The Principle of Proximity

Jeremy Waldron

New York University School of Law

January 17, 2011

NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 11-08

How should we think about, how should we model the basis of political community. To the extent that it is a matter of choice, what should be the basis on which the people of the world divide themselves up into distinct political communities. This paper seeks to cast doubt on the proposition that it is a good idea for people to form a political community exclusively with those who share with them some affinity or trust based on culture, language, religion, or ethnicity. I want to cast doubt on that proposition by articulating an alternative approach to the formation of political communities, which I shall call the principle of proximity. People should form political communities with those who are close to them in physical space, particularly those close to them whom they are otherwise like to fight or to be at odds with. This principle is rooted in the political philosophies of Hobbes and Kant. The suggestion is that we are likely to have our most frequent and most densely variegated conflicts with those with whom we are (in Kant’s words) “unavoidably side by side”, and the management of those conflicts requires not just law (which in principle can regulate even distant conflicts) but law organized densely and with great complexity under the auspices of a state. The paper outlines and discusses the proximity principle, and the conception of law and state that it involves, and defends it against the criticism that it underestimates the importance of pre-existing trust in the formation of political communities.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 27

Keywords: community, conflict, ethnicity, Hobbes, identity, Kant, law, nationalism, proximity, state, state-building

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Date posted: January 20, 2011 ; Last revised: February 1, 2011

Suggested Citation

Waldron, Jeremy, The Principle of Proximity (January 17, 2011). NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 11-08. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1742413 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1742413

Contact Information

Jeremy Waldron (Contact Author)
New York University School of Law ( email )
40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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