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COVID-19 vaccines are likely to be scarce for years to come. Many countries, from India to the U.K., have demonstrated vaccine nationalism. What are the ethical limits to this vaccine nationalism? Neither extreme nationalism nor extreme cosmopolitanism is ethically justifiable. Instead, we propose the fair priority for residents (FPR) framework, in which governments can retain COVID-19 vaccine doses for their residents only to the extent that they are needed to maintain a noncrisis level of mortality while they are implementing reasonable public health interventions. Practically, a noncrisis level of mortality is that experienced during a bad influenza season, which society considers an acceptable background risk. Governments take action to limit mortality from influenza, but there is no emergency that includes severe lockdowns. This “flu-risk standard” is a nonarbitrary and generally accepted heuristic. Mortality above the flu-risk standard justifies greater governmental interventions, including retaining vaccines for a country's own citizens over global need. The precise level of vaccination needed to meet the flu-risk standard will depend upon empirical factors related to the pandemic. This links the ethical principles to the scientific data emerging from the emergency. Thus, the FPR framework recognizes that governments should prioritize procuring vaccines for their country when doing so is necessary to reduce mortality to noncrisis flu-like levels. But after that, a government is obligated to do its part to share vaccines to reduce risks of mortality for people in other countries. We consider and reject objections to the FPR framework based on a country: (1) having developed a vaccine, (2) raising taxes to pay for vaccine research and purchase, (3) wanting to eliminate economic and social burdens, and (4) being ineffective in combating COVID-19 through public health interventions.
The worry may be raised that the more demanding a conception of global justice is with respect to how states may treat their own citizens, the more readily a rationale is provided for states to intervene against each other in the name of upholding justice. Accordingly, it may be thought that to the extent that liberal cosmopolitanism, as we may call it, understands the limits of global toleration to be determined not just by how states respect and honor the basic rights of their citizens (such as the right to life, bodily integrity, basic protection of the law, basic subsistence) but also by how they promote and protect their liberal democratic political rights (such as the right of free speech and expression, democratic political participation and so on), it is a conception of global justice with strong interventionist tendencies. In contrast to liberal cosmopolitanism (henceforth also “cosmopolitanism” for short), some commentators propose a more cautionary and modest conception of liberal global justice, one which is committed to a shorter list of universal human rights, limited to basic human needs and security. Rawls's “Law of Peoples” is one key example of this more modest liberal internationalism. Rawls's liberal internationalism does not require all societies to be liberal as a matter of justice. It recognizes that certain nonliberal but decent societies can qualify as equal members in good standing in a just Society of Peoples.
The various special concerns and commitments that individuals ordinarily have, for example towards family members, friends, and possibly compatriots, present an interesting challenge for justice. Justice, after all, is said to be blind and imposes demands on persons that ought to be impartial, at least in some respects, to personal ties and relationships. Yet individual special concerns are obviously of moral importance and are deeply valued by participants in these relationships. Thus any conception of justice to be plausible has to be able to accommodate to some extent the various types of valuable and valued special concern characteristic of ordinary social life. In particular, it is important to see how the impartial demands of justice can be maintained while accommodating special concern.
Two classes of arguments are often deployed by the anti-global egalitarians against attempts to universalize the demands of distributive equality. One are arguments attempting to show that global egalitarians have misconstrued the reasons for why equality matters domestically, and hence have wrongly extended these reasons to the global arena. These arguments hold that the boundary of distributive justice is effectively coextensive with the boundaries of state. The other are arguments that attempt to show that membership in political societies generates special duties among members that may outweigh the demands of global egalitarianism. These arguments appeal to the ethical significance of state boundaries and membership. In my defense of global egalitarianism, I reject both the attempts to limit the boundary of justice and the attempts to give state boundaries special moral significance and priority. In particular, I will argue that the boundary of justice cannot coincide with the boundaries of states when the justice of the boundaries is at issue.
