HKS Authors

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Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs and Philosophy


In earlier work I argue that, despite increasing global interconnectedness, shared membership in states remains morally relevant. At the same time states are historically contingent forms of political organization with considerable drawbacks. Once we have clarified what an assessment of the state’s normative peculiarity contributes to its overall normative evaluation, the historical contingency and the drawbacks of the state come in view when we explore how to respond to another question central to that evaluation, whether there ought to be states (or, synonymously, countries) in the first place. One could answer affirmatively, negatively, or in a manner that finds the question problematic. My response is of the latter sort, but entails that, since ours is a world of states, we should try to make this world as good as possible, rather than to aspire at a world with a fundamentally different political structure. Together with the account of the state’s normative peculiarity in my earlier work, this view aims to get into focus both the moral relevance and the historical contingency of the state. To explain the Lennon-reference: “Imagine there’s no countries:” this is how the second stanza of one of the most famous songs of recent times begins. “You may say I’m a dreamer,” sings John Lennon, “But I’m not the only one/I hope someday you’ll join us,” suggesting that reaching a stage without certain alleged evils is realistic enough to be action-guiding. Yet Lennon’s is not a dream in which we ought to join. We cannot imagine what he asks us to imagine in any action-guiding way.


Risse, Mathias. "'Imagine There's No Countries:' A Reply to John Lennon." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP08-020, April 2008.