Power, Principles and Human Rights
ONE OF THE factions in the early Christian Church, followers of the charismatic preacher Montanus, believed that only those who ate a steady diet of radishes would be saved. The women of the community, who played an inordinately powerful role in the life of the movement, especially promoted this healthy regimen. Had Montanism prevailed, Christians might be eating vegetables at Holy Communion rather than wafers and the Roman Catholic Church might suffer today no shortage of priests. But whether it was resentment of roots or of "rabble", the Church fathers of the day declared the Montanists enemies of the Church in 170 AD and that, for all intents and purposes, was the end of that.
Why did the Montanists fade into history? Did God really have no taste for radishes? Was it somehow a violation of natural law for women to assume a leadership role in the Church? Or did the Montanists simply lack the capacity to build an adequate consensus for their views? Had they been operating in China, where a saying has it that "only those who appreciate root vegetables can know the true meaning of life", might the story have been different?
Whether it be a religion, a nation or the world at large, the norms that govern reflect either the views of those who are at the moment holding the power, or the principles that have managed to claim a consensus among enough people that the powerful dare not challenge them. This is true, too, of human rights.
From the standpoint of those of us active in the human rights movement, it would be wonderful if we could prove to the satisfaction of the world that some universally recognized deity had imbued human beings with a set of rights that happened to coincide with the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). But absent that unlikely scenario, we are left with two other options upon which to base the notion of human rights, one of which -- the theory of natural rights--has been the subject of considerable debate in recent issues of The National Interest.
In the Winter 2000/01 issue, anthropologist Robin Fox warns that if we base human rights claims on our understanding of human nature, we may end up with some pretty distasteful maxims, such as a "right" to impregnate females belonging to tribes whose members have killed my offspring and diminished my gene pool. Most of what we call "human rights", Fox says, "either run counter to nature or, at best, concern things about which nature is strictly neutral."1 Francis Fukuyama takes a more sanguine approach to the doctrine of natural rights in the Summer 2001 issue. Dismissing Hume's criticism of the "naturalistic fallacy" (the idea that we can derive moral imperatives from factual indicatives), Fukuyama claims that human nature "does ... allow us to establish a hierarchy of rights, and it allows us to rule out certain solutions to the problem of rights that have been politically powerful in the course of human history."
This colloquy reflects a widespread confusion about the philosophical basis for human rights claims. The problem is not new. It is a confusion that, while it may not have plagued the authors of the Declaration of Independence, certainly nipped at the heels of those who composed the UDHR in 1948--and has accompanied the struggle for human rights ever since. While proposals to ground the principles of the UDHR in explicit references to God and Nature were soundly rejected by its drafters, the Declaration does contain language that implies acceptance of the doctrine of natural law (e.g., the first Whereas in the Preamble affirms the "inherent dignity...of all members of the human family"; Article 1 asserts that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights [and] endowed with reason and conscience", and Article 16 refers to the family as the "natural... group unit of society" [emphases added]).2 Other references imply a more pragmatic approach (for example, the first Whereas endorses recognition of that inherent dignity as "the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.")
Be the underpinnings of the UDHR as they may, the failings of natural law as a philosophical basis for human rights go well beyond Fox's imagination, which is why few human rights advocates cite that doctrine today in justifying human rights claims. Nor does Fukuyama successfully rehabilitate the posture; indeed, his argument illustrates exactly what is wrong with it. To get clear, then, about the grounds upon which human rights are staked, we must look again at both natural law and the third alternative source, what Fukuyama calls the "positivistic" view. We will soon see that both views do indeed, as Fukuyama argues, have profound implications for how the United States carries out its foreign policy.
"WHAT IS man", asked Isak Dinesen, "but an elaborate machine for turning red wine into urine?" The fundamental problem with natural law theory, even before we get to Hume's objection that an "ought" cannot be derived from an "is", is determining what characteristics of sufficient import to serve as a basis for the delineation of rights are common to all human beings, and who gets to decide what they are? Dinesen's observation that human beings turn red wine into urine is factually true of every person, as far as we know, but her sardonic suggestion that this is the essence of being human is one that most sober people are likely to reject outright.
