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The idea of the national interest : a conceptual analysis in the context of the Gulf War Kersch, T. J.


In this thesis I attempt to show that there is no apparent good reason why one ought to embrace the sceptic’s claim that international relations lies beyond the pale of moral inquiry. The state, in the sceptic’s view, grounds its foreign policy in the national interest and not in morality. To assert otherwise is to mistake the fundamental essence of international relations--a claim resting on the assumption that “morality” and “interest” are either antithetical or epistemologically distinct objects of study. On reflection, however, one must have--at the very least--some kind of conceptual understanding about the idea “the national interest” before such a claim can be sustained. Although much has been said by many authors about the kinds of substantive policies which, in their respective views, actually serve the national interest-- e.g., policies which contribute to the maintenance or enhancement of national power--the idea of “the national interest” itself has attracted very little conceptual scrutiny. In this study, then, I attempt to shift the focus away from a concentration on the standards for determining whether this or that policy actually serves the national interest to a concentration on the idea of the national interest itself. Before this logically prior task is completed--an immense task for which my contribution can be interpreted as only a small one--there is no reason to embrace the notion that “morality” and “interest” are either antithetical or categorically distinct. This is particularly true if, through such an analysis, “the national interest” proves to be a categorically moral idea--viz., if it proves to be a proper object of study for students of moral and political philosophy.

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