Workshop: Public Justification in World Politics

Event Date: 
Saturday, March 22, 2014 to Sunday, March 23, 2014
Location: 
012 Bendheim Hall

The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination will sponsor a workshop, "Public Justification in World Politics," March 22-23, 2014, at Princeton University. The workshop is open to all Princeton University faculty and students, but space is limited. Those interested in participating in the workshop should contact Uriel Abulof.

Public justification is a key concept in current Social Theory. It goes to the heart of socio-political legitimation: the ways we morally and pragmatically reason our political life. The purpose of this workshop is to explore the fruitfulness of this concept for the explanatory and normative study of world politics. Very little has been written on public justification in world politics thus far. But it is not to be expected that international politics is an exception from the rule that public justification matters for politics. Establishing a new state, ousting a regime, going to war and making peace, accumulating and redistributing wealth, breaking and concluding international agreements and so on require public justification. Understanding how justification matters and ought to matter is the overall objective of this workshop.

The workshop will address three broad questions:

  1. What kind of conceptual toolbox do we need in order to inquire into the nexus of public justification and world politics? Boltanski and Thévenot’s thought revolves around a typology of justificatory encounters, which they label orders of worth. Is it useful to work with these orders while studying international politics? Or do they have to adapted? Or is it more appropriate to stay analytically more open and refrain from such typologies altogether? Equally important, how is public justification related to existing key concepts in international relations? Concepts such as power, interest, identity, rationality and communication come immediately to mind.
  2. How does public justification shape world politics? There are many promising avenues for explanatory explorations but two of them appear to stand out: First, research into the historical evolution of justificatory patterns provides us with fascinating insights into the making and remaking of world politics through the centuries. These patterns have not always stayed the same. Most importantly, they have become increasingly public and this changes the ways in which actors do world politics. Second, public justification is closely linked to governance. It is a crucial feature of 21st century politics that authority – in global, regional and even domestic settings – is more and more dispersed. This puts public justification center-stage. Where political actions cannot simply be ordered but require some sort of convergence of views across a number of actors, doing politics becomes inextricably linked to public justification.
  3. How ought public justification to shape world politics? Normative research on public justification is highly relevant for substantive and procedural issues. Given its focus on public mechanisms of justification, the concept invites research on procedural matters. Take diplomacy, for example. Post-Wilsonian diplomacy notwithstanding, many important decisions are still made behind closed doors. Under what conditions is this practice normatively defensible, and under what conditions is it not and more public processes are required? Equally important, does it suffice if diplomats engage in the mere transmission of public justification campaigns or does public justification necessitate some measure of open communication? Public justification, given its focus on justice, also invites research on substantive issues. It comes all too natural to students and practitioners to look at world politics through a strategic lens. Focusing on justice provides an important corrective. Talk about nuclear weapons, for instance, is very firmly in the grip of the strategic paradigm. But it is highly questionable whether we can afford to disregard matters of justice, such as suffering of people following nuclear testing as well as the inherent inability of these weapons to differentiate between combatants and non-combatants.
Event Documents: