Toward Another Kind of Development Practice
Toward Another Kind of Development Practice
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter examines the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale, presenting it as a novel moral rationale for certain forms of international development practice. This discourse-theoretic, internationalist moral rationale agrees with theorists of global distributive justice that participation in certain forms of international development practice can count as a demand of justice instead of solely a demand of humanity. Yet it also rejects their view that the moral rationale for international development practice is to further realize an ideal of global distributive justice. Rather, international development practice can contribute to establishing certain domestic socio-political structures that are required by global discursive justice. This is because, by fostering in various ways of democratic practices at the domestic level, certain forms of international development practice help to satisfy the intranational conditions of a fundamentally just global basic structure.
In this chapter I will defend the thesis that there are good reasons to support certain forms of the practice common among states of giving and receiving official development assistance (ODA).1 These reasons are grounded in a discourse-theoretic, internationalist account of global justice and represent a novel moral rationale for certain forms of this international development practice. By moral rationales for international development practice I refer to moral justifications for the promotion of development activities across national borders. This promotion is conducted both by governmental and intergovernmental institutions such as, respectively, the British Department for International Development and the United Nations Development Programme. However, we will see that the forms of international development practice that discourse-theoretic Internationalism supports are recognizably different from the ones generally practiced today.
This discourse-theoretic, internationalist moral rationale agrees with theorists of global distributive justice – like Beitz, Pogge, Caney, and Brock – that participation in certain forms of international development practice can count as a demand of justice instead of solely a demand of humanity. Yet it also rejects their view that the moral rationale for international development practice is to further realize an ideal of global distributive justice. Rather, I will present a different moral rationale, contending that this practice can contribute to establishing certain domestic socio-political structures that are required by global discursive justice. This is because, by fostering in various ways democratic practices at the domestic level, certain forms of international development practice help to satisfy the intranational conditions of a fundamentally (p.80) just global basic structure. Thereby the processes of opinion and will formation at the international level can eventually be properly structured so as to permit the discursive justification of principles of global distributive justice that one may reasonably presume to be justified. I emphasize ‘eventually’, since, in addition to the fulfillment of the intranational conditions, certain international conditions regarding the degree of inequality in justificatory power at the international level must also be satisfied.
The argument for the thesis that there is such a ‘Discourse-Theoretic Rationale’ for certain forms of international development practice begins with a juxtaposition of two different and very influential moral rationales for this practice. These are the ‘Humanitarian Rationale’ and the ‘Distributive Rationale’, based respectively on considerations of humanity and global distributive justice. Note that the Humanitarian Rationale is a moral rationale for certain forms of international development practice, not for humanitarian aid. It is labeled ‘humanitarian’ because it is based on the so-called duty of humanity.2
This chapter agrees with the Distributive Rationale that the Humanitarian Rationale must be rejected, because the Humanitarian Rationale accepts the existing global distribution of holdings as just. However, this chapter argues against the Distributive Rationale and in favor of the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale by showing that the latter can more convincingly counter frequently voiced criticisms of actual international development practice.
Before I present this argument, I introduce the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale in the third section by suggesting a discourse-theoretic internationalist account of global justice that provides the basis for the novel, discourse-theoretic moral rationale for international development practice. I then also substantiate in detail this particular Discourse-Theoretic Rationale, arguing that certain forms of international development practice can effectively contribute to satisfying the intranational conditions of global justice by contributing to the establishment of more democratic socio-political institutions.
The fourth section confronts the Distributive Rationale and the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale with two very prominent criticisms that post-development theorists put forward against actual international development practice – the charge of ethnocentrism and the hermeneutic critique – and argues that the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale is better equipped to respond to them than the Distributive Rationale. The (p.81) concluding section observes that the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale not only represents a well-grounded moral foundation for certain forms of the international development practice but also strengthens the case for discourse vis-à-vis distributivist theories of justice more generally.
Moral Rationales for International Development Practice: Humanity and Justice
For more than six decades states have been engaging in the global, international practice of providing and receiving ODA. Statements by bureaucrats and government officials participating in the international development practice usually stress a moral rationale for the activity. One prominent example is World Bank president McNamara’s 1973 Nairobi speech, in which he pointed out:
In my view the fundamental case for development assistance is the moral one. The whole of human history has recognized the principle – at least in the abstract – that the rich and the powerful have a moral obligation to assist the poor and the weak.
Many empirical studies (McKinlay and Little 1977), development organizations (World Bank 1990: 127–8, 1998: 40–1) and commentators (Niggli 2008: ch. 7), however, contend that richer states participate in this practice simply to advance their foreign-policy objectives – specifically, that they provide ODA in order to gain political support from the poorer states in international negotiations or to pursue domestic economic interests abroad. It is very likely that such prudential considerations often do constitute the actual rationales for the provision of ODA. In fact, several studies (McGillivray 1989, 2004; White and McGillivray 1992, 1995; Alesina and Dollar 2000; Birdsall et al. 2003; Berthélemy and Tichit 2004) that strive to explain the actual rationale for international development practice by investigating the allocation of ODA flows among ODA recipients found support for this interpretation.
