June 3-4, 2005
University of Washington

Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage – torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians – which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.
-- George Orwell

Orwell’s wry observation implies the existence of a universal preference for self rule. Indeed, such a preference has been noted at least since ancient times.  Conquest is deemed illegitimate by nearly all of the world’s great legal-normative traditions. The principle of self-determination is so ingrained in our consciousness that we seldom recognize that reasonable alternatives to it exist.  This conference aims to explore why self-government, regardless of its quality, is usually -- but not always -- preferred to alien rule. The conference will focus on four questions. 


(1)  Can alien (foreign) rule ever be fair to indigenous populations?  One alternative to self-determination is imperial governance, in which alien rule is imposed on a population following conquest. Imperialism famously subjects the ruled to cultural denigration and structural discrimination. Can resistance to imperial rule be tempered merely by abandoning such invidious practices? 


(2)  Under what conditions do people prefer alien rule?  Sometimes people prefer to be governed by foreigners. In essence, government provides subjects and citizens with public goods and services in exchange for taxes and other revenues. If foreigners can do a better job of providing these goods and services than natives, why shouldn’t they be preferred as governors?  One explanation might be that alien rule is desirable when the probability (and cost) of internal conflict is too high.


(3)  Why is the market for governing services so limited?  In 1995, the city of Indianapolis handed management of its airport over to the British Airport Authority (BAA), a publicly-held foreign company. BAA is also the master developer and manager of the retail, food and beverage shops at Pittsburgh International Airport, as well as at several terminals of Boston’s Logan Airport. This, and other examples, suggests that alternative mechanisms for alien rule can become salient.


(4)  How are the boundaries between ‘alien’ and ‘native’ constructed, and how do they change?  In the Middle Ages and in some less developed countries today, individuals tend to identify with relatively small units such as the village, clan or tribe. In developed societies, however, the state often takes pride of place. If the boundaries of the relevant community increase, then the entities described by the terms ‘native’ and ‘alien’ also must reflect these changes.   


This conference is supported by an endowment created by Glen Stice, in the name of his parents Earl and Edna Stice, for the purpose of supporting lectures and workshops on ethics, politics and community, epistemology, philosophy of law, privacy in an urban society, and the Bill of Rights.


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 For questions regarding this site, email Nika Kabiri at nkabiri@u.washington.edu.