A Swede sent me a link to a fascinating but horrifying article he had written about the child-abducting Nordic social services state. From the article it appears that in Scandinavia the laws take seriously the liberal concept of the child as an independent subject of rights. As a result it becomes impossible to take family connections seriously, because if a child is fundamentally an individual rights-bearer the role of family connections in constituting his identity can’t be articulated or discussed. What children deserve therefore becomes a manner of what arrangement conforms most closely to bureaucratic ideas of rational administration, and that is never the family. As a result, children in Sweden are routinely taken from their parents and placed with strangers for very little reason.
In his article he suggests international human rights as a possible defense against the Nordic social services state. I sent him a note explaining why I was dubious of the move:
Thanks for the note and the article, which was informative if horrifying.
I am very sympathetic to most of what you say. I’m doubtful though that international human rights can shield the individual and family against the social service state. The problem as I see it is that as a body of enforceable standards and institutions to define and enforce them, the international human rights regime has the same natural goal as the modern bureaucratic social service state: establishing an equal and humane society based on a universal rationality that owes nothing to kinship or religion.
By their nature international human rights are formulated and enforced by experts and bureaucrats who prefer universal rational principles to local cultural practices. They live by the former and can’t deal with the latter. International human rights officials have influence only to the extent the world is subject to uniform rational control. So their position makes them want things to be run by bureaucrats subject at least in principle to uniform defined standards and orderly procedures and supervision rather than informal and varying institutions like the family that are opaque to outsiders and impossible to supervise effectively. It follows that they are naturally sympathethic with the Nordic child-snatchers and reluctant to recognize their victims as victims.
My own preference would be to do away with formal enforcement mechanisms for international human rights. If they weren’t designed and enforced centrally then their content would tend much more to reflect existing custom and they would have weight only to the extent people generally found them persuasive. The burden would then be on the people of each place to restrain the tendency of modern government to try to run everything. If the people are unwilling or unable to carry that burden I don’t think an international agency is going to be able to carry it for them.