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Rights

Equality and Catholicism

I have yet another piece at Catholic World Report, this one on equality and Catholicism. It points out that the progressive understanding of equality is at odds with Catholicism, good sense, good order, human well-being, and what not else, because it demands the abolition of all significant social institutions other than global markets and expert bureaucracies.

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More on Islam, women, and the West

A correspondent, who had read my previous comments on women in Islam, asked whether I thought he was hysterical to say Islam enslaves women. He lives in a part of England where Muslims have recently become more of a presence, finds the routine sight of women in niqab shocking, and can’t understand why intellectual Western women take it in stride as an addition to multicultural richness or whatever. What, he asked, could ever serve as a wake-up call?

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More human righteousness

So far as I can tell, “human rights” has become another name for compulsory PC managerial liberalism, with horror stories mixed in to stir the emotions and show how bad opponents are. I’ve commented recently on the ACLU view that “civil liberties” mean forcing a printer to suport a cause he finds appalling, and the Human Rights Watch view that human rights abuses include failure to propagandize a technological attitude toward sex. Now Amnesty International announces their concerns in their Annual Report for 2004, which

“reports on areas of work being prioritized and developed by Amnesty International—such as violence against women; economic, social and cultural rights; and justice for refugees and migrants—and celebrates the achievements of activists in these and other areas.”

Like other human rights organizations, they particularly emphasize things related to the reconstruction of gender:

“Violence against women is the greatest human rights scandal of our times. From birth to death, in times of peace as well as war, women face discrimination and violence at the hands of the state, the community and the family.”

If you compare numbers of dead bodies violence against men is a much bigger problem, so it appears that their real concern is something other than violence. Be that as it may, there’s an obvious radical change from AI’s original focus as a special-purpose organization concerned with “prisoners of conscience.” POCs never included those who favor “hate” (that is, who accept human distinctions like sex, ethnicity and religion that support principles of social organization other than money and bureaucracy). At least though AI stood for a distinct concern that could bring together a variety of political perspectives in opposition to a definite evil. That doesn’t seem to be true any more. They’re in favor of “human rights” generally, which has become a slogan for radical reconstruction of all human life everywhere on rational-bureaucratic and secular-hedonistic lines.

Which is too bad, since it would indeed be a good thing if even those who differ could agree on common standards, that are not just a matter of political posturing, on things like the treatment of prisoners and noncombatants. After the Second World War the idea got around that people could agree on concrete rules for social life while differing wildly on ultimate concerns. I think history has shown that’s wrong. The view is still with us, though, and it’s now a doctrine under cover of which the project of suppressing ultimate concerns in the interests of the PC managerial reconstruction of human existence makes its way. We need to get past the propaganda and see what’s going on.

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What is freedom?

The meaning of “liberty,” anno Domini 2004: Following ACLU Intervention, Refusal to Print Invites to Same-Sex Wedding Ends With Printer Apology and Agreement Not to Discriminate. The moral, as stated by the ACLU staff attorney: “Business owners are entitled to their private opinions about same-sex marriage, but discriminatory business practices are not permitted.” Freedom is freedom to think what you want, as long as your beliefs don’t affect anything you do that affects other people. The staff attorney, for example, is in the business of providing legal services. Presumably he shouldn’t be allowed to let his beliefs as to what is right affect what cases he takes, the terms on which he takes them, or how aggressively he pursues them. If he did he would be discriminating among clients based on his private opinion as to their moral worth, an obvious gross violation of their human dignity. I’m sure he would agree that should be forbidden.

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Melanie Phillips on human rights oppression

In the forum, a reader draws attention to a recent piece by Melanie Phillips on “The coercive culture of human rights”. The piece was prompted by the release of a UK government White Paper (*.pdf format) about proposed comprehensive administrative arrangements for enforcing equality, rooting out discrimination, and generally doing what has to be done to make equality and human rights “core values” of UK society.

Miss Phillips is one of the few mainstream journalists to note that the effort involves compulsory reconstruction of things that are as fundamental as understandings of social and individual identity, and as such is patently totalitarian. She’s begun to develop ways to articulate what’s wrong with it, and I hope she continues her efforts. As they stand, though, her views somewhat echo the standard conservative line that PC and the like are caused by weird extremists doing weird things. When something becomes as entrenched and powerful as the equality industry I think it’s more to the point to understand its rationality than its irrationality. As a functional matter, PC and the rest of it are an effort to turn the whole of society into a single economic structure in which no differentiations or social authorities are permitted that are not directly subservient to the power, efficiency and technical rationality of the structure itself. As such, it’s surely insane in the largest sense, but it’s powerful because it follows well-established understandings of what it is to be rational and what good government should do, and so can’t simply be dismissed as shallow, extreme, oppressive, undemocratic and so on.

