Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Mr. Legitimacy

A British cabinet member resigned today over what she considered to be Tony Blair's betrayal of the United Nations. Claire Short, the Minister for International Development, believed that only the United Nations could confer legitimacy on the successor regime to Saddam Hussein's. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that "... only the [UN Security] council that can provide the unique legitimacy that one needs to be able to act", national sovereignty deriving from the consent of the governed, having been hereby revoked.

Within individual countries, the question of legitimacy is settled by Constitutional means. There's little doubt that Tony Blair, and not Claire Short was elected Prime Minister of the UK. Although Albert Gore may contest the assertion, George Bush was probably elected President of the United States. But in the realm of power over other nations, the situation is less clear: certainly no one elected George Bush President of Iraq. It is equally clear that no one conferred upon Kofi Annan the power to defend -- or to prohibit the defense, of the United States.

Mr. Annan's assertion that the UN provides a font of international legitimacy deserves a fair examination. Most pretenders to a throne must make a showing. They must demonstrate that they possess at least some of the legitimacy that flows from a kind of sovereign power. A State, for example, must possess a territory, a population and a working apparatus of internal organization. A castaway on a windblown rock in the middle of the ocean does not constitute a state. By a test of functionality, Liberia would not qualify as a state, though Taiwan would, save for the invocation of a special kind of legitimacy, which we must now consider at length: legitimacy by anointment.

Under this doctrine, the legitimacy of a state depends soley on its recognition, or anointment, by the United Nations. That's why Taiwan is a not a State but Liberia is. That's why Jerusalem is not in Israel. The laying of the hands upon the gaslit, embattled, shanties of Monrovia confers a power that the skyscrapers of Taipei can never attain to. Other types of mantles may be laid by the anointing authority. For example, a United Nations Peacekeeping effort is always legitimate and desirable, although it may utterly fail to prevent massacres from occurring in Rwanda or Kosovo. The Security Council is always the only place to settle legitimate disputes, even though it never does. The Security Council has failed to act in 60 out of 62 wars since the end of the Second World War -- the two exceptions being Korea, 1950 and Kuwait, 1991.

Many well-meaning individuals, perhaps even Clair Short, honestly believe in the conferment of legitimacy by anointment. Yet the logical problem; the recursive problem from which there is no escape remains: who anointed the anointer? Even minimally functional countries derive a certain power from induction: the mere fact of their independent existence; their population; their power, however meager, over their limited area shows them to be organisms which are rooted in the soil of reality. But entities like the United Nations, which obtain their putative power from deduction, are treaty objects without a substantial physical existence; without ultimate power over their constituents. The Her Majesty's Government's writ will run all over the United Kingdom; and a Federal Statute is enforceable in all 50 states, but as has been amply demonstrated, the United Nations can hardly venture into realms where they alone can provide legitimacy.

There is no place on earth so bereft of real States and so chock-full of anointed ones as Africa. Over the weekend, another 200 civilians died in the Congo despite the presence of UN Peacekeepers, bringing the number of deaths in the last two weeks to over 9,000. While most things in Africa are contingent, at least two things are certain in this instance: that the 9,000 are dead; and that they died legitimately.

Mr. Legitimacy