Header image.

Review of chapter 4. by Andreas Føllesdal

Here is the review of Chapter 4. “Responsibility for the Forcibly Displaced” by Andreas Føllesdal. You can comment and discuss below the review.

“This book addresses an important and urgent issue which citizens and politicians have not considered sufficiently:
What do we owe victims of forced displacement in search of safety and security, who are encamped for the long term instead of included in new societies?

The volume as a whole seeks to ground our obligations in ways which allow arguments about the conflicts between the claims of these victims and other demands such as nationalism, security and the economy; e.g. to justify “the use of camps as a long-term measure for containing the forcibly displaced so that they do not threaten the sovereignty of other states.” (2)
Parekh seeks to argue that those camps should secure a ‘minimal level of decent treatment’ (‘decent treatment’): minimal human rights and political participation. One important element of the argument is that displacement is neither exceptional nor temporary, but a ‘normal’ part of our global political order. This ‘normalization’ is partly due to the political realities: Resettlement in Western states might be more in light with what justice requires, but is politically unlikely. This leads Parekh to develop an important and interesting normative argument for this issue within ‘non-ideal’ theory: how to act when some fail to act as they ought.

My contribution is partly to summarize the arguments of chapter 4, and also to point to some themes and claims which merit more argument.

Chapter 4 seeks to answer who is responsible for addressing problems such as the forcibly displaced, which are not caused by any particular agent, but are due to complex, multi-institutional causes.
“The ground for our remedial responsibility is our co-participation in a global system from which Western states derive significant benefits.” (105)
She seeks to show that an actor may be responsible without being causally connected to a particular harm, or experiencing itself as having caused such harm.
There are forms of structural injustices, resulting (often unintentionally) from independent agents (often acting according to self interest). Questions about responsibility should be a discussion concerning not who caused, but who ought to remedy the harm. This depends on understanding the actor’s connection to the structure or regime.

The chapter presents and extends several arguments about global justice, to this particular case of encampment, including
– Thomas Pogge’s account of the benefits citizens of Western states derive from the global economic order we contribute to maintain.
– Elizabeth Ashford’s understanding of individuals’ responsibility for human rights violations wrought by the institutions they uphold in affluent states, by conforming with various institutions and social norms.
– Iris Young’s focus on how the many individuals’ actions contribute, often unintentional and invisible, to outcomes of structural injustice – including encampment. Such contributions make the individuals politically responsible, albeit without ‘guilt’.

The upshot is that the problematic policies concerning the forcibly displaced and encampment arise from the different sovereign states pursuing their interests – where the practices of sovereignty are both constituted by many individuals’ actions, and have great benefits for many, but dire consequences for the displaced.

Parekh appears to pursue an interesting argumentative strategy: identifying arguments which are shared by several otherwise disagreeing normative theorists, without entering into much in the way of detailed independent assessment of each argument. E.g.: she draws on Young to argue that individuals bear more responsibility for structural injustices dependent on how much power or influence they have to change the rules; the relative privilege one enjoys compared to other affected parties – because the more privileged can change without suffering deprivation; the interest in removing the injustice; and depending on one’s ‘collective ability’ with others.

She also presents and discusses Miller’s arguments for allocating remedial responsibility according to six modes of connection which sometimes conflict (116-117) : moral responsibility, outcome responsibility, causal responsibility, from benefits received, from community with those harmed, and by those more capable to help effectively and at low cost. Parekh also presents Brock’s arguments, before seeking to bring what she regards as the plausible of these arguments to bear on displacement (120).
She argues, convincingly to my mind, that we – Western states, individuals, funders of the UNHCR etc – are connected both to the causes of global displacement and the effects of prolonged encampment (121 pp.) Among her conclusions is that Western states bear responsibilities to secure decent treatment of the refugees in the long-term camps. This seems plausible and well argued to me.

What is there to question in this impressive argument? Let me point to four minor issues of some theoretical and practical relevance.

Analytic normative theory?
Before moving to more substantial issues, let me mention in passing a somewhat challenging claim about analytical philosophy held by Parekh. She holds that analytic normative theory “artificially excludes the lived experience of the forcibly displaced” (9) – and thus cannot understand “the meaning of statelessness and the kind of harm it engenders” and therefore not “our obligations to people in this situation” (9). As far as I could see (so far), this intriguing claim is not developed and defended convincingly in the text. There are ways to interpret some analytical normative theories to hold that the severity of lived experience should not directly affect the weight of claims that individual have on others, etc. But this would not seem central to analytical normative theory in general, and rather a claim presented and argued about. However, this claim appears to be tangential to the main arguments of the book.

While Parekh appears to argue that all three authors’ arguments Pogge, Ashford and Young – are necessary for her conclusions, it may well be that there is overlap: one might find several of the required strands in each of the three; and it would appear that many of Young’s and Pogge’s arguments about the normative salience of (global) ‘background conditions’ overlap with Rawls’ arguments for regarding the ‘basic structure’ of society as raising particular challenges of distributive justice. – arguments which also apply to a ‘global basic structure.’

