Impunity is not simply a juridical, technical problem, or some sort of loophole in the law that lawyers, politicians, bureaucrats, and activists can close with greater effort. Impunity lies at the heart of a dispositive that encompasses, neutralizes and even recuperates almost all attempts to redress it. We have come to this disturbing realization on the basis of both empirical and theoretical attempts to understand how contemporary legal, political or civil-society practices run the risk, despite their benevolence, of falling into the propagandistic rhetoric, social conformism and bureaucratic indifference that feed impunity.
This article was originally published by the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB) in the 297th Edition of Opinión on 20 January, 2015.
The death of Ulrich Beck leaves us bereft of that always lucid, special perspective found in each of his articles or in the new publication that arrived on just the day that, for the umpteenth time, we were doubting our own theories or missing someone to lend a hand and help us understand the world. For Beck, as a sociologist, what happened in the world was what happened between people and groups, making “globalised patchwork generations” of their hopes and dreams, their fears, disappointments and frustrations.
Professor Michael Walzer is one of America’s foremost political philosophers and public intellectuals. He has written about a wide variety of topics in political theory and moral philosophy, including political obligation, just and unjust war, nationalism and ethnicity, economic justice, and the welfare state. He played a critical role in the revival of a practical, issue-focused ethics and in the development of a pluralist approach to political and moral life. He has published 27 books and over 300 articles, including Just and Unjust Wars, On Toleration, and Arguing About War. He has served as editor of the political journal Dissent for more than three decades, and is a contributor to The New Republic. He graduated Summa cum laude from Brandeis University with a B.A. in History, studied at the University of Cambridge on a Fulbright Fellowship (1956–1957) and completed his doctoral work at Harvard, earning his Ph.D. in Government in 1961. Currently, he is working on issues having to do with international justice and the new forms of welfare, as well as on a collaborative project focused on the history of Jewish political thought.
Professor Walzer answers reader questions about intervention in Syria, just war in the age of drones, preventing genocide and mass atrocities, and Israel-Palestine peace negotiations.
With our Editorial Plan discussing changing international norms and laws over the next two weeks, it is worth remembering that this discussion serves the wider purpose of helping to illustrate the elusive character of structural change in our world today. One consequence of this approach, at least for this particular discussion, is that we ultimately treat norms and laws as effects of underlying causes – as symptoms, so to speak, of the underlying condition we are trying to diagnose. A different but complementary approach is that of international political theory, which, as a variety of ‘ideal’ or ‘normative’ theory, often operates (if sometimes only implicitly) on the opposite assumption: that changes in ideas, norms and laws are themselves causes of structural change instead of vice versa. Today we consider an example of this other approach to international norms and laws, by way of a short introduction to the international thought of John Rawls.