But on what grounds do we reject it? The history of natural law theory suggests that conceptions of human nature have varied wildly throughout the ages, and that those conceptions that have predominated at any one time have done so far more for political than for philosophical or scientific reasons. In the Middle Ages, for instance, the law of Nature was interpreted by the Church to condemn usury. Most church property at the time was in the form of land, and landowners, because their wealth is illiquid, need to borrow money. So "naturally" they opposed usury and conveniently found Natural reasons to do so. But with the rise of Protestantism, whose adherents were drawn primarily from the middle class (i.e., the "lending class"), Nature suddenly had a change of heart and was understood to look with favor on usury. Or to take another example: the great champion of natural law, John Locke, famously believed that the rights derived from it only inhered in the propertied classes and hence that women and peasants c ould make no claim to them. And what do we do with the ancient Uro people of Peru, who did not believe they were human at all and hence would a priori reject any notion of human nature? We tell them they are wrong, of course, just as we tell solipsists they are wrong on the grounds that the vast majority of us say they are.
Now comes Robin Fox with his claim that human nature does have a "real content" and "we"--by which he apparendy means anthropologists--can tell what it is. He cites kin selection theory and suggests a series of "rights" that it implies. But quite apart from the fact that some of those "rights" he derives-such as the right to avenge the killing of a grandchild by murdering two of the killers' first cousins--are abhorrent, the fact is that anthropological theories are notoriously subject to the whims of academic fashion. Unless we are prepared to supplement the End of History with the End of (Social) Science, we rest our rights, under this approach, on intellectual quicksand. And even if we do allot to the anthropologists responsibility for seeing to it that human rights are consistent with human nature, to which anthropologists do we assign this job--the Marxists, the feminists, a subcommittee of the American Anthropological Association, or just to Robin Fox? All that we can say for sure is that whoever would land the task would be the one who at the moment is wielding the greatest power in the halls of academe.
If Fox is too specific in the rights he cites as derivative from natural law, Fukuyama is too general. To his credit he admits as much ("there is no simple translation of human nature into human rights"; "human nature does not dictate a single, precise list of rights"). But still he wants to maintain, almost nostalgically, it seems, the Nature-rights connection. He is reduced, therefore, to arguing that, while "violence . . . may be natural to human beings . . . so is the propensity to control and channel violence", and that
Leaving aside the questions as to whether human beings have chosen to "control and channel violence" for natural or pragmatic reasons and how we determine "our underlying shared humanity", the problem with Fukuyama's observations is not so much that they are wrong as that they are, in a philosophical sense, uninteresting. Take one of the most universally agreed upon human rights, the right not to be tortured. If all Fukuyama is arguing is that the prohibition against torture "speaks to the most deeply felt and universal human drive" to avoid pain, he is probably right (though even in this case the existence of genuine masochists who revel in pain may call into question the universality of the pain-avoidance "drive"). Certainly, it is not unreasonable to argue that the right not to be tortured is more consistent with "our underlying shared humanity" than would be a right to torture anybody at any time one feels like it. But having said this, have we said anything very helpful? We have, at best, identified som e lowest-common-denominator-type characteristic and argued that the rights we affirm ought not to be at odds with it.3
Our underlying shared humanity allows us to rule out certain forms of political order like tyranny as unjust. Those rights that speak to the most deeply felt and universal human drives, ambitions and behaviors will be a more solid foundation for political order than those that do not.
Without taking the complicated step of translating these broadly construed "natural" inclinations into a clear, defensible set of rights, we are reduced to confronting agony with abstraction. Once again, to his credit, Fukuyama knows this. In elaborating upon the struggle between our propensity for violence and our inclination to channel it constructively, Fukuyama says:
These conflicting natural tendencies do not have equal status or priority; human beings reasoning about their situation can come to understand the need to create rules and institutions that constrain violence in favor of other natural ends [emphasis added].
