Justice, Morality, and International Relations: A Critical–Theoretical Reading

Date01 June 2018
AuthorAbhishek Choudhary
Publication Date01 June 2018
Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, School of International
Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Abhishek Choudhary, Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament,
School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.
E-mail: abhishek.chy23@gmail.com
Justice, Morality,
and International
Relations: A Critical–
Theoretical Reading
Abhishek Choudhary1
The article argues in favor of the concept of justice as a foundational
norm of global politics. It looks at the puzzle that why order is preferred
over justice. The disregard toward justice is seen as a tool of conve-
nience for fulfilling hegemonic aspirations and avoiding any normative
commitment. The order versus justice debate has been in the discipline
for long, where different theoretical tradition has offered differing
preferences. The article takes a critical–theoretical viewpoint and
argues for a more active involvement with the notion of justice to have a
humane understanding of international politics. It challenges the cosmo-
politan idea of global justice as being a mere reflection of hegemony.
The theories of justice rooted in liberalism end up providing another
set of meta-narrative. The prescription, thus, is against the creation
of a world government. Instead, it argues for installing an ethical and
emancipatory dimension to the project.
Cosmopolitanism, critical theory, discourse ethics, hegemony, justice
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
22(1) 22–38
2018 Jadavpur University
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0973598418757818
Choudhary 23
The article examines the notion of justice as understood by the majority
of scholarship pertaining to the discipline of international relations. The
notion of justice captures an essential aspect of international system
owing specifically to the fact that in the changed global context where
global interactions are expanding, the idea of justice needs expansion
too. Examining the inherent normative claims in the idea of justice
allows uncovering the viability and desirability of considering justice as
an important variable in the discipline of international relations where a
great number of scholarly work question its validity. The debates
surrounding the notion of justice by those who adhere to this concept—
though with differing conceptions—actually open up a much deeper
normative contest marked by the contestations regarding order versus
justice, ends versus means, and positive versus negative duties. The
article analyzes the case for the explanations that takes up justice as a
major factor in assessing international relations. In this regard, the article
analyzes the communitarian and the cosmopolitan approaches owing to
the fact that these two ostensibly argue for the case of justice (Brown
1992; Cochran 2004; Thompson 1992). Analyzing the explanations and
justifications, the article argues that the motivation provided by the
notion of global justice is nothing more than a façade or a smokescreen
in practice. The justice motive does nothing more than to hide the actual
motives—of being a global hegemon—at play. In the short term, the
actions taken in the name of upholding justice do appear altruistic, but in
actual practice, this translates into playing the role of norm interpreter as
well as norm enforcer by the powerful nations who can fulfil their own
interest camouflaged by justice motive. In this regard, the article posits
that a critical–theoretical understanding based on discourse ethics is
more desirable. The urgency of such approach is valid owing to the
context where statist dominance in global politics is challenged by
globalization and cosmopolitanism.
The Notions of Justice and Order
Justice, simply put, is the deliverance of what is due. All human beings,
owing to the fact that they have ‘equal moral worth’, are entitled to attain
this justice, and thereby the actions undertaken in the name of justice
stay least challenged in contemporary world (Kant 2006). The idea of

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