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Aleppo, Syria: A Complete Meltdown of Humanity

War is hell; everybody knows that. A ruling power of a government intent on depriving civilians of life during a civil-war battle in a major city can go beyond the typical battle casualties to cause what the U.N. has called a “complete meltdown of humanity.”[1] One question on the minds of civilians in rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo in Syria in December, 2016 was whether even eventual charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity were enough. From this standpoint, the world was shirking a basic human responsibility in not intervening to stop the intentional killing of civilians. Had the facts on the ground made going after war criminals after the fact a meager excuse for not having acted in real time? Does the world, in other words, have a duty to step in when a government has turned on its own people—not counting soldiers and their suppliers, or does internal affairs encompass even such governmental conduct?

The full essay is at “A Complete Meltdown of Humanity

1. Reuters, “Battle For Aleppo Ends as Rebels Agree to Ceasefire,” The World Post, December 13, 2016.

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The American-Iranian Agreement: Moving Mankind Past War

In an epoch of technological development, the relative dearth of political development as concerns international relations has been evident. In June 2015, Pope Francis advocated the establishment of a global institution having governmental sovereignty with which to combat the human contribution to climate change. Such a political development would be significant, given the long-standing default of sovereign nation-states and unions thereof. In July 2015, U.S. President Barak Obama announced an agreement with Iran that would keep that nation-state from develop nuclear weapons in exchange for the removal of economic sanctions. Just three years earlier, war had seemed unavoidable. I submit that Obama’s accomplishment can be thought of as a step toward rendering war itself as obsolete, or at least primitive.

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Pope Francis on Climate Change: The Mutually-Reinforcing Impacts of Power, Wealth, and Culture

Writing in 2015, Pope Francis addressed the problem of climate change and suggested what he, or the Vatican more broadly, considered to be necessary systemic changes on the road to recovery. In the encyclical, the patient may be human nature itself—specifically, its self-destructive propensity and trait of power-aggrandizement. In other words, we had lost control of our built-up (i.e., artificial) societal systems and structures, which could wind up strangling us in their protection of the status quo. In this essay, I discuss the Pope’s portrayal of the problem of climate change from the standpoints of culture, power, and wealth. I then address the feasibility of the Pope’s prescription.

The full essay is at “Pope Francis on Climate Change.”

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Democratic Tyranny: The Case of Ukraine

Is democratic tyranny an oxymoron? If it were, why then did the delegates at the American Constitutional Convention go to such pains to carve up public or governmental power between the states and the federal government, as well as between three “arms,” or “branches,” of the federal government. Moreover, pitting ambition against ambition points to just how dangerous ambition itself can be. When it is legitimated under the auspices of democracy, democrats may have trouble coming up with justifications for removing a democratically-elected tyrant. In this essay, I draw on the case of Ukraine in early 2014 to suggest a few possible rationales.

Would it make a difference if the protesters were hitting other citizens rather than governmental forces? (Image Source: GlobalPost)

On February 19, 2014, violence erupted between the police and the protesters bent on toppling the democratically-elected president. Twenty died on that day, and over seventy on the following day. While it might be tempting to focus on “who started it,” a higher-yielding strategy goes after the means used by the government to end the protests. Such means need not involve violence. For example, after the second day of violence raging in Kiev, the president took part in a fruitful “all-nighter” negotiation session with the protest leaders and E.U. officials. 

To be sure, the president had an incentive to negotiate then, for his backing in the parliament was weakening. Violence rather than compromise had been his preference. Behind the scenes, the government had been paying titushki men to attack protesters whether they were being violent or not. Heather McGill of the Europe and Central Asia Regional Program at Amnesty International points to various reports of armed men carrying bats and other makeshift weapons roaming around Kiev in organized groups and attacking citizens presumed to be protesters.[1]“(W)e have seen interviews with titushki where they admitted they were being paid—there is definitely a body of young, athletic men being paid by the government.”[2]This practice obviously goes well beyond hiring people as counter-protesters, and this distinction is vital in forming an argument founded on human rights that can be used as a basis to re-conceptualize national sovereignty as inherently limited rather than absolute.

Specifically, in sanctioning payments to young athletic men tasked with hurting and even killing citizens who are not being violent at the time of attack, the Ukrainian president violated his governmental obligation to protect the citizenry. This duty goes back to the social contract between kings and subjects wherein the latter agreed to be ruled by the former, who in turn obligated himself to protecting the subjects. This social contract survives in the norm held around the world that a government is obliged to protect its citizenry (including residents). Put another way, a government that violently turns on its own people is typically viewed as having over-reached in a way that violates a major postulate of its monopoly on legitimate force. When people are themselves being violent against each other or their respective property, or are destroying public property, military or police force does not involve such a violation of the conditions of governmental sovereignty because protecting the citizenry includes stopping violence within the citizenry and a government acts legitimately to protect public goods.[3]

Besides being a case of over-kill, paying thugs to wander around Kiev (and other cities) to beat or kill citizens thought to have been in the protests or to be protesting non-violently at the time exceeds and thus violates a government’s legitimate use of force, which in turn comes out of the concept of governmental sovereignty and thus national sovereignty. Such a violation invalidates a government’s claim to the rights the sovereignty. Crucially, this human-rights and sovereignty based argument applies to any government official, regardless of how he or she gained power. Hence, tyranny invalidates even a democratically-elected government. Just as governmental and national sovereignty are subject to limits based on the normative social contract and the human right to life (which itself may be limited by committing violence), democratic government also faces limits at the expense of unlimited license.

[1]Olga Rudenko and Jennifer Collins, “Thugs Said to Roam in Ukraine,” USA TODAY, February 20, 2014.


[3] I am assuming here that the case of citizens paid by the government to inflict harm on other citizens pertains to governmental power rather than violence between citizens. 

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