Is emphasis on universal human rights an unmixed good?
On the whole, their influence is no doubt to be saluted. That influence has grown in response to the political catastrophes of the past century, as well as to vastly improved communications and the consequent tendency toward worldwide unification of standards. The reasons behind it thus include good ones. Modern conditions, which have led to atrocity on an unprecedented scale, must also give rise to new protections.
Nonetheless, as an institution “human rights” have outrun construction of the foundations needed for something intended to be so authoritative and universal. They currently rest on understandings of doubtful coherence and validity. In the absence of well-founded principle, special pleading and manipulation have infected their formulation and application, in any case an activity of international elites insulated from popular answerability by distance and claims of special expertise.
The result is that human rights, as an institution and practice, have come to support imperialism and even a peculiar tyranny, one that like other tyrannies can lead to human degradation. “Human rights” can mean the overthrow of brutal dictatorships. They can also mean:
- Aggressive war, as in the NATO attack on Yugoslavia.
- International pressure to reverse democratic elections on flimsy grounds, as in EU sanctions against Austria.
- Transfer of basic social decisions to bureaucratic and judicial elites.
- The abolition of fundamental moral and religious standards, for example those regarding sexual morality and family life, that make a stable, dignified and productive private life possible.
- A bias against the settled habits and concrete loyalties that give a people the cohesion needed for self-government, and to balance the power of the bureaucratic state and world market.
- A demand for uniformity of thought, leading to the fining, firing or even incarceration of those who dispute official views on sensitive issues such as ethnicity.
- Introduction of outright atrocities such as partial-birth abortion into everyday life.
Reform is needed so that human rights can more reliably perform their necessary and beneficial—although limited—function in modern political life.
This site is an individual undertaking. I am a writer on topics related to political philosophy and a lawyer with experience in international transactions. For those interested, here is a brief resume. I believe that “human rights” as now institutionalized suffer from problems like those of contemporary liberalism generally, so the proposals for reform presented here come from an opposing traditionalist and particularist direction.
The main purpose of this site, however, is less to promote my own views than to help open up discussion of a system of attitudes, practices and institutions that has tended to become the special concern of small and unrepresentative elites and has been too little subject to serious scrutiny from outside.