An Essay About Global Justice

Justice is a fundamental concept in political theory and philosophy. Traditionally, theories on justice are exclusively within the state, in consideration of state sovereignty. However, we are experiencing a transformative change in 21st century. The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the beginning of an unbounded world and intensifying globalization, where everything is connected. As things happens to a small part of the world can have butterfly effect to others, we need to expand our theories in global context. Moreover, contemporary events such as terrorism, genocide, increase of immigration to
developed countries raise awareness toward matters across border. Recently, the concept of “the wall” is brought up again by Donald Trump in US presidential election, and UK’s exit from the European Union, which raises the conflict between nationalism and globalism. Through discussion about the nature of justice and different position regarding global justice, it is clear that we should aim to ensure fair and just outcomes for everyone, but not as a single society.


First and foremost, a study in the concept of justice is necessary. Plato (1968) defines justice as a harmonious relationship where each member of society fulfills the role that naturally fitted to him/her. Through dialogs, he implies that justice is objective and is good by itself. There is a difference between justice and ethics, as ethics is internal virtue of individuals while justice is more external and institutional (Tan 2004, 21). However, ethics is the underlying principle for justice, because a just society needs to follow moral laws. John Locke (2002)’s political theory based on the idea of
justice as nature law according to God’s will, in support of morality as an universal rule. Moral universalism is also promoted in Eastern Philosophy. In Confucianism, “Yi” (righteousness) is an innate ethical nature (Yao 2000,34). For John Stuart Mill (1860), justice is the practice of utilitarian ethics,which maximizes happiness and prevents harm on the total or average welfare across all relevant individuals. On the other hand, Nietzsche believes that moral is not an universal fact, but rather something developed by people in power (Lee 2003,5). Thomas Hobbes (1651), similarly, emphasizes on power as the main driving force of men. He stated that by nature, man will always be at war with each other. The solution is the State, which has the ultimate power to produce, maintain and take away rights, as social contract helps us avoid the chaotic “state of nature”. Social contract is only possible if everyone has the same idea about fundamental good. Therefore, in term of either morality or common good, every person has the same basic concept of
human rights, which makes justice normative. An example of this universalism is the association of justice and fairness, which is proved to be inherent regardless of history, tradition and culture (Daston 2008, 1).

In history, there are evidences that the transcendental goal of global justice exists in every culture. Dante (1995) praises universal monarchy that maintains peace for the whole world. Confucianism’s ideal world is called “tian xia” – a harmonious political order that unify the whole world by moral power, without coercive force (Bell 2006, 24). With no doubt, global justice is the goal most cultures aim at.


Globalization calls more attention to global justice. The technology revolution in the last few decades transforms the world in term of economy, finance, communication in term of space and time. Travel between countries becomes easier. The Internet makes communication at distance fast and efficient. As a result, the market economy expands to global scope through free trade, capital flow, and labor. This is the beginning for increasing interdependence at intercontinental distance. The global financial crisis in 2007
and the EU debt crisis in 2009 are examples of how decisions and actions in one corner of the world can have fast and profound effect on the rest of the world. However, neoliberalism, which celebrates free market without regulation, rather than increase opportunities like it promised, increases inequality (Navarro 1998, 607). As the world is becoming more fluid, unbounded, and non-linear, global security is alerted with the form of terrorism which began
in 2001. Nayef Al-Rodhan (2009) mentioned that since human is driven by emotional self-interest, protecting humans emotional needs is fundamental to human well-being and human dignity. When people believe they are treated unjustly, they can turn to violence as a way to demand justice. Because information is easily accessible by everyone, state no longer holds sovereign power to constrain radical group from conducting violence to anywhere in the world (Naim 2013, 1). Bringing back the boundaries is not a good solution,
because land is no longer the only resource and distance cannot separate the network society which everyone is connected through communication technology. Most objections toward global justice center around the idea that practice of distributive justice should only circumscribe within state. However, justice at a national level only achieved when justice at global level is met (Banai & Ronzoni 2011, 3). For example, international tax competition
increases inequality in income and shifts jobs to countries with lower tax, which demonstrates the dependence between domestic policy and global policy. Also, a global basic structure is necessary for state to realize its domestic justice problems. Therefore, our best course of action is to unite to ensure fair and just for everyone, for our shared morality, for global security, and for our domestic social justice.


The remaining question is whether we should aim for justice as a “single society”. Cosmopolitanism holds that every human belongs to a single society with shared morality, regardless of culture, nationality, state, whose primary unit is an individual rather than nation state(Tan 2004). Therefore, we have responsibilities to people other than whom we share citizenship with. Most approaches suggested from extreme cosmopolitanism are problematic in one way or another. In concern of world poverty, Peter Singer (1972) uses the utilitarianism approach that focuses on providing basic needs to everyone. This position is criticized by a few main points. First, Singer assumes that meaningful transfer of wealth is possible, while in reality, it depends on many factors and requires much work in consideration of distance and political issues. Second, the materialistic view that poverty is the main cause of suffering and death overlooks many other important problems,
such as social and political issues. For example, the main cause of poverty in Bangladesh is indeed social problems: marital instability, overpopulation, and corruption of government (Human Rights Watch 2015). While Singer’s argument can trigger sense of guilt, it cannot change our behaviors, because it is far too demanding for ordinary people (Brown 2001, 164). Another widely discussed theory in recent years is John Rawls’ distributive justice, which also focuses on the impartiality of wealth distribution. Rawls (1971)
introduced the concept of an “original position”, a hypothetical condition in which potential contractors make decisions behind a veil of ignorance. This means the potential members only negotiate while ignoring knowledge of themselves, including their talents, intelligence, gender, race, conception of the good, etc. According to Rawls, this condition removes any possibility of bias to maintain fairness. Rawls thus derives “difference principle”, that the
first principle to be choosen is fairness and equality in the most extensive scheme, which includes the distribution of resource to people under unfavorable situation. In “The Law of Peoples”, Rawls extends the method in “A Theory of Justice” to the question of global scale, that global principles are chosen by representatives of Peoples in ideal original position without knowing which particular People they represent. The fact that Rawls perceive “fairness” as the only standard for justice makes him overlook many other important attributes. Talents, abilities, interest are not the same for everyone. Considering Plato’s idea of justice that everyone to pursue what one is good at, the “veil of ignorance”, by disregard one’s own talent, completely ignore this aspect of justice. The main problem with both Singer and Rawls is their narrow views of justice, that justice is nothing other than fairness.