This chapter, however, does not pursue the empirical question of why richer or poorer states engage in international development practice. Rather, it asks whether there is a moral rationale for at least certain forms of this practice, that is, whether there exist moral considerations that justify states’ continued participation in certain forms of (p.82) international development practice. This inquiry thus also differs from prescriptive studies that ask how ODA flows ought to be allocated once one accepts a certain normative purpose of the ODA flows as given. The Oxford and World Bank economists Collier and Dollar (2001, 2002), for instance, propose ‘optimal aid allocation rules’ that would maximize the impact of ODA in reducing absolute poverty as defined by the World Bank’s $1-per-day poverty line.4 Others (Llavador and Roemer 2001; Cogneau and Naudet 2007) have suggested ‘fair aid allocation rules’ on the assumption that the purpose of ODA is to ensure that individuals have an equal opportunity to escape from poverty. By contrast, this chapter pursues the question of what, if anything, one ought to accept as the normative purpose of at least some forms of international development practice.
Many advocates of international development practice argue for the view that considerations of humanity provide the overriding moral rationale for this activity. This Humanitarian Rationale begins with the general principle that human beings have a moral duty to relieve human suffering whenever they can do so at a small personal cost. This moral principle, together with the further empirical claim that some forms of international development practice indeed allow members of richer states to reduce human suffering abroad at a small personal cost to them, ground a moral obligation to engage in the practice. Therefore, institutions’ engagement in international development practice mediates duties of humanity that members of richer states have vis-à-vis members of poorer states.5
In a similar vein, other theorists emphasize that the reduction of human need constitutes a moral rationale for international development practice. There are at least two major differences, however, between such a ‘Needs-Based Rationale’ and the Humanitarian Rationale. First, the Needs-Based Rationale does not focus on human suffering generally but only on needs. Second, it generally assumes that the presence of needs provides a basis for claims to fulfill those needs, irrespective of the costs that others have to bear in order to satisfy them.6 Utilitarians also have argued that individuals from richer countries have obligations to donate a substantial portion of their holdings to non-governmental organizations or to international institutions even if doing so entails incurring more than just a small personal cost. After all, if individuals from richer countries would give large amounts of their resources to charitable organizations, this would eventually increase the total (p.83) amount of human welfare. A ‘Utilitarian Rationale’ for international development practice, based on a similar reasoning, would emphasize that financial support of certain forms of international development practice has the capacity to further overall human welfare (cf. Singer 1972; Unger 1996).7
Many other theorists, however, reject the Humanitarian Rationale as the sole moral foundation for certain forms of international development practice. These theorists argue instead that considerations of global distributive justice morally justify the practice. They claim that the validity of some egalitarian (Beitz  1999: 172–3; Pogge 1989, 1994; Moellendorf 2002: 61) or sufficientarian (Miller 2007: ch. 9; Brock 2009: ch. 5) distributive principle of justice is global in scope and therefore morally grounds a practice that can bring the actual distribution of holdings into closer conformity with the distribution of holdings that justice requires.
Among the specific possible actions, Pogge (1989: 256 n. 18, 264–5, 1994: 202) proposes an international tax on the extraction of nonrenewable resources and Brock (2009: 136, 122) suggests a more complex international taxation scheme to raise revenues for a ‘global justice fund’ that would provide the ‘revenue that is badly needed in developing countries’. David Miller (2007: 254–7) also acknowledges some sufficientarian duties of global distributive justice that can be said to ground a Distributive Rationale, even if these duties, according to Miller, hold only on the condition that nobody in the country in which people live below the sufficiency threshold bears (outcome) responsibility for this state of affairs.
The defenders of the Distributive Rationale (Beitz  1999: 127, 172–3; Miller 2007: 260–1) stress that it is crucial to acknowledge that the moral foundation for participating in international development practice is based on considerations of justice and not only on considerations of humanity. This matters, they argue, because if these forms of international development practice were grounded on considerations of humanity alone, then their moral justification could vindicate only those forms of this practice that would not place more than a certain threshold of demand upon the givers.8 As just mentioned, considerations of humanity establish a duty to relieve human suffering only on the condition that this can be done at small personal cost. Thus, if one were to propose establishing a form of international development practice that required of any given individual more than what he or she (p.84) could provide at a small personal cost, such a practice would not be justifiable by a purely humanitarian rationale.
On the other hand, if a particular form of international development practice is justified on the basis of considerations of global distributive justice, then this justification cannot be rejected on the ground that it might require some individuals to incur more than a small personal cost. After all, if justice calls for a particular practice, no one can undermine the claim of justice simply by objecting that it is very burdensome to carry it out. One would not think, for instance, that a slaveowner could ask not to participate in the institutional reform of a slaveholding society, simply because freeing the slaves would impose on him or her a substantial economic cost.
In addition, such global distributivist theorists also object that the Humanitarian Rationale – by suggesting that richer states ought to transfer some of their holdings to poorer states – accepts the existing global distribution of holdings. This is because moral considerations of humanity concern what one ought to do with one’s own holdings in order to relieve human suffering. This fact, in turn, means that any claim owed as a matter of humanity presupposes an assumption about the just distribution of holdings. Kant, for one, doubts that people who have accrued their holdings unjustly can in any way use such holdings beneficently to further the well-being of someone else:
Having the resources to practice such benevolence as depends on the goods of fortune is, for the most part, a result of certain human beings favored through the injustice of the government, which introduces an inequality of wealth that makes others need their beneficence. Under such circumstances, does a rich man’s help to the needy, on which he so readily prides himself as something meritorious, really deserve to be called beneficence at all?
