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Unformatted text preview: E THE ACTIONS OF A STATE Joy Gordon, Department of Philosophy, Fairfield University, BROOKLYN JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 23, 1998, p. 701-2. The distinction between law (the acts of state) and justice (the ideal by which we judge the goodness of the state), or between particular laws and universal law, is the foundation of the notion of human rights. It is the basis for the moral claim by which we can justify passing judgment on a state's actions--given that the state is the source of law, the state by definition determines what is legal and what is not. The only moral justification by which those who are outside a state can pass judgment on the validity of its acts lies in the claim of a higher standard, or a universal law, or a conception of justice, against which the acts and laws of a particular state can be measured. Thus, "human rights" by definition are not concerned about ordinary crimes, which are offenses against the state. Rather, the conception of human rights necessarily concerns acts (or failures to act) of the state; and necessarily makes the claim that an act or policy which may be legal is nevertheless unjust. This moral claim in turn provides a standard by which to judge the acts of a sovereign government to be "criminal" in some sense and justifies the "punishment" of other states, as well as interference in their internal policies. JUSTICE IS THE ETHICAL REFUSAL TO ASSIMILATE THE OTHER Emmanuel Levinas, French-Lithuanian Ethical Philosopher, TOTALITY AND INFINITY, 1988, p. 89. The Other does not affect us as what must be surmounted, enveloped, dominated, but as other, independent of us: behind every relation we could sustain with him, an absolute upsurge. It is this way of welcoming an absolute exigent that we discover in justice and injustice, and that discourse, essentially teaching, effectuates. The term 'welcome of the Other' expresses a simultaneity of activity and passivity which places the relation with the othe...
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