Particularism claims that the standards of justice arises from shared
meaning and practice of particular society, and one of the roles of the state is reinforcing those social norms. Any account of our global responsibilities which ignore the fact that we are also a part of a national community omits an important aspect of how we, as human, relate to one another. Universal standard privileges specifically Western values. There are multiple arguments from East Asia view points toward Western approach (Bell 2006, 54). Cultural factors can affect the prioritizing of rights, when rights are conflict
with each other. East Asia government would choose economic rights over civil and political human rights, like how China would underpay labor to maintain its advantage in manufacturing and keep the wheel going on providing jobs for everyone. Traditional culture resources also justify rights, because customs has higher chance of leading to long term commitment and resolution. Moreover, since Asian culture values modesty, a more subtle, indirect, less forceful way to address human right would be more appropriate. Lastly, cultural values provide moral foundation. While the West focus
on individualism, the East put highest values on profound duty toward immediate community and nationalism. For example, in Japanese history, a person would commit “seppuku” (ritual suicide) due to any kind of dishonor or shame toward the community. Therefore, it is practically impossible to impose total cosmopolitanism on any community due to significant difference
of values.

Margaret Moore (2010) provides more good arguments against extreme cosmopolitanism. Beside the argument that culture is related to the exercise of self autonomy, she stated that a global democracy would limit the participation of individual because universal laws reflect less of individual’s own will. In her opinion, collective autonomy is a better political practice rather than single society. Different countries would make different choice
when value conflicts, for example, one would choose environmental preservation over economic interest and one other would do the opposite. Again, Moore put emphasis on the Western aggression of cosmopolitanism, which is, ironically, a kind of culturally biased conception of good. Still, beside being a part of national community, we also belong to a global community of persons (Nussbaum 1996, 3), so we should not overlook the many other relationships that connect us with the rest of the world. Kwame Anthony Appiah (2010) supports a less extreme position which states we have global obligation, but we should be considerate of the practices and beliefs of others. Michael Walzer (1994) proposes a middle ground solution for this conflict: that we have both “thin obligation”, which is universal across border, and “thick obligation”, which is relative to culture. He argues that morality is strongly culture integrated in the beginning, and the universal case only appears in special occasion. In other word, rather than being the foundation, moral minimum is only a piece of historically depended moral maximum. We should indeed aim for just outcome, but not as a single society, because respect toward difference is necessary. Charles Taylor (1999)
proposes that instead of arguing for the universal validity of ones views, participants in global dialogue should allow the possibility that their own beliefs may be mistaken and work out an “overlapping consensus” of human rights norms. Forcing any individual or any nation to follow international standard against their own belief is destructive. In this term, we should try our best to understand each other, and effective conversation and consideration of
culture are necessary in global context. The truth is, concern about global justice is not necessarily in tension with particularism attachment. We ought to look at this topic not only in term of moral obligation, but also in term of global politics, or else we would
mistakenly combine the duties of humanitarian assistance with the duties of global justice. While they are both morally required duties, duties of humanitarian only require commitment until reaching desirable goal, while duties of justice is an ongoing process of improving structure to regulate inequalities
(Tan 2004, 23). Tan believes the root cause of global poverty is structural problem of a world that privilege the rich. Similarly, Thomas Pogge (2005), through the lens of human rights, suggests the use of cosmopolitanism for the global institutional order. He based his argument on the idea that all human have equal rights, and “because rights and duties are inextricably linked, the ideas of human right only make sense if we acknowledge the duty
of all people to respect it”. He argues that some of the rules that govern international institutions, such as those that generally advocate free trade but allow protectionism in affluent developed countries, involve hypocrisy and unfairness to some of the worlds most vulnerable people. Sweatshops in developing countries in which labors work under hazardous conditions is an example of how economic advantage of affluent countries comes from the
suffering of people from the other side of the world. Therefore, Pogge believes developed countries have negative duty to reform the global order to better secures human rights. This focus mainly on political structure, not on redistribution. The mere transfer of wealth and resources doesn’t address the core of the problem, just like how you give fish to the poor person without teaching him how to fish. However, what Pogge suggests is hard to achieve,
if it conflicts with national interest.

John Rawls said “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.” (Rawls 1971, 1). Even though what John Rawls offers is only theory, from that foundation, a core set of values has been derived, specifically, the UN’s Core International Human Right Treaties. These rights are not contested publicly so far. It is practically impossible to reach the ultimate state of justice and fairness, because justice itself is idealistic. At a certain point, a small improvement would cost a lot of resources. Ensuring
just and fair outcome for every one is a necessary goal in post-modernism to protect human rights and global security. However, we should not disregard cultural factors. An understanding of differences, and willingness to compromise, can help global conversation and negotiation converge to the golden
mean, in other words, a satisfactory social contract. Many problems require a careful consideration of fundamental structure, which is also important as an addition to moral responsibility. In conclusion, we should see the world as a society consisting of many different communities striving toward the goal of ensuring fair and just outcome for everyone.


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