(Kant  1996: 203)
Barry powerfully expresses a similar thought:
We cannot sensibly talk about humanity unless we have a baseline set by justice. To talk about what I ought, as a matter of humanity, to do with what is mine makes no sense until we have established what is mine in the first place.
(Barry  2008: 206–7)
(p.85) Hence, the criticism runs, humanitarian advocates of international development practice who formulate a moral rationale for the practice only in terms of humanity accept the given global distribution of holdings as just. This, however, constitutes a grave moral flaw in the eyes of the distributivist theorists. After all, their argument for morally grounding the international development practice on an account of global distributive justice involves precisely the claim that the current global system decreeing what persons are entitled to is unjust.
The critique of the Humanitarian Rationale from the distributive point of view is very appealing. For why should one assume that the global distributional status quo is morally acceptable? If one does not want to follow Nagel (2005) and restrict the scope of justice arbitrarily to the boundaries of the state,9 then it would be necessary to argue up front for a certain conception of global justice that vindicates the actual distribution of global holdings as just. However, there is no compelling conception of global distributive justice so far that would defend the view that the current global distribution of holdings is just.
Even the conservative statist (Blake 2001; Miller 2007: ch. 9; Brock 2009: ch. 3) conceptions of global distributive justice would consider it an injustice if a certain level of sufficiency remained globally unmet. Hence the Humanitarian Rationale rests on philosophical premises that still wait to be convincingly theorized and defended. This is not to say, of course, that constructing a defense of this position would be impossible. However, the Humanitarian Rationale would have to occupy an outlying position in the debate about global distributive justice, a position opposed to the view (held by the vast majority of theorists) that assuring some level of sufficiency to all is a minimal demand of global distributive justice.
Before presenting, in the fourth section, the arguments that demonstrate the deficiencies of the Distributive Rationale, I will next introduce the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale in greater detail. I begin by articulating briefly the central features of discourse-theoretic Internationalism. Then I make the case that this version of a discourse theory of global justice provides a sound moral rationale for at least certain forms of international development practice – a moral rationale, that is, for another kind of international development practice.
The Humanitarian Rationale is not only problematic, because it presumes the justice of the global distribution of holdings but also, one should add, the justice of the actual practices of justification and thus the global political system that authorizes who makes the decisions (and how they are made) about the socio-economic order that influences the production and distribution of justice-relevant goods. This raises the question of whether a discourse theory of global justice could serve as a convincing basis for a moral rationale of certain forms of international development practice. In the remainder of this section I will answer this question in the affirmative, first by sketching an internationalist account of global discursive justice and, second, by explicating how such an account can ground a novel moral rationale for another kind of international development practice.
Global Discursive Justice – An Internationalist Account
A fundamental requirement of a discourse theory of justice is the establishment of basic structures of justification that enable persons ‘to demand and provide justifications and to challenge false legitimations’ (Forst 2011: 9). While on the domestic level this substantive, fundamental requirement can be institutionally instantiated by a certain form of deliberative democracy,10 it is far less clear how, in the absence of a world state, this fundamental requirement can be met on the global level.11
In a very schematic and admittedly cursory way, I outline in this subsection an internationalist interpretation of this fundamental demand of discursive justice on the global level.12 This internationalist account of global discursive justice demands on the international level that representatives of internally sufficiently just states ought to have sufficient justificatory power13 in international processes of opinion and will formation that affect the lives of their members. Representatives of internally sufficiently just states would participate in discursively constructing the internationally valid, substantive principles of justice upon which the specific shape and contours of a just international order would then be erected. This demand holds for existing international institutions as well as for future international institutions that might be created with this specific purpose.14
(p.87) With respect to the globally just distribution of justice-relevant goods, this means that the internationalist account does not argue for the implementation of a certain ideal of global distributive justice. Instead it urges that those affected by such distributive principles are entitled to provide the justifications that establish the normative validity of these principles, even if this means initially only that international processes of justification have to mediate the justifications of members of states via their government officials. I say ‘initially’ because there may exist further channels through which members of states may have influence upon international decision-making processes. The focus here, however, is on some minimal conditions that fundamental international justice requires, even if it is very likely that there will be further demands that go beyond these minimal conditions.
Second, since the justifications for any kind of international order must be ultimately justifiable to the states’ members, the internationalist account also calls for appropriate structures of justification on the intranational level. Domestically, structures of justification must enable members of states ‘to demand and provide justifications and to challenge false legitimations’ (Forst 2011: 9) of the particular shape of their domestic social and political orders.
As long as this domestic requirement remains unmet, international practices of justification lack the normative quality necessary to ground a reasonable presumption of the moral acceptability of the agreements reached in international processes of opinion and will formation. For without the effective political opportunity to question the opinions expressed and decisions made by the representatives of states, members of states are not sufficiently taken into account when states’ international priorities are determined.
In a nutshell, then, the internationalist account of global discursive justice consists of a two-pronged approach that requires the establishment of properly shaped structures of justification on both the inter- and intranational levels, which enable justificatory discourses to construct the principles that determine the fundamental shape of socio-political orders. It spells out the conditions whose fulfillment would make the global basic structure fundamentally just. The next sub-section will explain how one can employ such a discourse-theoretic and internationalist account of global justice as the foundation of a moral rationale for another kind of international development practice.