But what are those "rules" if not rights? And who is doing that reasoning? Just Francis Fukuyama? Just the readers of The National Interest? Just a select group of philosophers? If we are really to capture what is most "shared" about our humanity, the best answer will be the widest possible number of responsible agents. Otherwise we risk having the rules set by a dictator, an elite or a cabal of power-mongers. The most efficient way to see that power is controlled and dispersed is to spread it around. But that leads us to that dread perspective that Fukuyama has labeled "positivism."
"ANY SERIOUS discussion of human rights", Fukuyama says, "must ultimately be based on some common understanding of human ends or purposes." Depending on what he means by that, it is a tall order. While the UDHR was being created, UNESCO surveyed 150 intellectuals to determine the philosophical basis for human rights. Not surprisingly, those surveyed could not agree and the UN Commission on Human Rights voted not to distribute the UNESCO report.4 Imagine how attempting to get them to agree on the "ends or purposes" of life would have turned out!
But why should they need to come to consensus on such abstract matters in order to agree that, say, torture is wrong? Any two people can be against torture even if one believes that the purpose of life is to get into Heaven and the other believes it is to avoid being bored. Despite their differences, they can agree that they would rather not live in a world in which torture is commonplace. That is because human rights are not dependent upon our sharing ontologies, teleologies or eschatologies; they are dependent upon our sharing a commitment to what makes for a civilized world, as "civilized" is defined at the moment by the vast majority of the international community. Human rights, as embodied in the UDHR, provide a set of norms or guidelines, "best practices", if you will, by which to set limits to tyranny and organize a decent society.
Perhaps all that Fukuyama means by a "common understanding of human ends or purposes" is agreement on the definition of a "decent society." But one suspects that this will not be enough for him because such a definition inevitably changes from generation to generation (just as our conceptions of natural law do), and Fukuyama wants something reliable forever. Otherwise, why criticize positivism by claiming that it allows for "no universal standards for political behavior" to which to appeal against the Chinese canard that collective rights trump those of the individual? "Abhorrent practices like suttee or slavery or female circumcision" must be accepted, Fukuyama says, because positivism provides "no transcendent standards for determining right and wrong beyond what any particular culture declares to be a right." But these claims are wrong on several counts.
In the first place, though it is true that the values implicit in the UDHR derive from the Enlightenment tradition, virtually every country in the world has affirmed them. The UDHR was drafted by representatives from a wide variety of cultures, including many from Asia; voted on affirmatively by countries from every culture and corner of the world; agreed to implicitly by every country that has joined the United Nations; and is regarded today as customary international law by every international court on earth. While its affirmation is not literally "universal" in the sense that one will, of course, find people who do not agree with it and many who violate it, the UDHR can claim far more "transcendence", and hence provides a far greater "universal standard for political behavior", than does Fukuyama's doctrine that violence is a result of human nature as opposed to Divine punishment, distraction from the Eight-Fold Path, unfortunate parenting or just plain bad judgment.
One of the results of the far-flung influence of the Declaration is that in many cases human rights abuses do not just violate universal standards; they violate the laws of the very countries in which those abuses are found. Torturing dissidents in China, for example, violates that country's constitution, no matter how loudly Chinese leaders proclaim that individual rights are subordinate to social order. In that case we do not need to appeal to "universal standards"; we need only ask the Chinese to obey their own laws. Female genital mutilation, too, is against the law in almost every country in which it is found.
But what about countries whose laws or cultural practices do violate international human rights standards? What do we say to them? Do we really have no response to cultural relativism, as Fukuyama seems to think? Far from it. We have the best possible response: "Your practice violates the closest thing we have to agreement among the world's people as to what constitutes cruelty."
