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December 03, 2009


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Whether welfare or rights, nothing in the modern argot of international human rights and public international law provides a persuasive reason for the powerful not to harm the powerless when they are able to do so. The sporadic and inconsistent application of tribunals like the Hague does not help matters much. No one but those aggrieved by double standards really pays attention. If we cared about such things, the entire leadership of China, Gorbachev, and many others would have been hanged a long time ago.

Further, the welfare argument begs the question, as serious abuses of human rights are largely seen as a reduction in human welfare. And there are disagreements as welfare. (For instance, what does "welfare" say about what to do with offensive images of Mohammad or Jesus or many other subjects.) We all know the Communist Chinese and the leadership of Singapore tell us, "This is the Asian way" or "look at all the paved roads we have" and things of that nature. As do most of the other dirtbags of the Third World.

I don't think this gets us very far, but it might help to get rid of the "assertoric" pretensions of the modern human rights squad. There is no there there, and no theoretical support for their beliefs. It all comes down to, "I like this, you should too." Fat chance with that in a showdown with someone who believes in mystic nationalism or something even crazier than that.

What was present in the 18th Century Social Contract Theorists and missing from today's human rights theorists was some connection between nature and proposed "rights." That is, the "state of nature" revealed something important and permanent about human nature. Political philosophy purported to give us a means of applying our reason to our untaught nature and revealing a persuasive account for reconciling the collective and individual good that accords with both our nature (and the nature of others) as well as our collective interests. In other words, the Hobbesian or Lockean account of right and self-interest converged.

Modern positivists dismiss all that as a bunch of bunk, but it's hard to say the recent century, with its all-too-proud positivism and nihilism just behind the screen of the human rights babble, did much better than Metternich's, which was steeped in the slightly conflicting, but very unrelativist, language of both Christianity and the Enlightenment.

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