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The people's duty

Shmulik Nili, Australian National University

Tue 1 August 2017

11:00am - 12:00pm

The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


What is the moral way to respond to the domestic and international aspects of pervasive corruption, when disrupting such corruption might pose serious threats to political and economic stability? What is the moral way to respond to other abuses of public office – and other abuses of public coffers - in the face of such threats? How, more generally, should we deal with disturbing social, economic, and political practices given fears about destabilizing effects of reform?

This book offers new answers to such political problems, by constructing two new normative frameworks associated with the people, as the collective agent in whose name modern political power is exercised. I contend, first, that there is distinctive normative value to thinking about the people in a liberal democracy as an agent with integrity that can be threatened, paralleling the integrity of an individual person. Specifically, I argue in favor of seeing the core project of a liberal legal system – realizing equal rights - as an identity-grounding project of the sovereign people, and thus as essential to the people’s integrity. Second, I pursue an analogous move with regard to the people’s property. I present a philosophical account of public property revolving around the proprietary claims that are intertwined in the sovereign people’s moral power to create property rights through the legal system.

After developing these integrity and property frameworks, I elaborate their distinctive implications for a range of concrete policy problems around the world. I argue that ideas regarding the people’s integrity and property illuminate corruption scandals that threaten to topple the entire political class (as is currently the case in Brazil). These ideas also cast the practices of executive immunity and presidential pardons as violations of the law’s egalitarian commitments (thus challenging, for instance, the French and American constitutions). Examining Israel’s unstable politics, I further show how attention to the people’s integrity and property can advance our thinking about deeply divided societies. Finally, delving into policy problems surrounding odious debt, I demonstrate how ideas concerning the people’s integrity and property can guide our thinking about the international aspects of entrenched corruption.

About the speaker

I am a post-doctoral research fellow at the Australian National University's Research School of the Social Sciences (School of Philosophy). Starting in September 2017, I will be an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University. I received my PhD in political science from Yale University (2016).

My main research focuses on the moral assessment of global politics. This focus is informed by social science, by the history of political thought, and by a methodological emphasis on the practical task of political philosophy. My secondary research interests include meeting points between analytical and continental philosophy, as well as conflict and identity in my native Israel.

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