Are rights derived from such agreement apodictic? No. Like all laws and standards, they evolve. Human rights at the international level rely upon the same principle that the U.S. Supreme Court invokes when it determines that "evolving community standards", concerning what constitutes pornography or whether it is acceptable to execute the mentally retarded, influence the interpretation of justice. What if the arc of the universe does not bend toward justice and these standards become regressive? Theoretically that is possible, though experience seems to show that the more people involved in the standard setting (that is, the more widely the power to set standards is shared), the less likely the backsliding.
Wouldn't it be wiser to rely on truth rather than power or consensus? Absolutely, but then deciding what is true" between nations has rarely been as simple as Clemenceau made it out to be in his reply to a question as to what historians would say was the cause of the Great War: "I do not know what they will say was the cause of the war, but I do know that they will not say that France invaded Germany." (Had Clemenceau never heard of revisionism?) Rights that are grounded in international consensus--even "semi-sensus"--and elaborated in formal treaties and conventions are far more likely to be perceived as politically legitimate than notions of what Truth or Nature does or does not justify. Is the arrangement perfect? No, but then imperfection is only "natural."
THE DEBATE we have been carrying on in these pages is not just an esoteric one, though it may seem like it at times. Indeed, its practical implications may disclose something about why all comers take the positions they do. For if human rights are not grounded in some elite's definition of natural law but reflect what the UDHR labels "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations", then the United States, like every other country in the world, must take the values and opinions of others into account as it formulates its policies. When it comes to matters that have implications for human rights, in other words, unilateralism has no place.
This is a hard pill for some foreign policy realists to swallow. As Condoleezza Rice wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine during the last presidential campaign: "Foreign policy in a Republican administration... will proceed from the firm ground of the national interest, not from the interests of an illusory international community." But if human rights are determined by the evolving standards of the international community, it is no wonder they play such a modest part in the foreign policy calculations of those who would regard that community as an illusion.
The problem, however, is that reality itself always threatens to confound the realists. It was little more than a year after Rice wrote those words in Foreign Affairs that she and President Bush scrambled valiantly, and for the most part successfully, to enlist that "illusory international community" in pursuit of the common interest it shares with the United States in defeating terrorism. So, too, has the United States sometimes taken pains--in its conduct of the war, for example--to see that the human rights values of that community are not offended. And why should the United States care about those values? Because it knows that, far from being an "illusion", the opinions of our allies directly affect our national interest; the opinions of fence-sitters will be swayed by any perception of hypocrisy; and the opinions (and actions) of our adversaries can be countered by, among other things, an appeal to world opinion.
Better, then, to hammer out the details of what counts as a human right in the halls of diplomacy than in the recesses of a professor's study. Neither place guarantees a harmonious discussion, but the former makes it far more likely that those whose lives are shaped by the decisions will at least have a place at the table.
Human Rights and Foreign Policy
WILLIAM Schulz is out once again on a turf-protecting mission. His organization is a major beneficiary of the international human rights conglomerate, and he wants to establish its privilege to be the sole definer and defender of said rights, as promulgated in the UDHR. Since many governments behave in a pretty beastly way to some of their people most of the time, it is a good idea to let them know that someone is watching and will tell. In the unlikely event that my government should decide to torture me, I would be glad that he was around to chastise it. I also agree that about some things there is a consensus among what we take to be "civilized" nations, and if he wants to call these things "human rights" that's fine.
The trouble is that one does not have to move far from torture, lack of due process and the like to find huge areas of disagreement despite what governments might have signed by way of international agreements or even made into national laws. To please the Western governments that initiate these things, non-Western governments sign on to a list of values that their people do not know about, their preachers do not preach, and their jurists and scholars do not accept. If we add up China, North Korea, most of Southeast Asia, and the whole Muslim world from Morocco and Nigeria to Indonesia, we have a "vast majority of the international community" that does not subscribe to the liberal, democratic, Enlightenment values of the UDHR, whatever documents their governments might have endorsed. (India officially subscribes to at least the democratic ideal, but again this is not something that sits easily with the majority of its people. The caste system, which embraces the bulk of the population, is the very opposite of democracy.)