The internationalist account of global discursive justice can ground a moral rationale for another kind of international development practice, because certain forms of this practice can effectively contribute to the establishment of fundamentally just basic structures of justification on the intranational level. Hence this chapter assumes that international development practice can evolve in such a way as to become effective in fulfilling the conditions of global justice that discourse-theoretic Internationalism sets out.15
By focusing on this particular task, international development practice can help to achieve the fundamental requirement of an inter-national basic structure of justification, which, as just mentioned, presupposes that the states that form this international structure are internally ordered in a fundamentally just way.
More specifically, certain forms of international development practice can facilitate the moral objective of discourse-theoretic Internationalism by empowering people to possess the capabilities that they require in order to gain the justificatory power necessary to participate in constructing and challenging of the institutional setup of their socio-political community. For instance, in states where some members are prevented from participating in political life because they are constantly preoccupied with their survival and sustenance, improving the socioeconomic conditions of the least powerful would be an effective means to realize global discursive justice. Development policies directed at ameliorating conditions of health and education can likewise be morally grounded by the internationalist account of global discursive justice, but only on the condition that these policies function as effective means to create the political capabilities that confer more justificatory power on the least powerful members of a given state.16
The internationalist account of global discursive justice, thus, can substantiate a novel Discourse-Theoretic Rationale for certain forms of international development practice. Distinct from the Distributive Rationale, the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale does not suggest that the proposed kind of international development practice needs to be instrumental in bringing the actual distribution of goods into closer conformity with some (egalitarian or sufficientarian) ideal of global distributive justice. Rather, the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale starts (p.89) from the observation that the very conditions under which representatives of states could engage internationally in a discursive construction of the normative principles determining a just global distribution of goods are currently absent, and that therefore the primary purpose of international development practice should be to fulfill those conditions.
As long as, in many states around the world, large segments of the population lack sufficient justificatory power and are thereby excluded from playing a relevant role in their domestic political procedures, international processes of opinion and will formation fail to ascertain valid principles of justice for the international order. Yet another kind of international development practice could help to overcome this fundamental injustice of the international order by fostering establishment of the domestic social and political conditions necessary to grant all members of states sufficient justificatory power to co-determine the concrete shape of their socio-political orders.
Even though this promotion of another kind of international development practice is meant to respond to considerations of international justice, by facilitating social and political changes on the intranational level of those states that lack properly organized structures of justification, it actually also contributes toward identifying the changes that international justice requires in those states that already possess a potentially fundamentally just structure of justification. As long as the global institutional order is based on international processes of opinion and will formation that do not possess the reasonable presumption of identifying valid principles of justice, no state can reasonably assume that its internal order is compatible with an international order that would have emerged from morally valid international processes of opinion and will formation. Hence, if effective, this novel form of international development practice would not only further international justice, but would also advance domestic justice in all states, whether or not they already have established a structure of justification internally that is pro tanto fundamentally just.
The next section argues that the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale can respond more convincingly than the Distributive Rationale to eminent critiques from post-development theorists who radically challenge the moral legitimacy of current international development practice. It is important to consider these critiques carefully, even if both the Distributive Rationale and the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale provide moral rationales for a new kind of international development practice (p.90) different from the currently existing one that often appears to have as its main objective the furthering of donor countries’ foreign policy goals. This is because the post-development theorists’ objections are of such a general character that they seem to be addressing any form of international development practice.
Finally, the concluding section of this chapter will point out that the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale’s ability to answer these critiques more convincingly than the Distributive Rationale also supports the soundness of discourse-theoretic formulations of justice vis-à-vis distributivist theories of justice more generally. This is because it shows that the considered moral judgments regarding the practical conclusions that result from the application of a discourse theory of justice are more robust than those that emerge from distributivist theories of justice.
The Post-Development Critiques
In this section I present two post-developmental criticisms of international development practice and argue that the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale is better equipped to respond to these criticisms than the Distributive Rationale.17 Thereby I make the comparative argument that we have more reason to endorse the Discourse-Theoretic than the Distributive Rationale as a moral foundation for certain forms of international development practice.
The Charge of Ethnocentrism
First, we will consider the charge of ethnocentrism, which alleges that current international development practice is based on the misapplication of the normative code of one (Western) socio-political context to a different context.18 The objection to this transfer of a certain normative code from one context to another is that it fails to take into account the distinct characteristics of the two contexts that would call for applying different normative codes to their different socio-political circumstances. Escobar, for instance, whose important book Encountering Development acutely depicts existing international development practice as the product and medium of an asymmetric, dominating international discourse about development, argues:
(p.91) Ethnocentrism influenced the form development took. Indigenous populations had to be ‘modernized’, where modernization meant the adoption of the ‘right’ values – namely, those held by the white minority or a mestizo majority and, in general, those embodied in the ideal of the cultivated European.
The charge of ethnocentrism can be directed forcefully at a Distributive Rationale that is based on a theory of egalitarian global distributive justice. In this case, the ethnocentrism charge would consist of the claim that international development practice functions as a vehicle to model societies in light of a conception of distributive justice that is foreign to them and that is therefore not sufficiently context-sensitive. This critique is less plausible when it addresses forms of the Distributive Rationale that are based on sufficientarian conceptions of global distributive justice, because these can grant that states ought to be structured internally according to principles of justice formulated specifically for their own domestic contexts.
