In a society where individuals are free to treat with each or–or decline to so do, at their own discretion–economic interactions are perhaps the most powerful expressions of value. The consumer is completely empowered to seek out those goods or services which embody that which they hold most dear. Such an interaction holds dual benefits for the individuals: it provides the satisfaction of knowing that what one values has been boosted in the world, and provides a sense of satisfaction in knowing that one’s actions are the catalyst by which value has been promoted.
In the realm of foreign affairs, the president has Constitutional authority that allows him to act unilaterally, without any real oversight from other political powers that might hamper his freedom to act in accordance with his own judgment.
This free reign of the president’s individual discretionary judgment ought to mean that those standards of conduct through which individuals propagate the values they hold closest are adopted by executive officials empowered to treat freely with foreign relations. When individuals seek out those businesses whose values align with their own and which are reflected in the good or service which a company offers, they do so because they recognize the centrality of value to economic transaction. A good or service provider pours something of their being into the product they offer the product, and by purchasing that good or service, the consumer endorses the value contained within it and the productive act of its creator. He makes more similar acts possible in future by exchanging his currency for the good or service he needs. He also cements his own sense of identity by conscientiously selecting goods and services that advance those things he values; to do otherwise puts him in a position in which he risks directly subsidizing views in conflict with his own, an action which hurts his own position.
The same principle holds true of other venues of interpersonal interaction, and nowhere more so than in international relations. Foreign leaders who craft deals with nations whose values are contradictory to their own undermine the legitimacy with which they can claim to adhere to foundational ideas. Though foreign treaties often have little impact on domestic policy, a failure to consistently apply those ideas that inform those high standards of justice a country imposes on itself out of respect for the rights of its citizens betrays them; it suggests those standards are not rooted in eternal principles or ideas about right or wrong, but are situational. It suggests bedrock principles are actually negotiable when short-term political gain is in consideration; this cannot help but jeopardize the sanctity of supposedly inviolable rights.
Just as individuals whose lives are oriented around the propagation of values look to consistently pursue actions and goals that advance their most cherished beliefs, understanding that any failure to do so undermines their own position and is a threat to their conscience, so too should politicians when crafting agreements with foreign nations.
The reality is that life is individualistic; collective entities, such as nation-states, cannot act with a single animated will. There will always be points of disagreement within the citizenry due to the infinite variables of day-to-day living which contribute to differences in the nature of individual being. It is not nations, therefore, that interact, but empowered individuals whose actions stand in for those whom they’ve been politically appointed to represent. Just as the only way individuals can treat with each others in a way that respects differences of opinions and different hierarchies of values is to root all transactions in values, the only way nations can deal with each other is through principle-driven agreements. Principles and values are absolute entities; they have meaning which is not altered by the different contexts of national background, individual perspective or constantly shifting short-term priorities.
If nation-states can agree on principle, there is no reason there should be any barrier between them. To the contrary, love of the same ideas dictates that they should do everything to support each other, just as individuals pursue most enthusiastically trade with those in whose products they see the most value.
If, on the other hand, nation-states cannot agree on principle, they should have nothing to do with each other, lest they risk undermining their own values. Rather, they should instead pursue relationships with those in whom they have the most in common.
Also published on Medium.