What is Thomas Nagel's position on global justice?

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Thomas Nagel’s article “The Problem of Global Justice” looks at how global justice can be achieved. In his article, Nagel focuses on this question with regard to the socio-economic aspect of justice.

According to Nagel, there are two different duties that all humans have: humanitarian duties and duties of justice. Humanitarian duties “hold in virtue of the absolute rather than the relative level of need of the people we are in a position to help.” Duties of justice, on the other hand, are “concerned with the relations between the conditions of different classes of people, and the causes of inequality between them.”

In addition to this distinction of justice, Nagel also raises the question of sovereignty in his article, as historically sovereignty has not always necessarily been a just institution. Monarchies, for example, are not elected, therefore they are not to be seen as a just or fair institution. Given that, unless people have been born or married into this institution, they have no access to it, monarchy could be seen as an example of an unjust institution of sovereignty. However, Nagel argues that institutions of sovereignty, be they of just origin or not, are important. This is because they provide the legal background that encourages people to act the correct way as far as duties of justice are concerned.

Nagel therefore argues that, in order to achieve global justice in the long run, it may be necessary in some instances to create unjust sovereignty. This would lay the ground for the legal basis, upon which then true global justice and just sovereignty could be achieved in the future: “the path from anarchy to justice must go through injustice.”

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