But the charge carries considerable force when targeting versions of the Distributive Rationale that are based on egalitarian conceptions of global distributive justice, because these exemplify the extrapolation of one particular domestic conception of justice to the world at large. After all, these globalist theorists (Beitz  1999; Pogge 1989; Moellendorf 2002; Tan 2004; Caney 2005), whether they endorse practice-dependent or practice-independent justifications, offer arguments by analogy that hold that the domestic and the global case are relevantly similar in moral respects. As Beitz ( 1999: 128) explicitly states: “It is wrong to limit the application of [egalitarian] contractarian principles of social justice to the nation-state; instead, these principles ought to apply globally.” But how, if at all, is this idea of a single morally valid conception of global egalitarian distributive justice defensible against the charge of ethnocentrism?
Some defenders of the Distributive Rationale, such as Pogge (1989: 271), argue that if an intercultural, global dialogue about principles of global distributive justice were to take place, the resulting consensus would consist precisely of the egalitarian ideal that the theorists have already envisioned. Others, like Moellendorf (2002: 24), respond that the moral conception of the person that grounds the globally valid egalitarian distributive principles is universal in kind and hence cannot be reasonably rejected.
(p.92) The problem that these responses to the charge of ethnocentrism share, however, is that they attempt to ground the validity of global egalitarian principles of distributive justice without addressing the core of the objection, namely that the distributive principles are not sufficiently context-sensitive. This is because they do not actually present any argument as to why the distributive norms of one socio-political system are suitable to serve as a global, regulative, distributive ideal, despite the existence of considerable global social, economic, political, and cultural heterogeneity. Rather, they beg the question either by postulating that a global, intercultural dialogue would lead to a consensus in favor of their distributive norms or by suggesting that basic moral concepts alone, such as a conception of a moral person, would lead directly to substantive distributive ideals of global justice.20
By contrast, those espousing the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale can respond to the objection of ethnocentrism by clarifying that their moral defense of another kind of international development practice does not rely on any substantive, full-fledged ideal of global distributive justice. As outlined above, the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale calls for the establishment of domestic and international basic structures of justification that allow the members of these structures to determine themselves the substantive distributive norms that are to regulate these contexts.
In this way the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale can accommodate the core concern behind the charge of ethnocentrism, which is that the norms underlying the moral rationale for certain forms of international development practice are not sufficiently context-sensitive. For the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale asks those affected by principles of justice to discursively construct these principles themselves. It thereby concurs that principles of distributive justice should be sufficiently context-sensitive and calls for the establishment of institutions that take this idea seriously.
Nevertheless, proponents of the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale must concede that the internationalist account of global discursive justice also involves a substantive, universal account of the demands of justice (although not distributive justice). It contains the requirement to establish properly arranged domestic and international structures of justification and is based on the fundamental moral idea of the equal dignity of all humans as reason-exchanging beings. So how can proponents (p.93) of this moral rationale defend themselves against the charge that this requirement expresses the misapplication of a normative code from one socio-political context to another?
It is an attractive feature of the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale that it can respond to this version of the ethnocentrism charge by demonstrating that the charge itself presupposes the moral validity of the foundational principle on which the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale is grounded. For those who raise the ethnocentrism charge implicitly base their claim on the idea that persons should be subject only to those principles of justice that they could have endorsed themselves in light of their particular socio-political context. The basic idea of the ethnocentrism charge precisely consists in the idea that any set of principles of justice has to be appropriate for its context of application, and that whether this is the case, can ultimately be decided only by the addressees of the principles of justice. Once we formulate it in this way, it becomes clear that the ethnocentrism charge invokes the same foundational principle as the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale. For it is a central tenet of the discursive theory of global justice that principles of justice can be morally valid only if they emerge from properly structured political discourses among those who are subject to these principles. This is implicit in the basic idea that the ‘first question of justice’ concerns relations of justification and thus involves the discursive or justificatory power ‘to demand and provide justifications and to challenge false legitimations’ (Forst 2011: 9).
Hence the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale can respond effectively to the charge of ethnocentrism, demonstrating that it does not put forth context-insensitive distributive principles by clarifying that it refrains from spelling out any substantive, full-fledged ideal of distributive justice. Rather, it calls for the institutionalization of adequately regulated structures of justification that enable political discourses that can, in turn, construct distinct distributive principles of justice for distinct social and political contexts.
The Discourse-Theoretic Rationale can further respond that the foundational principle underlying the charge of ethnocentrism also underlies the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale. The idea that normative principles, like principles of justice, must be context-sensitive, because they must be based on the views of those who are part of this context, is of central importance for both the ethnocentrism charge and the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale.
(p.94) The next sub-section argues similarly that the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale can counter the hermeneutic critique of international development practice more convincingly than the Distributive Rationale (regardless of whether the Distributive Rationale is based on an egalitarian or a sufficientarian conception of global distributive justice).
