Trusteeship, International Society, and the Limit of Obligation

William Bain

in Between Anarchy and Society

Published in print August 2003 | ISBN: 9780199260263
Published online April 2004 | e-ISBN: 9780191600975 | DOI:
 Trusteeship, International Society, and the Limit of Obligation

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Offers some thoughts about the idea of trusteeship and its place in the history of international society. The first section, Unity, Progress, and Perfection of Humankind, puts forward the claim that trusteeship is a historic idea that is distinctive of a particular time and place, and, specifically, that it is intelligible in relation to other ideas that are especially characteristic of the Enlightenment. Thus, trusteeship discloses moral excellence, and indeed obtains powerful justification, when it contributes to the unity, progress, and perfection of the human family. The second section, A Society of States and a Family of Peoples, argues that these ideas call forth an understanding of international life that conceives international society and human society as forming a perfect identity, and which is underwritten by the duty that we should act so as to secure the good of our fellows. The third section, The Limit of Obligation, considers the limits of this duty, and concludes that in seeking the good of our fellows we must stop short of treating people paternally. This conclusion casts a pall of doubt on the legitimacy of trusteeship in contemporary international society, even when it is aimed at protecting fundamental human rights, because it proposes to treat an equal unequally—indeed, trusteeship is morally objectionable because it offends the irreducible sanctity of human personality by repudiating the essence of what it means to be human, a thinking and choosing agent.

Keywords: barbarians; R.G. Collingwood; Christianity; civilization; contract; duty; Enlightenment; equality; Family of Peoples; history; human dignity; human family; inequality; international society; justification; legitimacy; legitimacy of trusteeship; limits to duty; limits to obligation; morality; non‐social community; obligation; paternalism; Perfection; Progress; race; religion; society; Society of States; trusteeship; tutelage; Unity; utilitarianism

Chapter.  10177 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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