To appeal to a phantom "civilized majority" of the world community as a basis for defining and enforcing human rights could be a very dangerous illusion. I happen to like the UDHR list because I come from the tradition that created it. But I am not a Chinese communist bureaucrat, a Pashtun mullah in the Northwest Frontier Province, a Wahhabi in Saudi Arabia, a Brahmin in the Punjab, an East African or a Nigerian village chief. Their views on forced abortion, legal mutilation, due process, women's claustration, lower-caste impurity and female circumcision Schulz would no doubt find as "abhorrent" as he finds the law of talon. (This law, which seems to give squeamish critics such a problem, would be seen by any Afghan tribesman fighting as our ally to be a law of nature. And let us not forget the millions who give Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood a standing ovation in our own cinemas, and vote regularly for the death penalty.)
In particular, we are faced with the alarmingly rapid population growth of an increasingly resentful, devoutly Muslim world that fundamentally does not accept Schulz's "civilized consensus." Rather, most of the devout within that world see that consensus as propaganda from the infidel, imperialist West, out to inflict "humiliations" (their favorite word) on the only kind of society acceptable to God. There is no room for compromise here. Our way of life is, for them, a direct offense to God; it is an offense against everything the umma should be. As our President keeps saying, the Islamic fundamentalists hate "freedom and democracy" and "our way of life", but not only because of material or political resentment: they know they have the better, God-ordained and therefore inevitable alternative. What we see as the pursuit of "inalienable" individual rights, they see as godless materialist corruption. The time of their being tempted, like the latter-day Ataturks who rule them, to ape the secular West has passed almost without notice.
The time has also passed when we might hope that they would eventually see the light and morph into "moderate" pro-Western world citizens. The trend is entirely in the opposite direction. The terrorists may well be, as the President insists, a small minority of Muslims, but they enjoy widespread sympathy and support. The kind of society the devout want to live in, even if not as extreme as that of the Taliban, would have little time for most of Schulz's admirable list of consensus virtues. (Listen to our new ally, the chief justice of Afghanistan, for example, on that state's right to go on mutilating thieves.)
Unless we grasp this point, we will continue to delude ourselves with the fantasy that these are simply "backward" societies that will someday catch up with the march of history; that is, with our secular, liberal-democratic, capitalist version of utopia. Francis Fukuyama used to think this "progress" was inevitable, and that the spectrum of human rights we endorse should prevail because they are the ones compatible with our kind of society, which itself must prevail, and so lead to "the end of History." I wonder if he still believes this.
WHERE, THEN, do we go for a definition of human rights? The issue is probably moot since, as Schulz correctly observes, those with the power to enforce their version will win anyway. God forbid it should be the American Anthropological Association, whose members, sunk in post-modern, deconstructionist, self-referential relativism, would be more likely to agree with him than with me. I simply wanted, in what has turned out to have been an unexpectedly contentious essay in the Winter 2000/01 issue, to point out that there are certain basic human needs and emotions that even "natural rights" advocates, who pay lip service to "universalism", try to avoid. And they avoid them precisely because these needs are not pretty when viewed from the lofty heights of the UDHR. But I also pointed out that some of these basic features (including the natural rights of the collectivity over the individual--a point that gets repeatedly missed) do find their closest expression in devout Muslim societies. And the "rights" derivabl e from these needs are among some of those that are most "abhorrent" to Schulz and other defenders of the UDHR.