The Hermeneutic Critique
Many theorists (Gupta 2009; Rahnema 2010) criticize current international development practice as pervaded, if not constituted, by the donors’ misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the recipients’ situation. They point out that the donors interpret the recipients’ socio-political context against the background of experiences and value judgments drawn from their own socio-political upbringing and environment. The donors thereby fail to properly grasp the recipients’ understanding of the actual situation and consequently can represent it only inadequately.
As a result of this misunderstanding and misrepresentation, donors tend to formulate policies that do not address the types of socio-political changes that the recipients themselves would like to see. The central objection of the hermeneutic critique, then, is that actual international development practice fails to take seriously the recipients’ understanding of their socio-political constellations.
The thrust of this hermeneutic critique can be observed by considering the international development community’s pivotal concern with poverty. Many scholars (Noël 2006; Hulme and Fukuda-Parr 2009) argue that ever since the adoption of the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000, the eradication of poverty has moved to center stage of international development practice and represents a ‘global anti-poverty consensus’ (McDonnell et al. 2003: 7). While this heightened focus on poverty may itself express the overcoming of the previous misunderstanding that all states should strive for industrial modernization or growth in the market value of produced goods and services,21 even this apparently innocuous concern manifests problems of misunderstanding and misrepresentation. These problems arise because despite a generally shared understanding of the concept of poverty, various conceptions of poverty can substantiate its concrete meaning very differently.22 Rahnema articulates clearly:
(p.95) The word ‘poverty’ is, no doubt, a key word of our times, extensively used and abused by everyone. […] Strangely enough, however, no one, including the proposed ‘beneficiaries’ of these [development] activities, seems to have a clear and a commonly shared, view of poverty. For one reason, almost all the definitions given to the word are woven around the concept of ‘lack’ or ‘deficiency’. Yet, on that basis, perhaps not a single human being could be found who would not feel ‘lacking’ in some thing. What makes the difference between the poor and the ‘non-poor’ would only be, then, the nature and the perception of the ‘lack’.
(Rahnema 1991: 4)
Hence, a heuristically adequate conception of poverty would have to be established by reference to a thick characterization of the socio-political context of those potentially affected by international development practice. Such thick characterizations, proponents of the hermeneutic critique argue, will not only vary substantially across different social and political contexts, but also will have to rely upon the narratives or self-descriptions of those constituting these contexts.
International development practice, in contrast, ignores these facts by putting forward an allegedly universally valid conception of poverty23 that merely reflects a supposedly valid generalization of a local or domestic understanding of poverty. This practice effectively fails, therefore, to pursue articulating the actual problem of poverty in a sufficiently context-sensitive manner.24 Shiva, for example, criticizes international development practice for defining poverty in a too narrowly and market-oriented way:
Culturally perceived poverty need not be real material poverty: subsistence economies which serve basic needs through self-provisioning are not poor in the sense of being deprived. Yet the ideology of development declares them so because they don’t participate overwhelmingly in the market economy, and do not consume commodities provided for and distributed through the market.
(Shiva 1988: 10)
The hermeneutic critique presents a serious problem for the Distributive Rationale. For the theory of global distributive justice that underlies the Distributive Rationale employs one single metric – for example, of (p.96) resources or of primary goods – relative to which it assesses whether a certain egalitarian or sufficientarian distributional requirement is met at the global level. Thus, it has to argue for the global validity of one particular understanding of justice-relevant goods, one specific ‘currency’ of justice, despite the fact that, as the hermeneutic critique urges, adequate interpretations of the situations of those subject to development policies are context-bound and not reducible to a single global understanding of what constitutes the currency of justice. Hence, those defenders of a Distributive Rationale that endorse some sufficientarian ideal of global distributive justice are likely to encounter problems similar to those that confront formulations of an allegedly universal conception of poverty. And those who base their claims on an egalitarian ideal will find it arguably even more difficult to determine a context-sensitive way to define how people are equal on a global scale. This weakness is evidenced by the many reformulations that global egalitarians (Moellendorf 2002, 2009; Caney 2001, 2007) have undertaken in light of criticism (Boxill 1987; Miller 2005) that points to the inadequacy of their metrics of equality.25
Moreover, the Distributive Rationale is predominantly ‘forward-looking’, in the sense that it calls for the future achievement of one global distributional pattern of some kind, rather than the rectification of unjust behavior in the past.26 This forward-looking character of the Distributive Rationale reinforces the hermeneutic critique that international development practice does not pay sufficient attention to the way in which people themselves characterize their socio-political context. This is because ‘backward-looking’ accounts ground normative claims by investigating whether and how past relations among individuals within a particular socio-political context give rise to certain demands. Forward-looking accounts, by contrast, dispense – at least by and large – with justificatory narratives that consider past events.
The way in which this forward-looking character of the Distributive Rationale aggravates the hermeneutic critique of current international development practice can be illustrated by considering another hermeneutic criticism of the international development community’s concern with poverty. Gupta points out that the attempt to reduce ‘global poverty’ concentrates exclusively on achieving ‘a world free of poverty’27 in the future without taking into consideration how people have been brought into poverty in the first place:
(p.97) The numbers that capture the phenomenon of global poverty […] do not tell anything about why a certain group of people at a certain place has fallen into poverty. So the notion of global poverty is in that respect to a large extent based on a decontextualized and static understanding of social relations.
