The case for self-defense

American constitutionalism and sovereignty are under assault; our friends at the Claremont Institute have made it their mission to restore the principles of the American founding to their rightful, preeminent place in our public life. Foremost among the instruments advancing their mission is my favorite magazine (subscribe here — please), the Claremont Review of Books.
Professor Jeremy Rabkin of Cornell University recalls the original understanding of sovereignty held by the founders and argues that the case remains compelling in his invaluable book of last year, The Case for Sovereignty. On a closely related note, in the summer issue of the CRB, Professor Rabkin took an unflattering look at the founding of the United Nations in “No miracle in San Francisco.”
At our request, the CRB has made available online this morning Professor Rabkin’s instructive review of a new book on The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. Professor Rabkin’s review is “The lesser evil is not good enough.” Once again, Professor Rabkin comes to the defense of American constitutional independence — this time against the anti-political and multilateral tendencies of professional human rights advocates. The advocate in question is Michael Ignatieff, Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, whose political and intellectual common sense have earned him a hearing “even from readers who might be averse to moral instruction from Amnesty International.”
Ignatieff wants to “correct human rights moralism in order to leave room for the reasonable political calculations that a statesman must make when confronting terrorism.” So far, so good. But as Rabkin shows, with his characteristic clear thinking, human rights moralism is hard to reconcile with prudence, and those whose vocation is to worry about “universal humanity” find it difficult to deduce from their Kantian abstractions a ground entitling a nation to defend itself or to prefer its own citizens over the rest of humanity. This nation, indeed, professed “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind” in assuming its independence. But at the same time, it showed, and shows, no disrespect in holding “the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”


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