This is of importance to our conduct in the world, and is not--as he rightly sees--just a recondite quarrel among professors. Not only is there no "universal majority consensus", but the version of human rights that so appalls us in our now major competitors may be more firmly grounded in human nature than is our own version. This is not a happy conclusion; but we must start to take our opponents at least as seriously as they take us. The recent polls of Muslim countries shocked us in our naivete by showing how strongly the majority in all of them, even the most Westernized, see themselves as being in relentless opposition to us. Above all we must make an imaginative attempt to shake off our obsessive concern with the individual, and hence individual rights, and try to understand the strength of the appeal to a collectivist, theocratic, kinship-oriented society. If we do not, Schulz and his Enlightenment friends may one day end up living under the universal-consensus Muslim version of a declaration of human rights that, on his theory, he would be bound to accept.
I do not want this to happen any more than he does, but we will not prevent it by pursuing a Clinton-style (or Blair-style) human-rights-based foreign policy. Tinkering with that policy to try to make the Muslim masses love us will not work. They will not love us, so we had better make sure they respect us enough to accept our accommodation. And we should try also to get over the false hope that alleviating poverty, in and of itself, will "cure" the problem. The most militant are not the poverty stricken; their quarrel with us is spiritual, not material. Our pursuit of a human-rights policy will not impress them, for they do not share our vision of individual human rights, and they do not trust such a policy to be disinterested-- quite rightly.
A realistic foreign policy may be occasionally hurtful to our liberal consciences, but it will be necessary if Schulz and his UDHR world are to survive. For one thing, we had better work hard to ensure that China is with us rather than against us, whatever its human rights record. A common fear of Muslim militancy may be the issue that will help to forge bonds between NATO, China, India and the former Soviet-bloc countries, especially Russia itself. Thus the NATO nations are belatedly coming to recognize publicly (they knew it all along) the deep and still enduring links between AlQaeda, other Islamic terrorist groups, and the Muslim militias and "liberation armies" of the Balkans and the Caucasus. The NATO powers must surely now wish in their hearts that they had Osama bin Laden in the dock at The Hague rather than Slobodan Milosevic, however much he deserves to be there. Serbia, whose infrastructure the NATO powers destroyed and whose people they bombed into poverty in the name of human rights, had not att acked or even vaguely threatened any of them. There is at least the possibility that a judicious intervention at the right time to assist the legitimate government of Yugoslavia in dealing with dissident Islamic terrorists in Bosnia and Kosovo might have prevented some of the massacres and ethnic cleansing from all sides.
What is more, if this intervention had done the job of subduing the muja-beddin and cleaning out the terrorist cells (instead of clandestinely arming and then overtly supporting them), it might have made us more sensitive to the dangers of Islamist terrorism. This does not mean that we would thereby have prevented the horrific events of September 11, but human affairs being the complex and unpredictable phenomena they are, we might have.
The paradox is that we may from time to time have to suspend some of our principles in order to protect all of them. (This is what we are pragmatically forced to do anyway, which is what necessarily makes an "ethical foreign policy" an exercise in pious hypocrisy.) The pursuit of morally elevated universal values is warming to our civilized consciences, but in the cold eye of history it is only survival that counts.
Truth Matters, Universality Beckons
WILLIAM Schulz fails to distinguish between the practical task of building a global consensus in favor of human rights and getting governments to observe them (which is what he and his organization do), and the philosophical question of where these rights come from and how they are grounded. The former project depends on consensus, log-rolling and negotiation, where the opinions of large numbers of people are critical. The latter, however, is related to something called truth.
Philosophy and its modern off-spring, science, are the rational quest for truth, which always was and always will be the province of what he dismisses as "elites." What these elites think, of course, will not matter in the short run to a government seeking to torture or jail its opponents. But in the long run, they serve to establish the broad frame-work of ideas that eventually gets translated into practical political programs. If people today, in contrast to Thomas Jefferson and his Enlightenment precursors, believe that the truth about human rights is not "Self-evident" or even humanly accessible, it is only because they have been taught a watered-down version of the thought of philosophers such as Nietzsche and Heidegger from a few generations back.
