Governments and Other Institutions That Kill Their Innocent Citizens Become Illegitimate

Carter Dillard | February 8, 2024 | Leave a Comment

A previous version of this blog was published at FSM on January 17, 2024

Why Is the Climate Catastrophe Any Different, and What Do We Do About It?

According to a growing body of peer-reviewed research, systems that provide no minimum protections for the most vulnerable – protections like equitable birth and development conditions for children and thus for the environment they will need – lead to the supporters of such systems contradicting themselves. Such systems are inherently illegitimate because they are not inclusive and reflective of their subjects and thus cannot generate an obligation to follow their laws. By definition, freedom among equals means birth and development against ecocentric or natural ecologies in conditions that ensure equity of opportunity and an influential voice in deciding – and thus legitimating – the rules under which one must live.

Power and freedom 

What is power? How we think about freedom depends on the answer. For many years, political theorists defined power in terms of governments, who have exclusive authority to use violence to enforce their will. The powerful could thus be the government or those who could invoke the power of the government through the legal system – the wealthy, for example. Freedom was thus defined as resistance to such power, for example, the right to bear arms against an oppressive state. One sees this notion – of resistance to the edicts of others and to do what one wishes – in the way many discuss and practice freedom, especially conservatives or libertarians. 

But the climate catastrophe has shown this definition of power to be a failure. Expected changes in world temperature are likely to kill more people than those killed in the history of oppressive governments. The crisis has taught us that power is any form of human influence. That, in turn, must change our view of what freedom means. Freedom – in particular, self-determination – derives from conditions of birth and development that ensure the capacity for us to choose who has influence, including climatologically, or power over us. 

Read more in this recent Law360 article on the subject.

Freedom may now best be conceived as the conditions of influence (cash or other incentives, entitlements, coercion, renown, group belonging, the inclination of humans to imitate one another to ensure group safety, etc.) and polarity, where organizations of free and equal persons can form, dissolve, and reform; more like bubbles than an extended organizational chart. What would it take in the creation and development of persons to ensure they acted as free and equal persons and were able to look each other in the eye without fear or deference – in the formation of groups, the state of affairs implied by the We at the beginning of the U.S. Constitution.

What would it take to achieve ecosocial birth and developmental equity?

What would it take to ensure that across generations, we were not imposing our ecological and other costs on future generations? Given that self-determination by definition requires birth and development conditions that ensure all children have an open future, that is where we start – with the right of young women to family planning incentives/entitlements that would enable ecosocial birth and developmental equity, ensuring they have any children only at a time, place and with resources that ensure those children will thrive based on very specific metrics, which would also constitute the most just form of climate reparations. And because being free in this sense is constitutive, or comes first, those women would have a claim to such resources that overrode the existing property rights of extreme wealth made at cost to future generations.

Deadly greenwashing

A growing body of peer-reviewed research has shown the basis of deadly climate greenwashing – which is killing millions – and originates with child welfare policies that illegitimate political systems because they ensure no minimum threshold of self-determination or freedom. These policies literally set inequitable standards that are killing millions of those least responsible for the crisis. And those backing them are choosing to benefit at a deadly cost to others when there are clear alternatives – like moving wealth through externalizing deadly costs into the hands of young women able to save many lives. Who we should be, the “ought” of Children’s Rights and the hard metrics of being a legal person as opposed to an economic person, logically always comes first – before what we should do, and the allocation of other entitlements.

These policies are illegitimate governance because our generations can’t get the benefit of future generations’ political obligation, not to violently target us for reparations required by the deadly climate catastrophe, for example, because we never met our obligations to them. At the very least, young women demanding birth equity reparations would have a greater right to use coercion to protect their children than the state would have to defend existing property rights that harm their children. 

That said, nonviolence is more effective in achieving justice, and there are dozens of ways to make the transition to true freedom. 

Governments biased toward unlimited growth

Despite the many reasons to understand power and freedom in a fully comprehensive way, you will notice concentrations of wealth and power pushing the old view – usually because it benefits them. As a prosecutor, I defined power as the authority of government because that was the form of power I wielded. Look at how the New York Times has of late dedicated its reporting to covering governmental officials who hardly represent their constituents in a serious way as the locus of power. To the extent it covers parents – the fundamental sources of authority if government derives from the people – its focus has been on reduced fertility as a threat to the growth-based state.

The way towards true freedom

Instead, the transition towards real freedom means choosing not to back illegitimate political systems that benefit some at the deadly cost to others, and we can test who is making which choice with these easy questions:

  1. What are you doing to ensure the conditions in which children are born and raised, including their environment and role models, are being improved so you don’t undo the benefits of the work you discuss? 
  2. Does the entity you are asking have any minimum protections for children and animals when you look at their actual approach to family planning policy? 
  3. Will they admit that their failure to ensure such minimums through a correct system of entitlements, historically, is now killing millions of those least responsible for the climate catastrophe? 

Carter Dillard, Policy Director of FSM and author of Justice as a Fair Start in Life, began his career as an Honors Program appointee to the U.S. Department of Justice. He later served as a legal adviser to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in the national security law division. He wrote his thesis reformulating the right to have children under Jeremy Waldron, his extensive academic work on family planning has been published by Yale, Duke, and Northwestern Universities, as well as in peer-reviewed pieces, and he has served on the Steering Committee of the Population Ethics and Policy Research Project and was a Visiting Scholar at the Uehiro Center, both at the University of Oxford. He has taught at several law schools in the U.S., served as a peer reviewer for the journal Bioethics, and most recently managed an animal protection strategic impact litigation program, with annual resources above five million dollars.

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