Sunday, November 22, 2009

Multilateral Sovereignty

Ten days ago, after I posted my reflections on the Goldstone Report, I found myself deep in an interesting e-mail correspondence with a law professor from Tel Aviv University who is a vocal supporter of abolishing national sovereignty and replacing it with an international human rights brigade. I'm not certain he would have chosen those precise words, but he was quite clear about the underlying principles. Actually, it was even worse, because his definition of what goes under "human rights" is breathtakingly wide, far beyond anything ever conceived of back in the late 1940s, when this fad got seriously underway.

He also rebuked me for not agreeing with him, given how by training I'm an historian of Nazism; I, of all people, should be better informed, he said.

Well. Maybe that explains why I've changed career tracks, I suppose.

Anyway, while I've been aware of this subject for quite a while, this correspondence, along with my reading of the Goldstone Report which preceded it, has alerted me to the seriousness of the issue. There really are many millions of people out there who are eager to whittle away democracy, i.e the responsibility of the electorate to make decisions, so as to replace it with teams of unelected specialists who are confident in their ability to know better what needs to be done, and what is unacceptable. The professor even called my type of democracy, the outmoded type, "technical democracy", while the type he advocates he called "fundamental democracy" or some such term (democratia mahutit).

So I've inaugurated a new tag (see below), called multilateral sovereignty, which I'll use to mark posts about this. Perhaps some day I'll write a book about it, who knows. If you're not interested in this newish interest of mine, feel free to skip those posts, or if I'm really annoying you, you may cancel your subscription.

The Economist last week had a thoughtful column on the fiscal aspects of this subject and their hazards.

Israel's Supreme Court just this week gave a dramatic demonstration, too. Five years after the Knesset passed a law enabling the careful privatization of prisons, the justices threw out the law. Haaretz has the story here, and two columns about it, one in favor of the decision, one critical.

I'm not convinced one way or the other myself. I'm uncomfortable with the ability of five unelected judges to throw out a law. I think it's ridiulous it took them five years, years in which the private businessmen spent a very large sum to build a prison and hire and train its staff. The fact that American, British and French legislators have passed similar laws, which haven't been struck down, indicates to me that it's not obvious that privately-run prisons must obviously be transgressors against the human rights of prisoners. On the other hand, I like the ability of Israel to decide for itself, irrespective of what others decide: that's the very essence of sovereignty. As for the prison itself, it seems the prisoners in the privately-run prison might actually have been treated better than those in the state run one - highly ironic, that - but on the other hand, I can see the sense of contending that the state must preserve it's monopoly of the use of force.

It's complicated. All the more reason not to take it out of the hands of the elected legislators, no?


Mark said...

Yaacov, Here in the states, we're getting some of the same talk about Israel's form of democracy being unacceptable as a democracy as well. The new rhetoric is coming from academia. I call it academonology.

According to a professor here, the only legitimate nation states are those based on democracy. If Israel is not really a democracy, it has no legitimacy. If Israel is illegitimate, the debate is not about establishing two states, but about how to move to a one-state solution.

Avigdor said...

What's the problem with Israel's democracy? I don't understand.

Anonymous said...

Sovereignty is inextricably linked to nationalism, which promotes an "us vs. the other". It'd be better to blur and eventually erase such arbitrary borders.

Don't you get this nagging feeling that Dr. Lozowick is offering us red herrings? He continually does his level best to avoid talking about the (neocon inspired, btw) Iraq war and to minimize its importance by distracting us (deliberately, I suspect) from its unique wrongness. This is an objective fact, mind you, as is proved in

Dr. Lozowick seems to be sloppy with his spelling (its is not always it's, one says excited and not exited, discussed and not duscussed, lots and not lot's -> a brief foray into this blog reveals this and other errors), which makes one wonder if he doesn't play fast and loose with his facts too.

Needless to say, the blog offers proof that the iraq war was wrong (see sidebar on the bottom right for some of these (wrong place (and time)), wrong number of troops, not the optimal path, other bad men, the folly of going to war without france (sans france) and so on).

Obviously, Dr. Lozowick will not try to refute any of these arguments, since his very purpose is to distract us from this issue. Another blogger in the service of the neocon machine.

I have to confess here that at some point I was one of his unruly pupils, so my disagreeing with him ought to be a source of pride (for him).

Anonymous said...

p.s I note Lozowick (rightfully) acknowledges that Matthew Yglesias is intelligent. Yglesias (Yggie to his fans) hasn't been praised highly enough. His unique ability to write concise, elegant posts which demolish counter-arguments is second to none. A Yggiesque argument is fast becoming a synonym for an air-tight case, a checkmate maneuver. As a great fan of Yggie, the wunderkind, I can't help but take offense.

marek said...


Why won't you just get your own blog and do all those wonderful postings.


Joe in Australia said...

Hear, hear.

Bryan said...

Victor, no one will ever give you a good answer as to what is wrong with Israel's democracy, because it is a baseless claim used by the "anti-Zionist" crowd to cast aspersions on Israel without needing proof. They'll usually back it up with objectively wrong statements like, "Arabs don't have the right to vote," or "Jews get special status."

Right. And America is not a democracy because of affirmative action. Give me a break.

David Boxenhorn said...

I would translate "democratia mahutit" as "actual democracy".

The key question is: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? - "Who will watch the watchers?" How would your friend answer that?

Yaacov said...


The folks you're talking about are a subset. They focus on Israel, claim that if it's a Jewish State it can't be democratic, hence it's not legitimate. I'm talking about a broader group, the ones who think nation states are bad and need to be relegated to the dustbin of history and replaced by the UN. (This is an oversimplification, of course). And note the comment of Anonymous, or at least the first part of it before he (?) goes on to other matters.

Anonymous -
I wasn't blogging back in 2003, during the run-up to the Iraq war, so I didn't present a position on it at the time. Nor is it particularly central to my theme anyway. However,since you're so bothered by my dishonesty, I can assure you I was for the war at the time, not because of WMD but because Iraq had a genocidal regime with a proven record of aggression against many of its neighbors.

Seen from 2009, I still think it may prove to have been a justified war, in terms of contributing to a better,safer world. True, the American occupation presided over an absolutely horrific shedding of blood by the locals, and perhaps this cold have been otherwise. But instead of the ghastly regime that used to be there, there's an early version of what could one day become a functioning democracy. That would be nice - and if it happens, Iraqis in future generations will regard George Bush as a positive figure in their history.

My spelling, alas, is indeed not very good. Many years ago a professional editor who worked on my staff told me I could never do proofreading, as my eye sees what's supposed to be there, not what's really there. I hope this is true about spelling, not politics, but who knows.

Yglesias - I don't read him regularly. When I do, he seems less impressive than you make him out to be. In matters of Israel, he mostly is simply uninformed - tho opinionated none-the-less.

David -

Well, the answer is given in the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article you linked to: the guards will need no guards because they're themselves perfect. If you've ever spoken with these folks, you can't but be impressed by the sincerity with which the believe in their infallibility. All the more reason not to give them power.

Anonymous said...

I would translate "substantive democracy".

Bryan said...

It's ironic that there's a comment here abusing Dr. Lozowick's spelling, because the Iraq War blog to which that commenter subtly linked in his comment has abysmal spelling throughout.

I'm just letting everyone know this so you don't have to visit the site and give it more traffic.