UN and the Hypocrisy of Power: For Mobilized Civil Society!

Power has been supreme for a very long time.

In the 5th century BC the city state of Athens (alleged birthplace of Western democracy) was fighting the Peloponnesian War. Its naval forces came to the neutral city of Melos and demanded its surrender.

The historian Thucydides recounts the ensuing debate in which the Athenians told the Melosians “we both alike know that in the discussion of human affairs the question of justice only enters where there is equal power to enforce it, and that the powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must.”

In our modern day such Machiavellian honesty has fallen out of favour. We need to manage our ruthlessness so as to keep our consciences clear. And that is what the United Nations is for.

It will run after the sparrows so that the eagles can feel they have some modicum of justice to point to as they “exact what they can” from those they do treat unjustly. The United Nations has become a cover for great power hypocrisy.

Such is the way of international politics. Do we have to put up with this evil? The answer is no we do not.

We cannot look to any of the great powers for justice, fairness, equity or the like, for theirs is the world of Realpolitik and raison d’etat. Hope, such as it is, lies with civil society.

The fortunes of justice, fairness, equity are a function of the ability of citizens worldwide to organize themselves for a specific cause, and the great precedent here is the struggle that brought down apartheid South Africa.

This strategy, born of mass communications and the ethical potential of individual consciences, knows no national boundaries and thus has enormous potential. It is presently focused on the condemnable behaviour of Israel toward the Palestinians.

If, in the next quarter century (for it is likely to take that long), the power of mobilized civil society can bring justice to the Palestinians it will create the possibility for a more humane world in practice and not just in theory. It is an intoxicating prospect. And it is one that has a chance of realization.

Lawrence Davidson
November 13, 2010

Consortium News

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