Friday, November 21, 2003

An unfashionable idea: the lessons of history

Our guru did something pretty clever in History and Theory of International Law today.

I’ll try to reproduce the effect here. Words in bold are not the original text:

“… it follows that … if the business of democracy cannot otherwise be forwarded, that the Americans may lawfully conquer the territories of these people, deposing their old masters and setting up new ones and carrying out all the things which are lawfully permitted in other just wars by the law of war, so long as they observe always reasonable limits and do not go further than is necessary.

“They must always be prepared to forgo some part of their rights rather than risk trespassing on some unlawful thing, and always direct all their plans to the benefit of the Iraqis rather than their own profit, bearing constantly in mind the saying of St Paul: “all things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient” (I Cor. 6: 12)

“… it may happen that the resulting war, with its massacres and pillages, obstructs the conversion of the Iraqis instead of encouraging it. The most important consideration is to avoid placing obstructions in the way of democratisation … I myself have no doubt that force and arms were necessary for the Americans to continue in those parts; my fear is that the affair may have gone beyond the permissible bounds of justice and democracy.”

For “democracy”, read “religion”
For “Americans”, read “Spaniards”
For “Iraqis”, read “barbarians”
For “democratisation”, read “the Gospel”

Fransisco de Vitoria, By what right were the American Indians subject to alien rule?, 1539.

How is it that the hawk-ish case for “noble” intervention has become less sophisticated in the last 500 years? Maybe someone should draw Mr Bush's attention to I Corinthians 6: 12.

He might listen to St Paul over the UN.

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