HUMANITARIANISM AND ITS LIMITS
I would like to start with a declaration. However we conceive it—as charity, a commitment to improving the condition of humanity anywhere in the world, philanthropy—humanitarianism is a contact sport. Humanitarians perforce must engage with those in whose interests they exert themselves. Contact may be direct or proximate, indirect or remote. It may be directed at people we know intimately or those we do not. It may focus on our immediate neighbours or it may have for its object the welfare of humanity several steps—social or geographical—removed from us. In all these instances, I would like to suggest that there is a running thread; it is made up of morality, an ethical standpoint, relating to what view we have of human beings and what we think they deserve when it comes to the best life for them, how that life is to be obtained and in what measure. Doubtless, corporations do engage in humanitarian activities, usually under the rubric of ‘corporate social responsibility’. And governments do likewise engage in humanitarianism under several guises ranging from diplomatic relations to foreign aid, and so on. Certainly, it is easy to absorb corporate humanitarian contributions and state-inflected humanitarian programmes to economic and political interests, respectively, of the institutions concerned, but I have no doubt that if either party thought that their engagement was or could be perceived as somehow morally wrong or ethically unacceptable, it is unlikely that they would proceed.