Penitence, the moral for our past. Hopefully our present and future too.
Penitence, the moral for our past. Hopefully our present and future too.
Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, Jonathan Sacks on moral rights, democracy and dictatorship.
Speaking at the beginning of a panel on What should ‘the West’ stand for, Sacks made the important point that the West isn’t a single line of thinking. He pointed to Friedrich Hayek’s distinction between the Anglo-American and the French concept of human rights, which is laid bare in two of the West’s key revolutionary documents.
The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen declares that ‘all men are born and remain equal in rights’. In contrast, the American Declaration of Independence, influenced by John Locke, holds ‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, (and) that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.’ They may sound similar, but they are not.
The French concept of human rights in effect calls for equality of outcomes (‘created and remain equal’), not just equality of opportunity like the American Declaration (‘created equal’). The French concept necessitates maximal government to keep people ‘equal’. This inevitably infringes on liberty to develop our differences – and, in many ways, is what sowed the seeds for the downfall of the French Revolution as it turned to The Terror to make people ‘equal’. In contrast, the American formula of human rights requires limited government to allow individuals to pursue their own concept of human flourishing.
In addition, the French idea of human rights is based upon the state as the guarantor of rights. In contrast, the American Revolution was predicated on a very strong civil society. This is one of the facets of America that fascinated Alexis de Tocqueville in his masterful Democracy in America: “Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite… In America I encountered sorts of associations of which, I confess, I had no idea, and I often admired the infinite art with which the inhabitants of the United States managed to fix a common goal to the efforts of many men and to get them to advance to it freely.”
These associations stand between the individual and the state, enabling the individual and society to achieve our common goals without coercion. However, there has been an almost unnoticed cultural climate change in the past half-century: the rise of the French concept of the state by elites. ‘We are all French now,’ Sacks said. The state is now maximal in its role, and so are the demands laid upon it. Much of this links to the weakness of civil society.
Robert Putman’s Bowling Alone diagnosed the death of ‘social capital’, that is, the breakdown of civil society organisations and community bonds. The book’s title comes from his finding that more people are bowling than ever before – but instead of bowling in clubs, Americans are bowling alone. The breakdown of community bonds, that operated through mutual benefit organisations, charities, and churches, has been enabled by a growing state and led to the perceived necessity for bigger government.
We often forget that, for example, unemployment benefits are quite a new concept. In Australia, unemployment assistance was first introduced by the Labor Government in 1945. Before that, people turned to the community for help when they lost their job. Your neighbours and family dropped off food and donated clothes, and charities provided support. Albeit for benign reasons, this all changed with the advent of unemployment assistance. In effect, the growth in the role of government has crowded out community.
The consequences of this have proven dire. ‘The French tradition leaves very little between the individual and the state, and the end result of that is that when the individual feels that the state is not meeting its needs, it turns to populist politics,’ Sacks says. The state inevitably fails to deliver, and as Harvard professor Pippa Norris diagnoses in Democratic Deficit, there is a growing gap between expectations of the governed and outcomes of government. Feeling powerless, people are now turning to strong individuals, who often are not friends of liberty, to defeat the elites.
Therefore, the threat facing the West is not in fact external – it is internal. As Sacks concludes:
The great danger is the moral vacuum at the heart of Western political structures. The French system believes that liberty is a political achievement. The Anglo-American tradition believes that freedom is at least also a moral achievement, and without that moral substance, born, and cultured, and cultivated, in families, communities and traditions, some religious and some national, the West will be left with a vacuum out of which disorder will follow.
Proliferation of nuclear weapons, terrorism, imprisonment, torture, no human values are all sustaining foundations of slavery, our Rome. A communist dictatorship is one which completely ignores the freedom of religion, routinely imprisons monks and artists for their views, and has been criticized by countless human rights organizations for its widespread use of torture and routine abuse of detainees. (In the photo above, policemen prevent a photojournalist from taking pictures outside a courthouse in Ho Chi Minh City.) “Vietnam is fast turning into one of Southeast Asia’s largest prisons for human rights defenders and other activists,” Robert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Vietnam researcher, noted. But these violations are equal, in Shaheed’s eyes, to the ghastly use of cultural artifacts in the tourism industry. The other, more serious violations merit just a one-paragraph rebuke in her report; apparently, they don’t fall within the ill-defined spectrum of “cultural rights.” Now, Vietnam can ignore most of what Shaheed had to say, and brush off her criticisms as a side effect of tourism. Over the years, critics have ridiculed the U.N. Human Rights Council’s willingness to heed the perverse opinions of the world’s worst dictators, who figure prominently among its members. (These members even tried to ban the word “authoritarian” from council proceedings.) But the farce of “cultural rights” is merely a symptom of a much deeper malaise that some call human rights inflation.” Increasingly, groups have called everything they feel entitled to — from spare bedrooms to foreign aid — a “right.” One special interest group is even clamoring to grant “access to the Internet” official “rights” status, as if freedom of expression weren’t enough. Meanwhile, various parties have asserted their “rights” to employment counseling, paid vacation leave, free education through college, and a global financial tax to combat the economic crisis. Today, we have a surplus of human rights — and they’re all claimed to be equally important and indivisible. Human rights are going nowhere. They’ve lost their value.”
Disagreements that may have taken place once upon a time are no longer tolerable. There are many factors that lead to this troubling and hateful ideology. These ideologues have built their castles for indemnification as the solution to resolve disputes. One of these methods includes taking hostages to promote values. Terrorism in the Europe, America, and Asia point to those who maintain a hold on political power at the expense of moral humanity. The powerful dominate nations resources to provide people who pose as advocates of liberty. All organizations are invited be they jihadis and advocates of law. Is it any wonder that the palaces of the unholy directorates are protected with surveillance that will make NASA drool. The vox populi common people are subjugated, imprisoned, and persecuted for disobeying. In the United States the time has come to demand an end to terrorism propagated to destroy lives. The call to action should be “change government or become party to terrorism.” It is time for free speech to possess the liberties associated with it.