viz. Allende, Mossadegh, historical examples abound), is there a cogent way to approach this question within the Objectivist framework?

My first thought is that an Objectivist-based argument would have us deliberating over whether it is in the "national interest" or not, which is nothing more than the composition of the individual interests of American individuals...? How is that measured, and where does that get us?

My second is that it may instead sound like this: the American government, since it can do nothing other than that which is prescribed as proper, should just voice opposition or support but commit nothing apart from our verbal sanction (in either sense of the word, respectively) except in the case that Americans' lives, liberty, or property are in peril or threatened. (I understand that the lack of privately owned land renders this somewhat less straightforward a question in terms of property being invaded).

I am confused about the proper method to even go about answering these sorts of questions (intergovernmental relations), much less the answers themselves!

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Sorry to double-post.

An interesting article by Elan Journo related to the recent diplomatic history of the USA and North Korea has the reader concluding that withdrawing foreign aid is a huge step in the right direction, especially to unsavory characters. Indeed, it looks like the ARI's criticism (and Rand's own, actually) of the UN involves primarily its acceptance of anyone and moral failings in not standing up or any kind of principle and conceding to bullying behaviors, essentially begging would-be aggressors not to do so and offering to pay them not to. The response that seems more appropriate to such is to simply work to remove the offenders from the relationship, withdraw one's support, or even one's membership in an organization that accepts such behavior. Such a context makes withdrawal from the UN an attractive option for America's interests.

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