(Gupta 2009: 133; my translation)
If the moral rationale of international development practice is the necessity of achieving a global distribution of holdings where all individuals live above a specified threshold of sufficiency, then it is vulnerable to this version of the hermeneutic critique. For by determining a certain level of sufficiency that everyone ought to reach, the Distributive Rationale, and the forms of international development practice oriented to it, abstracts from the concrete socio-political contexts that allow people to fall below the threshold of sufficiency in the first place.
This approach neglects, however, the complexities of phenomena like poverty that can only be adequately conceptualized by an account that is historically, socially, and politically situated. As Gupta (2009: 135; my translation) goes on to assert: “Context-sensitive conceptions of poverty [must] acknowledge the historically grown inequalities that have brought several social groups in certain regions into situations of material emergency.” The forward-looking character of the Distributive Rationale further intensifies, then, its difficulty in responding to the hermeneutic criticism of international development practice, which the Distributive Rationale’s reliance on a single, globally valid currency of distributive justice has already brought to the fore.
Defenders of the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale can argue, in contrast, that their moral case for international development practice already incorporates the insights contained in the hermeneutic critique. This is because a discourse theory of global justice refrains from defending a substantive metric by reference to which the extent of global distributive justice or injustice could be determinately identified. In fact, a discourse theory argues precisely that the formulation of metrics of justice requires that members of socio-political contexts themselves provide the necessary thick characterizations of their situation. There is no other way to ground claims as to who ought to receive and produce which goods within the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale, which takes the relations of justificatory power, rather than the distribution of goods, (p.98) as fundamental. Thereby an international development practice based on a Discourse-Theoretic Rationale would be less likely to generate the kinds of misunderstandings and misrepresentations that the hermeneutic critique says it is doomed to reproduce.
Furthermore, the discourse-theoretic account of justice that grounds the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale of the international development practice is in many important ways backward-looking. This is because this account of justice asks those who will be affected by certain principles of intra- and international justice to employ their justificatory power in order to construct these principles. This discursive construction of principles of justice has to be based, therefore, on the characterizations of those who constitute a particular socio-political context. Thereby it will unavoidably involve considerations that look back at the past social and political relations of those among whom principles of justice are being generated.
Otherwise they would fail to capture the specificity of the socio-political context in question, the accurate description and interpretation of which is one central point of a discourse theory of justice. Because of this backward-looking character, the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale can accommodate the hermeneutic critique’s objection that existing international development practice employs an ahistorical, static, and context-insensitive account of poverty. Thus the international development practice need not be based on a moral rationale that tends to engender misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the situation of those whom it addresses.
In this chapter I have presented the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale as a novel moral rationale for certain forms of international development practice. For this purpose I sketched a discourse-theoretic internationalist account of global justice that laid a political and philosophical foundation for a discourse-theoretic moral rationale for international development practice. I supported moreover this Discourse-Theoretic Rationale by showing that it is better placed than the Distributive Rationale to counter the eminent objections alleging that present-day international development practice is guilty of and vulnerable to a hermeneutic critique.
Thereby I made the case for replacing the Distributive Rationale, (p.99) which is one of the strongest candidates for a moral rationale for certain forms of international development practice. Despite its own problems, the Distributive Rationale is more equipped than the Humanitarian Rationale to serve as a foundation for international development activity, because it does not share the Humanitarian Rationale’s implicit acceptance of the actual global distribution of holdings. Such acceptance would require an argument for a conception of global distributive justice that affirms the status quo; the Humanitarian Rationale fails to provide any such account. Accepting the status quo would also mean taking a stance in opposition to the consensus of a broad range of theories of global distributive justice and therefore would be very difficult to defend.
The comparative superiority of the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale also further strengthens the case for discourse-theoretic accounts of justice, given that the considered moral judgments regarding the practical conclusions about international development practice that can be drawn from one of them. Therefore beyond my central objective in this chapter to articulate and defend the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale for the international development practice, I also provided an additional argument that supports discourse-theories of justice more generally.
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(1.) I presented earlier versions of this chapter at the University of Bayreuth Philosophy & Economics Summer Meeting of Young Philosophers and Economists in August 2010, the Governance of Relief – Post-Colonial and Cold War Humanitarian Aid conference in Mannheim in December 2010, the Colonial Legacies, Postcolonial Contestations conference in Frankfurt in June 2011, the Global Justice – Assessing International Aid conference in Lisbon in July 2011 and the Justitia Amplificata – Rethinking Justice: Applied and Global World Poverty, Global Justice and Humanity workshop at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften in Bad Homburg in May 2012. I would like to thank the audiences at these events as well as Amy Allen, Paulo Barcelos, Gabriele de Angelis, Allen Buchanan, Franziska Dübgen, Stefan Gosepath, Nicole Hassoun, Uchenna Okeja and Philippe Van Parijs for their extremely helpful comments. My work on this chapter benefited from a scholarship of the Cluster of Excellence Normative Orders at the University of Frankfurt. This chapter appeared as ‘Toward another Kind of Development Practice’ in Julian Culp, Global Justice and Development (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), ch. 7, and is reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
(3.) In his Four Point Speech US President Truman (1949) also insisted: ‘Only by helping the least fortunate of its members to help themselves can the human family achieve the decent, satisfying life that is the right of all people.’
(4.) The World Bank now defines extreme poverty by a $1.25-per-day poverty line.