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Inhuman rights

Theodore Dalrymple has a rather slight but nonetheless helpful piece on what’s wrong with rights. His basic point seems to be that when something becomes a “right” there’s no further need for civility, reasonableness or mutual accommodation, so the more rights the more brutish social life becomes.

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Canada summarized

I’ve written some things denouncing the “tyranny of liberalism,” and here at Turnabout we’ve had a number of entries describing how that tendency is playing itself out in Canada. There’s a brief article at First Things worth reading as a summary of the latter point. A detail that reveals something about where things stand: the Canadian government recently asked their Supreme Court whether the the legislature was allowed to exempt clergy from the duty of solemnizing marriages between two men or two women.

It may not be a silly question. An appellate court in Canada just confirmed a $5,000 fine imposed by the Ontario Human Rights Commission on a printer who conscientiously objected to printing stationery for a homosexual advocacy organization, and in England Christians, including Anglican bishops, have been investigated by the police or even successfully prosecuted for saying homosexual conduct is bad.

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The new human rights struggle on

The language of international diplomacy: Homosexuals Call Barbaric Church Purveyor of Nasty Dogmas. Apparently “gay rights” advocates were upset that the drive to establish international homosexual rights has stalled at the UN Commission on Human Rights, which is now meeting in Geneva. I’m naturally pleased the drive has stalled, but don’t really understand the setting. What possible justification could there be for giving a few transnational functionaries and activists in Geneva power to reconstruct moral reality for everyone everywhere? Why aren’t more people outraged by the whole process? “International human rights standards” are supposed to be binding, remember, and our own Supreme Court justices are becoming more and more inclined to defer to them in their decisions.

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The Black Legend and the light of modernity

Here’s a useful FAQ on the Inquisition put together by a PhD student at Cambridge. The reputation and symbolic status of the Inquisition, it seems, has much more to do with the needs of those who appeal to the symbol than with the institution itself.

Leaving the bigotry and darkness of Old Spain for the light of modern tolerance, pluralism and civil rights, I notice that

  • The California Supreme Court has ordered Catholic Charities to pay for contraceptives as part of its employee benefit plan. It’s unimaginable to me why the desire of employees who use contraception to have the employer for whom they have freely chosen to work pay for the prescriptions should outweigh the employer’s desire not to support something it considers morally outrageous. For the particular employee it might be a couple hundred dollars a year as part of an overall compensation package they can compare with that offered by others. For those who run and support the organization it’s the cause to which they have given their lives. What conception of rights could support the former over the latter?

  • Another court has decided that legal protections for a woman’s right to “reproductive health care” doesn’t extend to the right to stop her own abortion once she has fallen into a doctor’s hands. I suppose the theory is that the doctor defines what “health care” is. Still, the doctor’s conduct (refusal to stop a procedure that apparently could have been stopped without injury) ought to be a crime of some sort even if it’s not the federal crime of violating the right to reproductive health care. Or in this area do “rights” simply mean “abortion,” as in the case of forced abortions in China?
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Carefree days of youth

There was shock, horror and head-shaking in my late ’70s law school procedure class when we read a Supreme Court opinion to the effect that education wasn’t a fundamentally adversarial relationship and it didn’t make sense to insist on full adversarial procedure (notice, a hearing, right to counsel, right to confront witnessess etc.) before students were suspended for a few days. Many simply lost all respect for Justice Powell, the author of the opinion. The professor, older and more tolerant, attributed the opinion to special features of Powell’s psychology and personal history. All who spoke up agreed he was incomprehensibly out of touch. Anyway, here’s a good example, 25 years later, of the all-too-comprehensible effects of treating the relationship between children and adults as fundamentally an arm’s length matter of rights: Sex and violence begin at 12 in English homes for wayward youth, and there’s nothing their keepers can do about it. After all, if you respect rights there’s no way to govern the personal lives of people (like 12-year-olds) who don’t want their personal lives governed.

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Civil liberty or liberties?

There’s some interesting history on the Supreme Court’s anti-religious turn in the last century in an article by a couple of Catholic social scientists, Is American Democracy Safe for Catholicism? It seems that the big change occurred around 1940, when the Court stopped talking about “civil liberty,” a traditional conception that recognized the common good, and started talking about “civil liberties,” a new term for a new and far more ideological construct. The former lets religious understandings play a role in public life, the latter makes the unencumbered ego the standard and treats any appeal to distinctive religious teachings as an attack on the regime. Religious liberty thus becomes identical to public suppression of religion.

