David Lefkowitz Speaks on Secession

David Lefkowitz from the University of Richmond will give a talk on the topic “Institutional Moral Reasoning and Secession” at Virginia Tech. The talk takes place on October 14, 2015, from 4-6 PM in Pamplin Hall 30. The talk is tailored to appeal to both students and faculty, with plenty of time for discussion and interaction with the guest speaker. You are cordially invited to attend.

Here is the abstract of the talk: Outside the colonial context, international law does not include a right to unilateral secession. Does that make it unjust? Should we reform international law so that it includes a right to unilateral secession, say for groups subject to widespread and systematic violations of their members’ basic human rights, or for any nation that wishes to have its own state regardless of how its members are currently treated? My position, which I briefly defend near the end of this talk, is that we should not, but my primary interest here is with two methodological questions. First, how should we argue for or against a right to secession? I contend that secession is an inherently institutional concept — there is no pre-institutional moral right to secession — from which it follows that we can only argue for or against a right to secession by using institutional moral reasoning. The need to theorize secession institutionally leaves any specific argument regarding the morality of secession vulnerable to the criticism that we lack the empirical evidence necessary to sustain its conclusion. This presents a second methodological question: how should we proceed when our identification of the just institutional rule depends on data of which we have little, and/or in which we (should) have little confidence? With respect to secession, I argue that we ought to adopt a precautionary approach, and that under such an approach we should not give any weight to promoting political self-determination per se when deliberating about whether to reform international law governing secession. I conclude with several reasons to think that even a remedial right to unilateral secession, one limited to groups suffering grave violations of their basic human rights, will not enhance the international legal order’s ability to promote the minimal moral aims of peace and the secure enjoyment of basic human rights.

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