The Commitment to Justice

Allen Buchanan

in Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination

Published in print August 2003 | ISBN: 9780198295358
Published online April 2004 | e-ISBN: 9780191600982 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Political Theory

 The Commitment to Justice

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Begins the task of laying the foundations for a justice‐based theory of international law, and presents three main arguments. The first argument is that justice should be a primary moral goal of the international legal system; in making the case that justice should be a primary goal, the charge that peace is the only proper goal for the international legal system is rebutted and it is argued that the pursuit of justice in and through international law need not be inimical to peace. The second argument is that justice is not only a permissible goal for the international legal system, but a morally obligatory one; to accomplish this step in the overall argument, the concept of the “Natural Duty of Justice” is explained—i.e. the principle that each person has a limited moral obligation to help ensure that all persons have access to institutions, including legal institutions, that protect their basic human rights. The third argument shows that taking seriously the idea that justice is a primary, morally obligatory goal of the international legal system requires a particular conception of the state, in which it is to serve in part as an instrument of justice, not as a discretionary association whose sole function is to serve the mutual benefit of its members; this is a direct attack on the dominant international relations view that states should support international law only so far as it serves their “national interests”. The six parts of the chapter are: I. Introduction; II. Justice as a Primary Goal of International Law—an introduction to the “Natural Duty of Justice” argument; III. Two Conceptions of the State and its Relations with Those beyond its Borders; IV, The Plurality of Ways of Acting on the Natural Duty of Justice; V. Abandoning the National Interest Theses; and VI. Conclusions.

Keywords: conception of the state; human rights; international law; international legal system; justice; moral obligation; moral theory; national interest; Natural Duty of Justice; peace; the state

Chapter.  18316 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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