Monday, July 06, 2009

Socrates Might Argue The UN Is Not Legitimate

In Crito, Socrates facing execution for allegedly corrupting Athenian youths presents an argument which illustrates a philosophical problem that I feel is quite potent against the United Nations.

The discussion in question occurs after Crito pleads for Socrates to easily escape from prison, Socrates offering what is the real first conception of social contract theory, counters through the voice of Athenian Laws. The Laws personified as a character present an argument for why Socrates cannot escape, for if he did he would be breaking an agreement he made with them. That agreement was instituted on the fact that Socrates chose to stay in Athens and thus obide by them, the Athenian laws. The Laws state:

Any Athenian, on attaining to manhood and seeing for himself the political organization of the state and us its Laws, is permitted, if he is not satisfied with us, to take his property and go away wherever he likes. If any one of you chooses to go to one of our colonies, supposing that he should not be satisfied with us and the State, or to emigrate to any other country, not one of us Laws hinders or prevents him from going away wherever he likes, without any lose of property. On the other hand, if one of you stands his ground when he can see how we administer justice and the rest of our public organization, we hold that by so doing he has in fact undertaken to do anything that we tell him.
Athenian Laws for Socrates were legitimized by citizens consenting to them by choosing to live within their jurisdiction. Difficulty arises in regards to the UN and international law as no one can choose, at least in theory, to live within their jurisdiction as there simply is no alternative. Therefore in line with Socrates argument it is interesting to think of the legitimacy of international laws when we have no choice but to abide by them.

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A larger excerpt from the Laws dialogue:
'Consider, then, Socrates,' the Laws would probably continue, 'whether it is also true for us to claim that what you are now trying to do to us is not just. Although we have brought you into the world and reared you and educated you, and given you and all your fellow-citizens a share in all the good things at our disposal, nevertheless by the very fact of granting our permission we openly proclaim this principle: that any Athenian, on attaining to manhood and seeing for himself the political organization of the state and us its Laws, is permitted, if he is not satisfied with us, to take his property and go away wherever he likes. If any one of you chooses to go to one of our colonies, supposing that he should not be satisfied with us and the State, or to emigrate to any other country, not one of us Laws hinders or prevents him from going away wherever he likes, without any lose of property. On the other hand, if one of you stands his ground when he can see how we administer justice and the rest of our public organization, we hold that by so doing he has in fact undertaken to do anything that we tell him.... Furthermore, even at the time of your trial you could have proposed the penalty of banishment, if you had chosen to do so; that is, you could have done then with the sanction of the state what you are now trying to do without it. But whereas at that time you made a fine show of your indifference if you had to die, and in fact preferred death to banishment, now you show no respect for your earlier professions, and no regard for us, the Laws, whom you are trying to destroy; you are behaving like the lowest slave, trying to run away in spite of the contracts and undertakings by which you agreed to act as a member of our State.'
Crito, Plato, Pg 92-93. Trans. Tredennick and Tarrant, Penguin Classics, 2003

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