The philosophical truth about rights is important in another way, as well, that has do to with why Schulz bothers to get out of bed in the morning. Surely he has not dedicated his life to the struggle for human rights simply because it is the majority opinion of people around the world, or even the opinion of the world's well-meaning people, that this struggle is important. If he were in the midst of an agitated crowd that suddenly decided to lynch someone who expressed an unpopular opinion, he would certainly not be content to consult majority opinion on what was right to do; he would look instead to his own internal moral compass. There must be some principle involved here to which one assigns a truth value.
One could, of course, consult the opinions of the larger surrounding community that may make lynching a crime, but that simply begs the question of whether those laws and the regime that promulgates them are themselves just. Why, indeed, bother consulting global "consensus" or majority opinions at all, for that already presupposes a certain moral truth about the value of consensus or democracy. And where do we get that opinion? It's turtles all the way down from there: at a certain point, we have to leave off consulting the opinions of people around us and confront the essentially philosophical question of the inherent truth about principles of right and wrong.
Moreover, Schulz pretends that there is a universal consensus in favor of human rights, and that the task for us is simply to get nations to enforce the norms and laws to which they have subscribed. This is plainly not the case: from radical Islamists to promoters of Asian values to leftover communists and authoritarians, there are plenty of people around the world who would object in principle and most certainly in practice to the implementation of many of the human rights norms for which he is fighting. It is true that, with the defeat of communism and fascism in the 20th century, there is greater scope for agreement in the world now over what constitutes human rights. But even the most unreflective observer must recognize that what Amnesty International promotes as human rights arises out of values born in the individualistic Western Enlightenment, with deep roots in Christianity. They are not some syncretic mishmash of global values, but the clear historical products of the values of one particular part of the world.
If these values are now spreading to other parts of the world that do not share the cultural premises of the Western Enlightenment, the question arises as to why they are spreading. Is this simply the result of the power and prestige of the West--the dreaded "cultural imperialism"? Is it a form of mass psychosis? If so, the promotion of human rights in non-Western societies would actually constitute a grave injustice, a crushing of genuine moral and cultural alternatives by the wealthy and powerful.
The alternative interpretation is that these values are spreading because they in fact have a universal appeal, that they respond to deeply held aspirations of people around the world regardless of their cultural background. These values would be comparable in a sense to the scientific method, which was born under certain specific cultural and historical conditions in Europe, but which then spread throughout the world because of their universal validity. And if this is the case, one must then wonder why they are universal. If we reject the mass psychosis interpretation, the answer can only be that there is indeed a commonly shared human essence which, despite differences in culture and environment, responds similarly to certain opportunities and injustices. And we thus arrive back at the issue of human nature, and the natural rights that arise from it.
IRONICALLY, I agree more with Schulz than with Fox about the place of human rights in American foreign policy. It is, of course, possible to promote human rights in reckless or imprudent ways, or to let them trump other important national interests. But for the United States, in particular, a moral grounding for foreign policy is essential to sustain democratic consensus behind American involvement in the world. And that moral concern, if exercised with judgment and moderation, will ultimately be of benefit to those people around the world who suffer from injustice as well.
1 See my letter in response to Fox in the Spring 2001 issue.
2 See Johannes Morsink, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting & Intent, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), chapter 8, for a discussion of the debates surrounding issues of natural law in the drafting of the UDHR.
3 Paradoxically enough, those "natural" qualities of human beings upon which it would be easiest to win universal consensus, such as the biological needs for food or shelter, would imply a whole series of social and economic rights that are recognized by the UDHR and the human rights community, but which Fukuyama and many Americans would probably disavow.
4 Morsink, pp. 301-2.
William Schulz is executive director of Amnesty International USA and author of In Our Own Best Interest: How Defending Human Rights Benefits Us All (Beacon, 2002).
Robin Fox is University Professor of Social Theory at Rutgers. His latest book is The Passionate Mind (Transaction).
Francis Fukuyama is Bernard Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and author of Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002).Essay Types: Essay