(7.) The Utilitarian Rationale is not further pursued here, because utilitarian moral and political philosophy rests on a number of very problematic assumptions (for example, the commensurability of different values) and involves certain counter-intuitive assumptions (for example, that there are no supererogatory acts).
(8.) As Beitz argues, different from the ‘duty of mutual aid to help those who, without help, would surely perish […], [o]bligations of justice might be thought to be more demanding than this, to require greater sacrifices on the part of the relatively well-off’ (Beitz  1999: 127).
(11.) To the extent that it is a fundamental concern that individuals are enabled to occupy spaces that allow them to effectively shape their socio-political environments, the internationalist account is in a certain sense strongly cosmopolitan.
(13.) ‘Sufficient’ rather than ‘equal’ justificatory power, because to demand equal justificatory power is incompatible with the current condition of the natural world.
(15.) Note, however, that current international development practice over the last six decades has failed to deliver on its promise to spur economic growth in the poorer countries. Economists who contend on the basis of econometric analyses that the actual international development practice has in general not been effective in that respect include Mosley et al. (1987), Boone (1996), Burnside and Dollar (2000), Easterly (2002, 2006, 2008), and Rajan and Subramanian (2005). However, Minoiu and Reddy (2009) show that investing resources with the purpose of promoting (p.101) growth in poorer countries can effectively achieve this goal in the long run. Other social scientists, including Kabou (1993), Ellerman (2005), and Moyo (2010) seek to explain by reference to the structure of the donor–recipient relationship, albeit in very different ways, why actual international development practice has been ineffective in promoting economic growth in poorer countries. For philosophical discussions of the relevance of the fact of international development work’s practical effectiveness to the question of whether to support the international development practice from a moral point of view, see Wenar (2003, 2007), Jamieson (2005), and Hassoun (2012: ch. 4). These philosophical discussions tend to conclude that while one ought to support international development practice, careful, cautious deliberation is needed as to which particular activities of the international development practice should continue.
(16.) Arguably, it is a serious challenge for the Discourse-Theoretic Rationale that the strongly inter-governmental character of bilateral aid makes it very difficult for the system to bring about changes in the lives of the politically least powerful individuals and groups within states. Nongovernmental organisations may promise to be more successful in such contexts – and thus they often receive additional ODA funds to carry out precisely these tasks.
(17.) For similar criticisms that address theories of global distributive justice more directly, see Benhabib (2004: 106–8), who differentiates between epistemic, hermeneutic, and democratic objections against ideals of global distributive justice.
(18.) This ‘normative’ version of the charge of ethnocentrism can be separated from another ‘positive’ version of the charge of ethnocentrism that criticizes international development practice for implementing of economic strategies in poor countries that are based on extrapolations from factors of economic success in rich countries. Many earlier development economists (Bauer and Yamey 1957: 66; Higgins 1959: 256) argued, for instance, that the reduction of family size would be a necessary condition for economic growth; during the 1970s the World Bank rewarded states that implemented birth-control policies (Sinding 2007: 5). Hirschman (1965) discusses illuminatingly the positive version of ethnocentrism.
(19.) In a similar vein, Illich (1970: 140) argued: ‘There is a normal course for those that make development policies […]. It is to define development and to set its goals in ways with which they are familiar.’
(20.) Moellendorf (2009: ch. 3) has recently taken up a noticeably more context-sensitive position. He now argues that in light of the type of association for which principles of justice are sought, subject-specific contents of justice have to be justified in conjunction with a context-insensitive, egalitarian distributive presumption.
(p.102) (21.) The earlier shift towards focusing development policies on basic needs, initiated by former World Bank president Robert McNamara (1973), found support from many like-minded public initiatives (cf. Dag Hammarskjold Foundation 1974, 1975; International Labour Organization 1976).
(22.) Sen (1981: 17) formulates the concept of poverty as follows: ‘Indeed, there is an irreducible core of absolute deprivation in our idea of poverty, which translates reports of starvation, malnutrition and visible hardship into a diagnosis of poverty without having to ascertain first the relative picture.’
(23.) Consider the World Bank’s $1.25- and $2-per-day poverty lines, or the multidimensional understanding of poverty that the UN Millennium Development Goals 1 to 6 incorporate.
(24.) Some also stress that, in some contexts, international development practice has induced in many people the self-image of a poor person. Norberg-Hodge (1992) describes how externally initiated development interventions aimed at the people of India’s Ladakh region introduced among these people the previously absent belief that they are poor.
(25.) Cf. Brock (2009: ch. 1) for an overview and critique of global egalitarianism’s reformulations. Culp (2014: ch. 3) discusses the global validity of the principle of fair equality of opportunity and concludes that the validity of a particular principle of fair equality of opportunity presupposes a properly structured political practice that allows people to co-determine the notion of ‘success’ relative to which chances are to be equalized.
(26.) Indeed, theorists of the Distributive Rationale are backward-looking when it comes to questions of non-ideal theory, that is, questions as to how to go about the transition from an unjust status quo to the realization of an ideal of justice. However, the formulation of the ideal of justice itself seems to be solely forward-looking. By contrast, in a discourse-theoretic account of justice the very formulation of the ideal of justice has to be both backward- and forward-looking.
(27.) The World Bank’s motto declares that the bank is ‘Working for a World Free of Poverty’.