Two kinds of nonideal theory
Parekh’s arguments, generally plausible and sound, sometimes waver between what we might think of as two kinds of normative arguments within non-ideal theory: a) about our normative obligations under non-ideal circumstances, and b) arguments about what is prudent to do, given that actors refuse to accept the results of the former set of arguments – their actual moral obligations under such non-ideal situations. One example of this ambivalence is when claiming that “Grounding responsibility for refugees in a causal connection is thus unlikely to yield an acceptance of robust obligations to refugees” (106). Both sorts of arguments seem important, but it would seem helpful to distinguish them somewhat more. Another example concerns some of the arguments for why Western states have particular obligations compared to other states, addressed below

Do Western states have more political responsibility than other states?
Who is responsible for this harm? The author answers: We have remedial responsibilities due to the structural injustices we contribute to, albeit unintentionally. “injustices for which Western states can be held remedially responsible.” It would seem consistent to hold that states bear more responsibility if they have contributed more directly to the displacement, e.g. through military support to one side of conflict, or by bolstering a cleptocratic government by buying products.
Parekh agrees with Young that those who contribute to the structural injustice share responsibility (115). But she also claims, apparently independent of this, that Western states have more demanding obligations than other states. The arguments do not seem convincing as they stand. The premises include that some of these states have
“dominated the global refugee regime, in terms of creating global covenants, defining practices, and funding various institutions. They are also the countries which, by and large, resettle refugees. As I show through the book, Western states in many ways set the terms and policies around the refugee regim. Further, Western states in general and the US in particular are the primary funders of the refugee regime and thus have the power to influence how their money is spent.” (10)

But it is not clear that those states who fund the UNCHR thereby have more power to do something than those states who have chosen not to establish such an institution – more power in a sense which entails that the first group of states and their citizens also have greater political responsibility. Nor is it convincing that only Western states are able to engage in collective action (126); or that all and only Western states, and all and only citizens of these states, benefit from the global economy (126-28)

Parekh also argues that
“those states that have a vested interest in seeing themselves as upholding justice and that are committed to broader moral principles, such as universal human equality and dignity, ought to reconsider the moral, as opposed to legal or political, obligations that they have.” (10)

This seems less of a theoretical than a pragmatic point, possibly engaging in non-ideal theory of both kinds indicated above but in a way which should be made more clear. Such urging to be consistent with proclaimed principles may surely be easier than changing professed state principles. But does Parekh hold that state governments have less binding moral obligations toward refugees if they believe that they don’t?

Again, these minor questions for further elaboration should not be misinterpreted as criticism against Parekh’s book: its topic, main arguments and main conclusions are all of the utmost importance and of great value.”

One response to “Review of chapter 4. by Andreas Føllesdal”

  1. Serena Parekh says:

    Thank you Andreas for raising these thoughtful challenges to the chapter. Let me try to respond to each.

    First, regarding my description of analytic political theory as “artificially exclude[ing] the lived experience of the forcibly displaced.” Andreas points out that this is not a claim I develop in depth nor one that in his view I defend convincingly. I should have been more precise here. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s not possible for analytic theory to do this, but rather, they have not done this traditionally/historically. Analytic theory has often, though not exclusively, treated subjectivity as universal and as a result, have not focused on differences in experience. For example, this was a feminist challenge to political theory – when philosophers used the term “human”, they often meant “men” and as a result, excluded the experiences of women from their theory. Much analytic political theory has corrected for this, and so it is certainly possible that they could do so for those at the political margins, such as refugees, as well.

    Second, Andreas, like Sune earlier, points out that my use of non-ideal theory needs to be clarified. In particular, I seem to waver between writing about our obligations in non-ideal circumstances and practical obligations that arise in situations of non-compliance. I’ve often thought that non-ideal theory permitted us to take more seriously prudential considerations, but perhaps they do need to be disentangled.
    Sune helpfully points out that I’m using non-ideal theory in three ways distinct ways. The first two are the more traditional ways – theorizing in situations of burdened societies and non-compliance. The third is different. I think he is right that I’m trying to focus on an aspect of the refugee experience that is often excluded – how do we theorize about people who are neither members of states nor legally considered refugees? The default is to treat them as criminals or threats, but this of course does not capture the extent that they are both victims of their own states (either burdened or failed) and have been failed by the international system in which once you’re forced to leave your home country, no other country is obliged to receive you. I’m using non-ideal theory, then, also to refer to a failure of the international system to adequately conceptualize and respond to refugees.

    Andreas final challenge has to do with one of the main claims of this chapter, that Western states have more political responsibility than other states. He notes that there is a tension in my view when I say that all those who contribute to the structural injustice of the refugee regime share in responsibility, but Western states have more responsibility. In this I am following Young: though all people share in responsibility for structural injustice, one way to focus responsibility is to look at features such as power, privilege and the ability to act collectively, and as David Miller adds, whether or not we benefit from structural injustice also makes us more responsible. In my view, Western states have all of these features in regard to the refugee regime and this grounds a stronger level of responsibility.

    I do want to defend my claim that states that fund the UNHCR have more power to set the agenda for the refugee regime than those that do not. As I discussed in Chapter 1 of the book, when the UNHCR was established, funding was deliberately structured to be not automatic (unlike every other UN agency). This meant that the UNHCR had to fund raise for its budget from the dozen or so countries that were willing to support it. As a number of scholars noted, this puts the UNHCR at the mercy of these countries in ways that they would not have been had they been able to count on independent funding. This I think gives these states a certain kind of power to shape the agenda of the refugee regime. As Young and Miller both claim, being able to wield power is a way of connecting an entity to responsibility.

    Andreas writes, “It would seem consistent to hold that states bear more responsibility if they have contributed more directly to the displacement, e.g. through military support to one side of conflict, or by bolstering a cleptocratic government by buying products.” I don’t disagree with this at all. But I would emphasize that this makes a particular state more responsible for the cause of the displacement, not for the status quo of the refugee regime – that the refugee will likely spend her life in a camp or urban settlement without access to basic rights, economic participation or political agency for a prolonged period of time. I think it’s important to separate responsibility for the cause of the initial displacement from responsibility for the current refugee regime and the harms that it entails, and I thank Andreas for giving me the opportunity to make this more clearly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *