On States, Markets and Morality 

Photo by Steve Snodgrass | CC BY 2.0


During the Reagan presidency, philosophers began to challenge the normative assumptions that political theorists provided about states and their interactions with one another. The turn philosophers were making was at least twofold. They argued states should move away from the realist prescriptions for state-to-state interactions, which some theorists offered relative to the securing of ever greater amounts of power. Also, the philosophers in question felt that states should adhere to the kinds of moral considerations that were more or less analogous to what individuals adhered to while on their best behavior.

Sure enough, critics handily dispensed with the idea that states should be moral actors just as individuals are. Moreover, they argued that even though states might have moral obligations to those living under their administrations, state-to-state interactions are better understood as geared toward the pursuit of both power and order. So, whereas individuals might concern themselves with social “golden rule” standards of “treat thy neighbor as thyself,” states mostly act strategically and consequentially.  

Of course, this is not an exhaustive review of the history. But pondering what the world might be like if the golden rule informed international relations as it can and does the lives of millions of people globally is hardly farfetched. In fact, it might prove a worthy philosophical exercise. There is little reason,…

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