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Friends, Citizens, Strangers

Friends, Citizens, Strangers: Essays on Where We Belong

RICHARD VERNON
Copyright Date: 2005
https://doi.org/10.3138/9781442675063
Pages: 336
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442675063
  • Book Info
    Friends, Citizens, Strangers
    Book Description:

    All human relationships are not created equal; attachments between close associates ('friends'), compatriots ('citizens'), and humans ('strangers') vary greatly in terms of their character and importance. From a critical standpoint, though, which type of attachment should take priority? Are we morally obliged to think of ourselves first and foremost as members of the human race, or should we prioritize our allegiance to a particular nation, or our personal friendships above our humanity?

    InFriends, Citizens, Strangers, Richard Vernon considers these questions, and addresses the implications of various answers. Vernon grounds his investigation in the work of Locke, Wollstonecraft, George Eliot, and J.S. Mill in England, and Rousseau, Comte, Proudhon, and Bergson in France. He explores what these thinkers have to say about the theme in question, and in turn what that theme reveals about basic issues in their own work. Vernon also turns to contemporary thought to explore the issue: the idea of a 'crime against humanity' as an assertion of the moral standing of strangers, the idea of moral partialism, the claim that compatriots inherit historical obligations, and the 'associativist' view that obligations are of two distinct kinds, partial and universal. Finally, drawing on both the historical and contemporary sources discussed,Friends, Citizen, Strangersproposes a solution: a moderate form of cosmopolitanism that finds a place for multiple levels of attachment and association. This work will prove useful not only to scholars of the authors discussed, but also to those interested in ethics and political theory more broadly.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7506-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-14)

    The question of priority of attachment (the ‘where we belong’ of this book’s subtitle) has framed important episodes in the history of political and moral theory, basically shaping theorists’ ambitions as well as the problems that their views confronted. As the later chapters below demonstrate, the question arises, too, in varied contemporary contexts: in jurisprudence, in academic moral philosophy, and in questions of public policy, different levels of attachment make rival claims on moral agents, all the more strongly because they are often connected with different facets of identity itself. The question has attracted many answers, in both the history...

  5. 1 Neighbourhood and Conscience in Locke
    (pp. 15-38)

    Both of Locke’s most important political writings begin by stating the same problem, the problem of partiality. The argument of theSecond Treatisebegins by telling us that although the state of nature is not a state of war, it is a state of uncertainty all the same, because people find it difficult to apply the law of nature in an impartial way.¹ TheLetter Concerning Tolerationbegins by telling us that the true (as opposed to the rationalized) cause of religious strife is the ‘zealous’ desire of people to enlarge and empower their own churches and to diminish and...

  6. 2 Why Is Rousseau Difficult?
    (pp. 39-57)

    Locke’sSecond Treatiseis a holy text for those who see politics as a matter of the protection and enforcement of rights. Political society is formed, as Locke says, for the more effective preservation of rights that we have by nature, rights which are for the most part retained in civil society, and to the extent that they are abandoned at all they remain under the ultimate protection of majority consent. Some see this as an impoverishment of politics, or even as its extinction; for it implies both that political society is no more than an instrument of generic human...

  7. 3 Mary Wollstonecraft: Stoic, Republican, Feminist
    (pp. 58-80)

    To move from Rousseau to Wollstonecraft is of course to encounter a striking shift in the treatment of gender. Rousseau is, in fact, the first target in Wollstonecraft’s critique of ‘writers who have rendered women objects of pity, bordering on contempt,’¹ and she has little trouble showing, by means simply of extended quotation and terse commentary, the purely prejudiced foundation of his views of women’s ‘nature,’ views epitomizing the dependent and over-sexualized account of womanhood that she sought to demolish. She could of course have found, in the history of political thought, any number of equally objectionable (though sometimes less...

  8. 4 Auguste Comte’s Cosmopolis of Care
    (pp. 81-97)

    Eighteenth-century radicals such as Wollstonecraft explored the liberating potential of cosmopolitanism as a moral view that dissolved political and social convention and reinforced ideas of basic equality. A cosmopolitan vision in some form was either the source, or the product, or the emblem of many elements of the European Enlightenment (as Rousseau, famously, complained).¹ Thephilosophesthemselves formed a cosmopolis in one sense of that term, that is, a self-identifying transnational community of the enlightened, as some Stoics – whom they frequently quoted – had imagined themselves to be; they believed themselves to ‘belong less to their own country than to the...

