The debate I attended last night was about Human Rights, and the speaker whose views I preferred made a persuasive argument that I’ve heard in other contexts. The argument I’m familiar with explains one of the differences between the traditional American understanding of rights and that of Europeans. In the founding of the Republic, the premise was that all human beings, created in God’s image, are endowed by that creator with certain rights and liberties that are inseparable, necessary aspects of each and every human being by their nature. The rights themselves come from God, and the very foundation of government is that those rights cannot be infringed, lest the government become an oppressive perversion of man’s consensus, not to mention an affront to God himself. Make no mistake, this is a theologically rooted notion of human rights, and in my opinion, the one to be preferred–wishful thinking the first amendment be damned. Across the Atlantic, the idea is that humans ought to have certain rights, and it’s the role of government to grant them those rights and to protect those rights from being infringed upon by other people in society. The rights definitely do not come from God, because there is no God, or might not be God, or we might give thanks to the wrong god for these fabulous rights–better to come up with another excuse for how humans came to have rights. The moral of the story is that the state grants rights to people to protect them from each other–if the state has to, beg your pardon, violate those rights in order to ensure that some citizen doesn’t infringe them, then such is the beast. In Germany and other European countries, the Nazi swastika is an illegal image. Check out something as anti-Nazi as the webpage for the video game Castle Wolfenstein, a first-person shooter in which you are an allied soldier sent behind enemy lines to kill SS soldiers and eventually Adolf Hitler himself. (Although in the original, he was some kind of cyborg-Hitler.) The first page is a disclaimer to Germans that viewing the website is a violation of German law. Sure, there was a good purpose for suppressing the Nazi party after the allies defeated Germany, but now I suspect it’s part of the problem in Germany of people forgetting about why WWII was fought. A German friend of mine got his advanced degree in “American Studies,” where they “learned” that the Dresden and Tokyo bombings, and the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were just as bad, if not worse, than the Holocaust itself. And some people wonder why it’s so easy for me to dismiss European elitism.
Back to the debate, after that long aside. Ira Carmen was saying that an American ideal of Human Rights is the only possible kind of real Human Rights, since any rights conferred onto men by their more enlightened peers were illusory, like greasy clouds, I believe was the metaphor he used. They can be taken away just as easily, and off to the camps you go, for your skin to be made into lampshades. If you can confer rights onto another person, you can just as easily confer onto them human responsibilities–and from there slavery is just a stumble downhill. He didn’t explicitly make clear that last conclusion, that’s my own.
I got to thinking about all this after reading a portion of one of Dignan’s new posts, in which he wrote:
I tend to think that the United States should promote “freedom” over “democracy” – but both are very much related and it become much more of a theoretical discussion than I’m prepared to enter. I think that the Bush Administration’s brand of realistic Wilsonianism can work. Unfortunately some will read “moral” as “Judeo-Christian” and automatically see this as a “crusade” against Islam.
This relates to what I’m talking about here. Our best-among-much-worse brand of government is rooted in a Judeo-Christian tradition. We should be encouraging a similar sort of government in liberated lands, although naturally rooted in local relgious traditions. To foster a Tranzi European style government in Iraq, where “rights” are conferred on the citizenry by the state, and even worse, where the state owns all the oil riches in the country, and feeds, buys off, and lulls to sleep the masses will be a long-term failure. The TAL, although an admirable constitution, appears to be a road down just such a path. First off, there’s Chapter 1, Article 7A stating that Iraq is an Islamic nation–but no mention is made of the relationship between God and the status of a human being. The purpose of this article is to ensure that the Iraqi government passes no law deemed insulting to Islam, or whoever convinces enough people that he speaks for Islam. That’s no good. All of Chapter 2 of the TAL concerns human rights, but the language is agnostic as to where these rights come from. Some of them, CLEARLY, are not God-given rights. Especially the right to Health Care. And on the eighth day… God created Penicillin and made it so as to be ubiquitous and available to all but the lowliest of His creatures. That’s the basic point Ira was making. Once man confers on himself authority to grant Rights to other men, there is no stopping what he can call a right, since the rights granted are by definition, arbitrary.
Worth noting: The other debater replied to this argument (paraphrasing): “Sure there are Human Rights… We had a conference and…” [Insert smiley for shaking head morosely.]
To close: Iraq’s duly elected government will hopefully rewrite the constitution to elucidate God’s role in conferring legitimacy on the Government. In the current version, the government is subservient to God’s will, as whoever’s leading the most believers chooses to interpret His plan (bad). In the ideal version, the government would be restricted from imposing on God’s will, where God wants his flock to be free and unburdened by man’s oppressive yolk. And the oil shouldn’t become government property, but instead work on something akin to the Alaskan system.
But that’s just my opinion, it’s their decision.
Update: Haven’t gotten your fill of poorly articulated arguments peppered with non-sequitors? Head on over to the post that inspired this screed and revel in the disordered reasoning as I’ve hijacked his comments section! It’s a response to the comment: “But the founding Fathers were isolationist and non-interventionalist.” To summarize more clearly the slop I left there–that’s because they were trying their best to get the country off the ground without it tearing itself apart or getting destroyed by foreign powers. Softening their foreign policy ambitions was certainly not their most difficult compromise.