In his stimulating and provocative collection of essays, Globalization and Justice, Kai Nielsen (2003b) defends a cosmopolitan account of global justice. On the cosmopolitan view, as Nielsen understands it, individuals are entitled to equal consideration regardless of citizenship or nationality and global institutions should be arranged in such a way that each person's interest is given equal consideration. Nielsen's defense of cosmopolitan justice in this collection will be of no surprise to readers familiar with his socialist egalitarian commitments. Indeed, the internationalism underlying socialism, Nielsen would argue, naturally entails the cosmopolitan account of justice (e.g., chs. 5 and 6).
How should liberal societies respond to nonliberal ones? In this paper I examine John Rawls's conception of international toleration against what is sometimes called a cosmopolitan one. Rawls holds that a just international order should recognize certain nonliberal societies, to which he refers as decent peoples, as equal members in good standing in a just society of peoples. It would be a violation of liberalism's own principle of toleration to deny the international legitimacy of decent peoples who, among other things, affirm human rights and accept peaceful coexistence with other societies. According to the cosmopolitan idea of international toleration, on the contrary, only societies that are liberal in character meet the criteria for toleration. I suggest that, against the Rawlsian conception of international toleration, the cosmopolitan idea is more consistent with the fundamentals of liberal political morality. I then clarify the ways in which cosmopolitan toleration is not worryingly interventionist even as it is not altogether toothless; and I end with some reflections on why cosmopolitism is not morally imperialistic.
Basic to the idea of nationality is the belief that individuals have special ties and loyalties to their fellow nationals, and that these ties and loyalties can generate certain special obligations among co-nationals. This claim of national allegiances presents an obvious challenge for global distributive justice. The challenge is most acute when global justice is conceived in cosmopolitan terms. On the cosmopolitan view, individuals are entitled to equal consideration regardless of nationality (e.g., Beitz, 1979, 1983; Nussbaum, 1996, 2000; Pogge, 1989, 1998b). A cosmopolitan conception of justice is thus impartial with respect to people's particular national membership. With respect to distributive justice, which is my focus here, this view suggests that what counts as a just global distribution of resources and goods is to be determined independently of the actual national allegiances that people have. Yet this understanding of distributive justice seems to be radically at odds with the widely and deeply held commonsense moral belief that individuals may, or are even required to, show special concern for their co-nationals. The requirements of cosmopolitan justice and the fact of national allegiances thus seem to impose conflicting claims on individuals.
If the cosmopolitan idea of justice is to have any appeal for human beings, it must acknowledge the local attachments and commitments people have that are characteristic of most meaningful and rewarding human lives. Among the special ties and commitments that people share are those of nationality.
Cosmopolitanism, as a moral idea, holds that individuals are the ultimate units of moral worth and are entitled to equal consideration, regardless of contingencies such as citizenship or nationality. In one common interpretation, cosmopolitan justice not only regards individuals as the basic subjects of moral concern, but it also requires distributive principles to transcend national affiliations and to apply equally to all persons of the world. As Simon Caney puts it, “persons’ entitlements should not be determined by factors such as their nationality or citizenship.“
Taking their inspiration from John Rawls's A Theory of Justice, liberals like Charles Beitz and Thomas Pogge have argued that Rawls's arguments for social and economic equality should apply also to the global context (Rawls 1971; Beitz 1999a ; Pogge 1989; 1988a). Just as Rawls considers a person's race, gender, talents, wealth, and other natural and social particularities to be “arbitrary from a moral point of view” (Rawls 1971, p. 15), so too, they argue, are factors like a person's nationality and citizenship morally arbitrary. And as the effects of these contingencies on a person's life chances in the domestic sphere are to be nullified by certain distributive principles of justice, so too should the effects of global contingencies be mitigated by certain global distributive principles. Thus, Rawls's principles of justice – including the second principle governing social and economic equality – should apply between individuals across societies and not just within the borders of a single society.
But in his extended commentary on international relations, Rawls explicitly rejects the concept of global distributive justice. In this chapter, I wish to evaluate Rawls's reasons for rejecting the idea of global distributive justice. An important contrast between Rawls's Law of Peoples and the views of liberals like Beitz and Pogge, as we will see, is that the former is avowedly noncosmopolitan. I will argue, however, that a liberal Law of Peoples ought to endorse the cosmopolitan ideal.