  9. 5 ‘In Rooms Adjoining’: George Eliot and the Proximate Other
    (pp. 98-118)

    ‘Moral judgments must remain false and hollow,’ George Eliot wrote, ‘unless they are checked and enlightened by a perpetual reference to the special circumstances that mark the individual lot.’ She goes on to refer to the ‘instinctive repugnance’ that we have to ‘the men of maxims,’ whose formulas ‘repress all the divine promptings that spring from growing insight and sympathy.’¹ Quoting this passage fromThe Mill on the Floss, the moral philosopher Jonathan Dancy describes Eliot as ‘Patron Saint of Particularists,’ although, he acknowledges, she may not have formulated the particularist view with quite the precision that a philosopher would...

  10. 6 ‘Proudhonism’: Or, Citizenship without a City
    (pp. 119-139)

    George Eliot’s publisher induced her to write an appendix to her novelFelix Holt, an ‘address to working men’ that her novel’s artisan-philosopher hero could be imagined to deliver in the context of working-class enfranchisement. ‘It’s human nature we have got to work with,’ ‘Holt’ remarks in ‘his’ address, and he proposes a process of self-education that will help to make working men alive to ‘the truest principles mankind is in possession of.’¹ That view contrasts, of course, with those of other nineteenth-century theorists who predicted a radical transformation of the human personality itself, a transformation that would at last...

  11. 7 J.S. Mill’s Religion of Humanity
    (pp. 140-161)

    The chapters above invite discussion of a very basic question: What does it mean to have ahumanattachment – an attachment to other humans, regardless of any ties of friendship or shared citizenship? For Locke and Rousseau and Wollstonecraft, as we have seen, it played the role of a basic moral claim to be selectively admitted, to varying degrees and in various ways, in the normative construction of citizenship. For Comte, it was an idealized transgenerational collective. For Eliot, it was argued, it was a moral property that creates ties among strangers and modifies ties among friends. For Proudhon, it...

  12. 8 Henri Bergson and the Moral Possibility of Nationalism
    (pp. 162-180)

    Liberal theorists, despite their commitment to one or other form of universalist morality, have often tried to find a place for national identity in their political thinking. Interestingly, Mill himself, despite the very strong claims that he made for ‘humanity’ as a ‘sanction’ for mutual obligations, also believed that shared nationality was a precondition for citizenship: ‘Free institutions,’ he wrote, ‘are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities.’¹ Following Mill, later theorists have also sought common ground between liberty and nationality, denying the view of political cosmopolitans that national attachments are necessarily allied with reactionary and...

  13. 9 What Is Crime against Humanity?
    (pp. 181-200)

    The fate of the League of Nations, to which Bergson had lent his considerable prestige, is well known. But in the aftermath of the Second World War, internationalist impulses emerged again in renewed demands for a global legal order that would restrain the worst excesses of nation-states. Those demands were very imperfectly reflected in the Charter and in the procedures of the Nuremberg Tribunal, a victors’ court rather than an international one, legally speaking. But after more than five decades of snail-like progress, an international criminal court was finally proposed in the 1998 ‘Rome Statute,’ a document giving a clearer...

  14. 10 On Special Ties (1): Jesus or Polemarchus?
    (pp. 201-224)

    If claims arising from simple humanity may have an undermining effect on some kinds of partial institutions (especially political ones), other kinds of partial ties may in turn provide the basis for an undermining critique of moral universalism. For ‘all of us accord massive priority to our own plans and projects, careers, families, loved ones,’¹ and we would naturally be suspicious of any moral theory that could not accommodate this basic fact. Some believe, of course, that the most familiar mainstream moral theoriescannotaccommodate this fact, and that in defiance of those theories we must give personal ties a...

  15. 11 On Special Ties (2): What Do We Owe?
    (pp. 225-243)

    Cosmopolitan moralists, the previous chapter argued, have a claim to be able to accommodate partial ties and to do so in a way that appreciates their significance. But they will have an easier time accommodating some than others, even when their significance is appreciated, for the basis of the claim for accommodation varies importantly. Consider the case of ‘special rights.’ In addition to whatever rights we may have simply as humans against other human strangers, there are rights that are ‘special’ in the sense that they are held against particular others only. Some of these arise from obligation-creating acts, such...

  16. Conclusion: On Associative Duties
    (pp. 244-270)

    In recent years, the themes discussed in this book have been given a precise focus in the analysis of ‘associative obligation,’ as it has been termed. That term first occurs in Ronald Dworkin’sLaw’s Empire, in reference to ‘special responsibilities social practice attaches to membership in some biological or social group, like the responsibilities of family or friends or neighbors.’¹ The adjective ‘associative,’ applied sometimes to ‘obligations,’ sometimes to ‘duties,’ sometimes to ‘responsibilities,’ is employed in an important recent debate over the possibility of cosmopolitan ethics. For associative duties (I shall mostly use Scheffler’s noun) are thought to pose a...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 271-304)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 305-320)
  19. Index
    (pp. 321-325)