In the wake of the Georgia/Russia/South Ossetian kerfuffle I’d like to consider the implications of expansion as policy for a country. The invasion and counter-invasion (which was mostly missed by me due to my disconnect with the Internet and news sources over the last two weeks), is something I’m not qualified yet to comment. I’m still reading up about, one source here.

However, in the abstract, especially in the wake of recent military adventures and the as well the Kosovo and Ossetian moves toward independence, one might consider when and if national expansion is justifiable. Certain elements of the left as well as the pacifistic supporters are of the opinion that attacking or anything but “defensive” wars are inexcusable in all circumstances. This belies the fact that every nation that exists, owes its very existance to a past non-defensive war. The motions of peoples in the antiquity, clans settling and moving were all accompanied by violence. If only defensive wars are justified, how are those wars justifiable if indeed the place being defended was initially acquired in a way which is a priori unjust, that is if aggressive conflict is assumed unjust.

Now, I’m well aware the “everyone does it” isn’t a moral justification. In ethics, there is rarely a cut and dried simplistic path to the good. There are instead tensions, or a weighting that must be done. One must evaluate the good and other less salutary aspects to find a solution which maximizes the good. Similarly in political conflict there are times when war (even wars of aggression) are viewed by those evaulating the possibilities as the best possibility. For a people the option of expressing their independence can be seen as one which justifies much. Manifest destiny drove expansion of the US states from a small colony on the East coast across the continent to the other sea. Expansion did not always occur peacefully (and it is naive to expect that an expanding industrializing civilization can abide peacefully in contact with a nomadic tribal one).

Roman expansion in part was driven by economic goals and gains as well as a notion that Roman civilizing influences were in the best interest of the conquered nation. Glen Cook, in a fantasy novel which I read in my (mispent?) youth, had a character remark to another that “no villain sees himself as evil”. That is the villain of the piece is acting for and on the behalf of what he perceives as good. And that fact is something which is wise to recall.

Mr Putin as well as almost all or leaders are honestly doing what they feel is “right” and in the best interests of their people. While is easier to assume your personal take on the world is “righteous” and those with whom you disagree are in the wrong, most of the time the “other” guy, even those with a wildly different idea of what is right to do, has performed the same sort of reasoning, but with a different set of starting assumptions and “weighting” of values and also things he’s right and doing good. That makes the world a little more complicated, but at the same time is a more realistic view of the way things are.

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Filed under: Ethics & MoralityGovernmentMark O.War

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