A common criticism of the cosmopolitan position in the contemporary debate is that it is unable to accommodate or account for the special and particular relationships and commitments that people have. One reason for this criticism is that some cosmopolitans themselves have generally tended to be dismissive or suspicious of special commitments, sometimes even treating them as instances of moral failure. Or, at any rate, they seem to give this impression. As one leading proponent of the cosmopolitan position, Charles Beitz, acknowledges, “the philosophical weakness most characteristic of cosmopolitan theories … is a failure to take seriously enough the associative relationships that individuals do and almost certainly must develop to live successful and rewarding lives” (Beitz 1999b, p. 291). Adapting T. M. Scanlon's observation “that principles could reasonably be rejected on the grounds that they left no room for valuing other things that are important in our lives” (Scanlon 1999, p. 160), we might say that an account of global justice that does not allow sufficient space for the special ties and commitments that people reasonably find valuable is one which people may reasonably reject.
Patriotism is often presented as one of the important associative ties that individuals do and must develop which cosmopolitan theories do not take seriously enough. For this reason, many critics argue that the cosmopolitan position is an untenable or even an absurd one, given the prominence of patriotism and patriotic commitments in ordinary human life.
I argued in the previous chapter that the commonly alleged incompatibility between liberal nationalism and cosmopolitanism disappears once we get clear the parameters of liberal nationalism and the scope of cosmopolitan global distributive justice. There is nothing inconsistent about endorsing liberal nationalism on the one hand, and holding, on the other, the cosmopolitan egalitarian idea that distributive principles should be impartial about nationality and are to be applied to the world taken as a single scheme.
But the fact of compatibility alone does not show that liberal nationalists must necessarily be committed to global justice. In this chapter, I want to establish the stronger claim that not only is liberal nationalism consistent with cosmopolitan justice but that liberal nationalists must also be international egalitarians. That is, liberals who take their nationalistic agenda seriously have an obligation to regulate inequalities between nations.
This is a particularly important point, not just because it will demonstrate a strong convergence with respect to global justice between liberal nationalism and cosmopolitan justice, but also because it provides a response to some self-described “liberal” nationalists who deny that there is a commitment of justice to regulate inequality as such between nations. The influential nationalist theorist David Miller, for example, denies that international justice is to be understood in terms of principles of equality because “justice assumes the form of a principle of equality only in certain contexts, and here the relationship between citizens of a nation-state is especially important as a context in which substantial forms of equal treatment can be demanded as a matter of justice” (Miller 2000, p. 174).
Cosmopolitanism, as a normative idea, takes the individual to be the ultimate unit of moral concern and to be entitled to equal consideration regardless of nationality and citizenship. From the cosmopolitan perspective, principles of justice ought to transcend nationality and citizenship, and ought to apply equally to all individuals of the world as a whole. In short, cosmopolitan justice is justice without borders.
On one cosmopolitan interpretation, this impartiality with respect to nationality and citizenship applies also to distributive justice in that a person's legitimate material entitlements are to be determined independently of her national and state membership (e.g., Beitz 1999a; Pogge 1989, part III). But, as some cosmopolitans themselves have come to recognize, one serious weakness of the cosmopolitan position is its perceived inability to acknowledge and properly account for the special ties and commitments that characterize the lives of ordinary men and women (Beitz 1999b, p. 291). Among the special ties and local attachments typical to most people's lives are those of nationality and patriotism. While the process of globalization in recent decades seems to lend some credence to the cosmopolitan ideal, the last decade has also witnessed the rise of nationalism which seems to contradict the aspirations of cosmopolitan justice. Thus Samuel Scheffler observes that “[b]oth the particularist and globalist ideas have become increasingly influential in contemporary politics, and one of the most important tasks for contemporary liberal theory is to address the twin challenges posed by particularist and globalist thinking” (2001, p. 67; also Shapiro and Brilmayer 1999, pp. 1–2).