Oddly, the authors say the danger posed by the current American regime is “primarily to the souls of Catholic political leaders who are tempted to sever the connection between their religious convictions and their political positions when the former are inconsistent with their political interests.” I would think the problem is much broader. The regime regulates almost the whole of social life, it claims the right to educate children and radically change social and moral attitudes, it demands loyalty that extends to life-and-death matters, we all participate in it as citizens, and since Vatican II the big push has been to erase the distinction between Catholicism and the rest of the world. So it’s not just Mario Cuomo we should worry about.

The two authors, Gary Glenn and John Stack, are participants in an organization of mainstream Catholic orthodox scholars known as the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. Their website has some interesting material on it, notably recent articles and symposia from the group’s journal Catholic Social Scientist Review.

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The majesty of learning and the law

The recent performance of the Supreme Court may not create confidence in those who like to think of law as a principled bulwark of republican government, but compared with some influential legal scholarship of the past 20 years it’s downright inspirational. If you don’t believe that, take a look at The Top Ten Politically Correct Law Review Articles. Out with comparison and doctrinal analysis, in with provocation and utterly subjective storytelling!

There are justifications for what’s done, of course. If you “know what you know,” and you’re the only one who can know it, criticism of your story is simply an attempt at hegemonic marginalization. No doubt there are problems. If truth is wholly personal, or at most race, class and gender based, it’s not clear what someone else is supposed to do with your story once he’s done genuflecting to you for telling it. He can give you what you want, I suppose, but will that always be practical? Suppose personal stories conflict? Still, such concerns need not interfere with publishing this stuff, treating the people who produce it as “public intellectuals,” appointing them to prestigious academic chairs and advisory commissions, and pretending to hold them in high regard as major contributors to scholarship.

You can’t laugh the articles off by saying they’re extreme cases. These are influential articles, fertile in scholarly progeny, published in top law reviews by academics in prestigious positions. The author of the piece doesn’t seem particularly partisan. If the pieces he describes are thought to constitute legal scholarship, and they are, then something has gone radically wrong in the way law is understood by its academic custodians.

When I was in law school in the late ’70s legal scholarship was pretty uniformly left-liberal, except for a few law-and-economics types like Richard Posner and a fair amount of work that simply attempted to present the state of a field of law for the benefit of practitioners, with maybe a few comments on policy thrown in. When it dealt with political and social issues it tended to be formulaic, manipulative, self-righteous and smug. All of which suggests a few thoughts on what’s happened:

  • Some smart people with the moral qualities required to get places in rather unpleasant environments decided it was stupid bothering with the appearance of rational analysis when it’s obvious what’s wanted anyway. Why not just scream about what you want and abuse everyone who stands in your way?
  • Some not-so-smart people were hired because of affirmative action and didn’t have what it takes to be intellectually manipulative. Nonetheless, they found they had as many wants as anyone, thought they had a right to be judged by special standards of their own creation, and were accustomed (again, by screaming) to getting their wants and self-defined rights respected.
  • Others went along and joined in to some extent or anyway facilitated things because it was what was going on and seemed to be what the best people thought was the proper next step. I imagine that was so with one female academic mentioned in the article, who I remember as a very nice well-brought-up girl from a very respectable liberal family who always did what was expected of her. I have no doubt she continued her very successful career on the same lines.

Still, there’s a lesson to be learned here for right-wingers: don’t shut up but keep making your pitch, if you believe in it, and eventually liberal opponents will find it hard to avoid dealing with you. What you say will become one of the possibilities.

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The majesty of the law

The confidential memoranda I mentioned recently outlining the strategy to manipulate international law to make abortion a universal enforceable human right have been read into the Congressional Record (*.pdf file) and so are publicly available.

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Scalia’s out of step — again

I haven’t gone through the opinions in today’s McCain-Feingold decision, but was struck by an excerpt from Justice Scalia’s dissent that shows how much at odds with contemporary liberalism his views really are:

“Who could have imagined that the same court which, within the past four years, has sternly disapproved of restriction upon such inconsequential forms of expression as virtual child pornography, tobacco advertising, dissemination of illegally intercepted communications, and sexually explicit cable programming, would smile with favor upon a law that cuts to the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to protect: the right to criticize the government…”

The very things Scalia calls “inconsequential”—virtual child pornography and sexually explicit cable programming—are, from the contemporary liberal standpoint, aspects of sexual and lifestyle expressiveness that are worthy of the highest degree of protection. They are a sacred part of what it is to be human. In contrast, the point of government is to advance equality, promote economic efficiency, and protect a list of rights that is already long enough to determine in advance most features of social life. That makes government basically a matter for experts and functionaries, with the role of the people limited to the periodic display of approval. To perform that role they need only to be educated, and professionals in the schools, the New York Times, and other institutions will be able to perform that function all the better if pesky political ads, which only confuse the people, are done away with.

