Instead of a Sportscar...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Right to Rule

When engaging in debates about the legitimacy of actions on the international stage, the term sovereignty (or some permutation of it) gets thrown about a lot. Sovereignty is commonly defined as "the exclusive right to exercise supreme authority over a geographic region, group of people, or oneself".

How many people, having expounded upon the legitimacy (or more likely, the illegitimacy) of an action based upon claims of sovereignty, have ever stopped to ponder the word and its implications? If one accepts the legitimacy or illegitimacy of an action rests upon a question of sovereignty, then one must question whether the sovereignty itself is legitimate. To do otherwise is to be ethically selective and intellectually dishonest.

In determining the legitimacy of a regime's sovereignty, we must look to its origin. There are essentially two ways that a regime can achieve sovereignty: it can be freely given to the regime by the people, as in a democracy, or it can be taken from the people by force or subterfuge, as in dictatorship.

The first instance is what is called popular sovereignty, and it is ultimately an outgrowth of the idea of natural rights (the basis for modern basic human rights). The idea of popular sovereignty is rooted in the works of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau in the mid 1600s to the mid 1700s. There are many different variations of the exact meaning and proper extent of popular sovereignty, but all the variations state that there is a social contract between the regime and the governed: the legitimacy of the regime's actions rest upon the majority of the people's consent.

The second instance, from a natural rights standpoint, is not an example of legitimate sovereignty. When force or farce is used to deny popular sovereignty it's a denial of a people's basic rights, and a legitimately sovereign people has every right to state that it is so. To support an illegitimately sovereign regime is to deny a people of its human rights.

So the next time that someone declares that an action was not legitimate because it was a violation of sovereignty, all people of conscience should ask themselves whether that sovereignty was legitimate to start with.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Leaving Laos with Lessons Learned

After four years in Laos, I'm finally returning to my home country, the United States of America. A friend challenged me to think of three things I learned from my time here, three things I'd do different if I knew what I know now, and three pieces of advice I'd give to others as a result of my time here. My answers follow.

Three things I learned:

  • Being a minority (caucasian) in a foreign country has really opened my eyes to the dehumanizing nature of racism. It's not some inherent defect of the white race or even of western culture, it's a defect of human nature and a lack of understanding about other people. This is a topic I'm likely to write on at more length in the near future, for now let me simply say it has changed my former intelectual distaste for racism into a visceral hatred of it.
  • After spending four years teaching it, I have a greater appreciation for the amazing adaptability, beauty, and power of the English language.
  • I never had pondered what level of personal value to place on family before. Being away from my own extended family in America made me appreciate my own family more, and consider all they have done for me over the years. Also, seeing how much Lao families support each other was something that made me ponder and more deeply appreciate that a strong family bond is incredibly important to individuals and society.

Three things I'd do differently, knowing what I know now:

  • I would probably made more of a point to take time off and travel around more. A lot of time was spent working and there was always an excuse as to why I couldn't travel and see the sights more. In the final analysis, all thoses excuses could have been delt with in one way or another. Ultimately, I could have made a lot more memories while making a just little less money.
  • I'd take better care of myself. After six motorcycle accidents, typhoid fever, malaria (more times than I can count), and dengue hemoragic fever (twice), I've a new sense of the limits to which a body can be pushed to. Most, if not all, of that was avoidable with some simple percautions.
  • I'd have made more of an effort to save money. Although I've never been quite a spendthrift, and despite the fact that my job wasn't very well paid at all, I could have probably tightened the belt that one extra notch.

Three pieces of advice I'd give to others:

  • If you're an American, take time to appreciate just how lucky you are! In the past four years I've witnessed grinding poverty, rampant corruption, and true stifiling of dissent. Americans so often take for granted the freedoms and standard of living that comes with living in such a fine country. If you're born American, you've already won the lottery.
  • Take time to travel and learn about the world you live in and the people who live in it. If you have already done so, do some more!
  • When in South East Asia, never order a dish that is described as "village deer". Trust me on this one.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Classical Values

Conservative. Liberal. Two ideological positions ever in direct opposition to each other. But wait, not so fast!

Modern sensibilities aside, the two labels can co-exist quite happily within the same party, or even within the same person. The labels we find ourselves using today are quite removed from the original, classical definitions of the words.

Classical liberals believe in individual liberty without government coercion. Classical liberalism does not reject government altogether, preferring a limited government bounded by clear constitutional limits which protects the rights of individuals. Classical liberals are believers in free markets and private property as the routes by which liberty is pursued.

Classical liberalism is strongly grounded in the idea of natural law–the idea that there are certain rights that are universally recognized regardless of custom. In the 17th century, the English philosopher John Locke articulated natural rights as life, liberty and property.
Modern liberalism, which is far removed from classical liberalism, is based on the idea of positive rights. Positive rights are expectations members of a particular community have in addition to being protected from wrongs committed by others. In other words, individuals have the rights beyond life, liberty and ownership of property, and beyond protection from deliberate criminal acts which erode these rights. Just as there are many different and varying communities, there are many and varying different views and the number and nature of these positive rights. Classical liberals reject the idea of positive rights as conflicting with more fundamental individual rights.

Classical conservatives believe that the ideal form of social organization and government is the one that has stood the test of time. The classical conservative does not reject change, but rejects change for the sake of change alone. Therefore, classical conservatives are not revolutionaries, nor are they counter-revolutionaries. Classical conservatives respect the rule of law, for without it lawlessness would suppress people's rights. However, the classical conservative believes it is best to have a limited government, lest the individual loses rights.

Classical conservatives believe it is most ethical to allow individuals to succeed or fail by their own merits and efforts, and as such oppose unfair or discriminatory treatment of any group based on race, gender, or culture. Classical conservatives are interested in ethical outcomes, rather than what people believe is most appealing at any given time.

Both of these philosophical positions taken together can be called classical values. Classical values have a lot to contribute to the betterment of society, if only people become more aware of them and more conscientiously apply them to their thinking.

So this is a blog.

So this is my blog. Thought I'd see what all the hoopla is about, it seems like all the cool kids are doing "the blog". [In answer to your unasked question, yes I would in fact jump off a bridge if enough of my friends did it first. ]

I'll try to post something worth reading maybe...well, whenever the muse takes me. I have a life you know, besides I loath my own writing style. Maybe this'll help me get over my seemingly permanent writer's block. And maybe pigs will pilot jet aircraft.