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  • Five Uneasy Pieces: American Ethics in a Globalized World
  • Theodore S. Orlin (bio)
Five Uneasy Pieces: American Ethics in a Globalized World (Rowman and Littlefield, Mark Gibney ed., 2005), 203 pp.

In this era of terrorism, when perceived fear and actual exigency have driven American policies and practices to an extreme that would have been unthinkable just a short time ago, it is appropriate to assess our responses against our fundamental principles. The urgency of the review is necessitated to insure that these principles do not become so shallow as to lose, via governmental pragmatics, their moral efficacy. [End Page 284]

It should be recalled that the United States' very beginnings were premised on ethical considerations. Jefferson's Declaration appealed to international public opinion: "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which compel them." Just as it mattered in 1776, the opinions of mankind (both of our own electorate and of the international community) should continue to matter two centuries later. If the United States is to remain true to its principled beginnings, it is essential to determine if the course taken in the name of supposed pragmatism has so injured our foundations that our proclaimed commitment to democracy has become a hypocritical justification for realpolitik devoid of the very principles we claim to cherish.

The message of Mark Gibney, international lawyer and the Belk Distinguished Professor of Political Science (University of North Carolina–Asheville), in this book is that an ethical assessment of our policies, both domestic and international, are important and should shape our policy. He states in his preface, "the ethical system we have devised for ourselves has actually given us license to act" in a "harmful, selfish" way. The hypocrisy he explores is an appropriate wake-up call to address the wrongs of unethical policies that are destructive of the very goals America proclaims to obtain. The relevancy of this book is further justified by the Bush Administration's heavy public reliance on "values" to justify its policies. When a US president hawks the value of the globalization of democracy in justifying our war policy, when we sacrifice the lives of our soldiers and those of our allies and civilians in the name of that policy, is it not appropriate to consider the ethical implications of our foreign policy, let alone our domestic and legal policy to protect the security of the homeland? Does not this "value laden policy" mandate that we assess the moral implications of our legal decisions as well as our immigration and aid policy to see if we are actually doing what we outwardly and proudly proclaim?

Rightfully, Professor Gibney reminds us that we are at a moral crossroad and asks whether 9/11 has made Americans less moral and more accepting of unethical policy in response to this insecure era.

Gibney does not limit his discussion of ethics to the Iraqi war. Among the "five uneasy pieces" are: 1) the overseas operation of US multinational corporations; 2) the narrow interpretive confines of American constitutional law; 3) the ethics of our foreign policy; 4) the ethics of US refugee policy; and 5) the ethics of US foreign aid policy.

In the first "uneasy piece" Gibney explores the inconsistency of the application of the extraterritoriality of American regulatory law as it applies to the operation of US multinational corporations. In providing examples of how the law protects US interests to the detriment of foreign citizens (e.g., the sale of a glue to Central America that contains an addictive agent used by street children, the operation of a Peruvian smelter plant that "spews" sulfur dioxide in the air that would be illegal under US environmental law), Gibney suggests a review of critical ethical questions. How ethical is our application of law if we protect ourselves, but feel free to threaten others in the name of self-interest and profit? To further compound the issue, where are the ethics of an interpretation of a regulatory law that protects our commercial interests by applying US monopoly, trademark, securities, tax, and bribery laws, but not environmental, health and safety, or labor laws? [End Page 285] Correctly...


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