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The battle over theocracy, or something

The definition of “theocratic aggression” continues to expand, as does the battle against the ever-growing list of things treated as such:

  • Robert Reich says that opposition to partial birth abortion and to the recent judicial abolition of distinctions among forms of sexual relations amounts to an attack on religious liberty by evangelicals that the Democrats should explicitly and vigorously contest. In other words, he wants to take public disputes that have no special connection with any particular religion, and define resistance to advances by the Left as a religious war to be prosecuted as such.

  • True to one interpretation of the Spirit of Vatican II, some Catholic institutions have taken Reich’s side in his war. At Georgetown University, for example, saying that the Lawrence decision is a “moral 9/11” and calling for “a moral climate whereby homosexuality is rejected” is considered so grossly offensive that it must be forbidden on campus, even in a designated free speech zone. Apparently, to say that traditional views on homosexuality are correct is now thought to constitute theocratic aggression that is beyond legitimate bounds even for Catholics.

  • Meanwhile, in France, the President of the Republic says that wearing an Islamic head scarf is an aggressive act, and feminists and socialists agree that making it a crime to cause a mother to miscarry against her will is “a grave mistake” likely to “lead to pro-life, fundamentalist challenges to our right to choose.”

Secularists fighting what they define as theocracy may feel under attack, but they have a few cards—like international human rights law—that they hope to make trumps. Memoranda have recently come to light that lay out explicitly the strategy pro-abortion groups have been pursuing to make abortion an internationally-enforceable right. The strategy involves both reinterpretation of existing treaties, in the manner now familiar in American constitutional law, and creation of “customary international law” through constant repetition of a few themes in international documents. The advantage of the latter is that it could eventually become enforceable without need of treaty authorization.

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Transparency and accountability

European democracy: EU bigwigs are debating a proposed new Constitution that would definitively turn the EU into a superstate, and most Europeans have never heard of the thing.

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Gleichschaltung as constitutional law

Some good citations regarding a bad trend that will be difficult to reverse without very basic changes in the understandings that govern our governors: Courting International Law.

More and more, Supreme Court justices are treating “human rights” instruments to which the United States is not a party—even instruments the United States has explicitly rejected—as if they were authoritative in American constitutional law. Affirmative action and “gay rights” have no obvious connection to international relations. Nonetheless, to prefer self-government regarding such matters is now considered, at the highest levels of American law, to betray a “ ‘Lone Ranger’ mentality.” Hence the citation of foreign law as authoritative in Lawrence and Grutter. Getting with the program adopted by transnational elites, it seems, trumps everything.

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Law schools worried about federal control!

If one student accepts one dollar of federal assistance his whole university becomes subject to extensive federal civil rights and affirmative action regulations. Those regulations intrude crudely into matters, like tenure decisions and the forms of expression thought to create a “hostile environment” for women and minorities, that are central to academic freedom. The public reaction to the system on the part of academic leaders and professional organizations has nonetheless been uniformly favorable.

It appears, however, that there are antidiscrimination rules academics don’t like: Law Schools Seek to Regain Ability To Bar Military Recruiters. An organization of law schools and a group representing hundreds of legal scholars has sued the government, claiming that academic freedom gives them a constitutional right to keep military recruiters off campus and still receive federal funds. It’s not clear why the eminent legal thinkers believe the right to discriminate against recruiters is more important for academic freedom than the right to choose faculty in accordance with their own standards and decide for themselves what people should be allowed to say on campus. I’m sure though that they’ll come up with an argument that’s as good as the arguments that won in Grutter.

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The rule of law

Judicial independence in Canada: Judges party with activists.

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“Roy’s Rock” heads north

An atheist group is protesting the retention at the site of the World Trade Center of a steel beam in the symmetrical shape of a cross that had been found in the wreckage. They are considering bringing suit on the grounds that “[m]any people who died on September 11 weren’t Christian … This is a Christian religious advertisement, and allowing it to stay there is an insult to everyone who doesn’t believe in that particular religion.”

It’s a puzzling point. Should everything that expresses anything whatever be banned from public spaces, on the grounds that otherwise people who reject whatever is expressed will be insulted? And if that’s done, will people who find the exclusion of everything expressive from public spaces to be itself expressive of official nihilism have a legitimate complaint on which they can bring suit? Where does it all stop?

It should be obvious that every society and every government is based on some understanding of man and the world, and such understandings are essentially religious. The atheists want public spaces to reflect atheism. Assuming that’s legitimate, why should the law give them a leg up? And why is official atheism less divisive than official Christianity?

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