Lucia M. Rafanelli

Jul 7, 2022

Promoting Justice Across Borders

The Ethics of Reform Intervention

Oxford University Press 2021

In her new book, Promoting Justice Across Borders: The Ethics of Reform Intervention (Oxford UP, 2021) political scientist Lucia M. Rafanelli develops an ethical theory of global reform intervention, arguing that new theories are necessary as increasing global interconnection continues and expands around the world. Rafanelli classifies global reform intervention as any attempt to promote justice in a society other than one’s own. This loose definition means that there are several variations of these actions: the degree of control held by the interveners; how interveners interact with recipients; existing political institutions; the context surrounding the action, and the risks intervention poses to the recipients of that intervention. Promoting Justice Across Borders argues that there are components within these dimensions that pollute the moral permissibility of reform intervention. Once the malleability of these actions becomes evident, it also becomes clear that there are ethical ways to go about (and not go about) such an action. When studying examples of reform interventions, it is clear that there are some interveners who disrespect and essentially ignore the recipients and treat them with intolerance. But not all interveners treat recipients this way, many treat the recipients of intervention with respect for the legitimate political institutions, working to establish collective self-determination, thus providing a blueprint for moral action. It is through these particular examples that Rafanelli creates an ethical framework through which reform intervention is analyzed with the goal of global justice.

Promoting Justice Across Borders combines philosophical analysis of justice and morality with a case-by-case investigation of real-life events, in an attempt to identify which kinds of reform intervention are not subject to ethical objection. The analysis redefines the ordinary boundaries of global politics with the values of toleration, legitimacy, and collective self-determination. Rafanelli explains how vital it is for interveners to avoid subjecting recipients to neocolonial power dynamics or making their institutions more responsive to the intervener’s interests at the expense of the recipient’s interests in order to maintain this framework of global collectivism. A qualification of reform intervention is not to undermine the self-determination of the recipients; in fact, it may bolster it and re-affirm the recipient’s independence in the name of justice. Promoting such justice, unfortunately, takes place in a non-ideal world, and Rafanelli discusses how these theories can be put into practice in this context. To prevent negative consequences from the most well-principled interventions, diverse global oversight of such actions is an important component of the process, as well as ensuring that interveners favor interventions where they exert less rather than more control over recipients. Priority must be given to interventions that challenge current and historical power hierarchies. Humanity’s collective purpose of pursuing justice can be reshaped and better applied according to the analysis in Promoting Justice Across Borders, but the approach and process needs to be reconfigured to avoid reinscribing past problematic applications of these reform interventions.

Emma R. Handschke assisted in the production of this podcast.

Lilly J. Goren is a professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at or tweet to @gorenlj.

Listen to more episodes on:

Your Host

Lilly Goren

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

Learn More

Also Hosted By Lilly Goren