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The Moral Standing of States Revisited [Abstract]

Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 23.4 (Winter 2009)

December 15, 2009

"The Moral Standing of States" is the title of an essay Michael Walzer wrote in response to four critics of the theory of nonintervention defended in Just and Unjust Wars. It states a theme to which he has returned in subsequent work. I offer four sets of comments.

First, by way of introduction, I describe the controversy between Walzer and his critics and try to identify the central point of contention.

Second, I make some observations about the wider conception of global justice suggested by Walzer's remarks, emphasizing the extent of the difference between this conception and the traditional view of a "society of states" to which it stands as an alternative.

The central value in Walzer's conception is collective self-determination, so I comment about its meaning and importance.

Finally, I consider whether and how concerns about the moral standing of states bear on the kinds of cases of humanitarian intervention that the world community has actually faced since the book and article were written, particularly since the end of the cold war.

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