Democracies, Their Citizens, and Global Injustice
At the height of the flood crisis in the United Kingdom (UK) this winter, the Daily Mail, one of the most read newspapers in the UK, led a somewhat successful campaign to petition Prime Minister David Cameron to reduce foreign aid and instead to use part of that budget to help those in crisis at home. This example points to a political understanding that I suggest pervades lay and philosophical thinking: the thought that there is a fundamental tension between what the state owes to its own citizens and what it owes to others. This view makes it difficult to consider any form of substantial global justice theory as it seems to create a irreconcilable tension in the role of the democratic state — if we demand much of the state in our global distributive justice, it is no longer able to function as a democracy should: as a representative of its own citizens’ interests. In this paper I will argue that this tension can be dissipated if we take seriously the role of citizens in a democracy. Citizens often appear to be far removed from the acts of their state, taking little or no responsibility for acts done in their name. I argue that if we close this ‘responsibility gap’ between citizens and their states, we can see more clearly that it is citizens who should discern whether their demands might perpetuate injustice, rather than the false choice of a democracy having to choose between representing its people and acting justly. There are four reasons to close this gap (in many, but not all cases of state action): (i) citizens buy-in to democracy as rule by the people, they (ii) benefit from and (iii) influence state action and (iv) are in a unique position to hold state’s accountable.