Skip to main content
×
Home
    • Aa
    • Aa

Self-Interest and the Distant Vulnerable

Abstract

What interests do states have in assisting and protecting vulnerable populations beyond their borders? While some political leaders and commentators promote a circumscribed understanding of the national interest that rules out accepting substantial risks and costs for the sake of the distant vulnerable, others endorse an “enlightened” conception of the national interest that recognizes the long-term utility to be gained by helping them. However, while this notion of “enlightened” self-interest gives states reason to act in some instances, it fails to prompt action in other cases where the suffering of strangers is less strategically important. Some leaders and commentators have responded to this problem by reaching for some other, less material conception of the national interest to justify assisting the distant vulnerable, but they have often struggled to find the language they need. This article finds a solution in the debates about self-interest waged in seventeenth-century Europe. Dissatisfied both with Hobbes's narrow understanding of self-interest and Pufendorf's more “enlightened” understanding, Leibniz defended a more generous and “disinterested” conception, grounded not in considerations of material utility but in the pleasure to be derived from helping those in need. This article demonstrates two ways in which this “disinterested” conception of self-interest can be of use today. First, it provides resources for explaining why states already sometimes act in “disinterested” and altruistic ways. Second, it provides leaders with a tool for persuading people to help the distant vulnerable, even when it appears to be in neither their narrow nor their “enlightened” interests to do so.

What interests do states have in assisting and protecting vulnerable populations beyond their borders? While some political leaders and commentators promote a circumscribed understanding of the national interest that rules out accepting substantial risks and costs for the sake of the distant vulnerable, others endorse an “enlightened” conception of the national interest that recognizes the long-term utility to be gained by helping them. However, while this notion of “enlightened” self-interest gives states reason to act in some instances, it fails to prompt action in other cases where the suffering of strangers is less strategically important. Some leaders and commentators have responded to this problem by reaching for some other, less material conception of the national interest to justify assisting the distant vulnerable, but they have often struggled to find the language they need. This article finds a solution in the debates about self-interest waged in seventeenth-century Europe. Dissatisfied both with Hobbes's narrow understanding of self-interest and Pufendorf's more “enlightened” understanding, Leibniz defended a more generous and “disinterested” conception, grounded not in considerations of material utility but in the pleasure to be derived from helping those in need. This article demonstrates two ways in which this “disinterested” conception of self-interest can be of use today. First, it provides resources for explaining why states already sometimes act in “disinterested” and altruistic ways. Second, it provides leaders with a tool for persuading people to help the distant vulnerable, even when it appears to be in neither their narrow nor their “enlightened” interests to do so.

Copyright
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Fiammetta Palladini , “Pufendorf Disciple of Hobbes: The Nature of Man and the State of Nature: The Doctrine of Socialitas ,” History of European Ideas 34, no. 1 (2008), pp. 2660

Brent E. Sasley , “Theorizing States’ Emotions,” International Studies Review 13, no. 3 (2011), pp. 452‒76

Emotions and World Politics” in International Theory 6, no. 3 (2014), pp. 490594

Ethan A. Nadelmann , “Global Prohibition Regimes: The Evolution of Norms in International Society,” International Organization 44, no. 4 (1990), pp. 479526

Andrew A. G. Ross , “Coming in From the Cold: Constructivism and Emotions,” European Journal of International Relations 12, no. 2 (2006), pp. 197222

Nancy Sherman , “Empathy, Respect, and Humanitarian Intervention,” Ethics & International Affairs 12, no. 1 (1998), pp. 103‒19

Grant Marlier and Neta C. Crawford , “Incomplete and Imperfect Institutionalisation of Empathy and Altruism in the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ Doctrine,” Global Responsibility to Protect 5, no. 4 (2013), pp. 397422

Emma Hutchison , “A Global Politics of Pity? Disaster Imagery and the Emotional Construction of Solidarity after the 2004 Asian Tsunami,” International Political Sociology 8, no. 1 (2014), pp. 119

Paul Saurette , “You Dissin Me? Humiliation and Post 9/11 Global Politics,” Review of International Studies 32, no. 3 (2006), pp. 495522

Neta C. Crawford , “Institutionalizing Passion in World Politics: Fear and Empathy,” International Theory 6, no. 3 (2014), pp. 535‒57

Anthony Carty , “New Philosophical Foundations for International Law: From an Order of Fear to One of Respect,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 19, no. 2 (2006), pp. 311–30

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Ethics & International Affairs
  • ISSN: 0892-6794
  • EISSN: 1747-7093
  • URL: /core/journals/ethics-and-international-affairs
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×
Type Description Title
WORD
Supplementary Materials

Glanville supplementary material
Glanville supplementary material 1

 Word (14 KB)
14 KB

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 149
Total number of PDF views: 460 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1165 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 12th September 2016 - 23rd July 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.