Cohen posits what he calls a “justificatory community,” defined as a relationship between an individual and some group in which the individual may be called to justify his actions.

To illustrate this he gives two examples.

First, regarding the wage rates of the British academics: wages should be raised, the argument goes, because “otherwise they will succumb to the lure of high foreign salaries. We can suppose that academics are indeed disposed to leave the country because of current salary levels. The issue of whether, nevertheless, they should emigrate is pertinent to the policy argument when they are regarded as fellow members of community who owe the rest a justification for decisions that affect the welfare of the country.”

Second, regarding Lithuanian independence from the former Soviet bloc. “The Moscow generals might address the… movement leaders as follows: ‘Widespread bloodshed is to be avoided. If you persist in your drive for independence, we shall intervene forcefully, and there will be widespread bloodshed as a result. You should therefore abandon your drive for independence.’ The Lithuanian leaders might now ask the generals to justify their conditional intention to intervene forcefully. If the generals brush that question aside, they forswear justificatory community with the Lithuanians.” (45-6)

Now it seems obvious that an alleged member of a “community” (a random group of strangers who inexplicably claim authority to judge and harass equally random men on the street?) has a moral duty to justify his behavior to that community only if the community in turn has a moral (or other kind of) right to demand such justification.

It seems even more obvious that British academics, as presumably free men and not slaves to their “community,” whatever it might be, have a right to migrate to whatever country will welcome them. They are not feudal Russian peasants bound by law to their patch of land. Their countrymen do not have the right, of any kind, whether legal, moral, or prudential, to question their choice of residence of employment.

Or if they do question, the academics can safely ignore their conceited blather.

Emigration and secession are related. Hence the Lithuanians, too, had a right — natural, moral, and even legal, in light of the fact that the Soviet Union had collapsed and its treaties and organization with it, to secede from the evil empire. The Lithuanians could question the Moscow generals not because the two parties formed a “community” — what nonsense is this, since the former wanted precisely to disassociate themselves from the alleged communist paradise — but because they had a right to self-determination, especially as a well-defined nation. The generals had a moral duty to abstain from intervening in a peaceful act of a formerly conquered territory going its own way.

In neither example is the “community” in a position to demand justification for the specific action taken. The “individuals” — whether the British academics or the Lithuanian people — can do as they please and answer to no one.

It may be true, finally, that there is most generally a “brotherhood of men,” but it is marked most significantly by freedom from coercion, by the right of any one man not to be killed or robbed by another, indeed by bourgeois non-interference. Even then, it makes no sense for the victim to demand of his violent assailant justification, because none is possible at all. Both parties are well aware that the murderer or mugger is outside the pale. Otherwise, no one can tell another how to live. Cohen, mind your own business.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *