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Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Left's Eroding Interest in Human Rights

Check out the article "Liberals Turning Blind Eye to Human Rights" at RealClearPolitics.com by Michael Barone.

Although Barone does an excellent job of pointing out a fundamental shift in the left's attitude about international human rights, I have to disagree with his reasoning. I don't think there's any guilt over, anger at, or even a perception that "Bush had stolen the issues of human rights and democracy from the liberals." Most liberals I know believe that Bush's call for human rights was just a cover for increasing the profits of mercenary, private corporations. They repeat endlessly the same famous "follow the money" line.

I think instead that there's been a fundamental shift within the popular left, a movement further toward academic Marxism and socialism. In this time of "crisis," human rights, abroad or here, have become a second priority and what many believe is needed is a government that takes "good care" of its people. I think this attitude has come from the average Americans' general disinterest in the rest of the world and the fear that we are in decline. Add this to the moral cowardice of cultural relativism (an appealing concept to rid ourselves of the conviction that we are completely right, but one that has been cowardly reduced to simple head-noddings at beatings, tortures and decapitations, and has done nothing but reinforce American arrogance) and I think we start to see why the US's left seems to be losing interest about international human rights.

Socialism must begin by turning inward, dealing with domestic issues and reorganizing society into a centrally administered state. The human rights of outsiders are a distraction at best during this process. Once the state is relatively stable, human rights of the outsiders then become something to use, a means to an end. As socialist states have historically not been self-sufficient, they must expand, find a larger benefactor, or collapse. At this point an interest in the human rights of outsiders has more to do with spreading the seeds of discontent in potential underlings, than any actual empathetic concern.

But then socialism is not concerned with human rights anyway. At its best, or perhaps most idealized is a better term, socialism is concerned with taking care of people. It is concerned with giving citizens entitlements and not affording them rights. The central state attends to people, keeps them from a "lack of." Ideally there is a lack of poverty, a lack of unemployment, etc. Rights become material entitlements from the state, and not the liberties we understand them to be. The right of health care, the right of housing, the right of public transportation, etc.-- things that from America's traditional perspective are not rights but privileges afforded by the rights of self-determination (on an individual level) and the individual's rights to possess and keep property (buying a train ticket, for instance). Liberty is necessarily sacrificed to varying degrees, not to circumstance but to the state.

Obama himself has precious little interest regarding international affairs in the first place. His focus is squarely on centralizing the domestic. And as goes Obama, at least for the time being, so goes the liberal left. Secretary of State Clinton was out schmoozing the Chinese and seems to be acting under the impression that we economically need them far more than they need us, so Chinese human rights are swept under the rug. Elsewhere, such as in the Middle East, human rights are merely tools in an anti-Israel campaign. We hear all about the travails of Gaza and precious little about Israel routinely being rocketed by Hamas. We hear little about the efforts of Qatar and Bahrain to modernize and extend greater freedoms to their citizens, but we hear all about the need for cultural understanding between the US and Iran. Send them Annette Benning and the Academy even as Iran violently suppresses internal opposition.

I believe that the left's interest in human rights has eroded because of a shift toward socialism-- a system that will take care of, will fix, will do the caring for the people. As the left is now in power in the US, the left's care fades even further. Their disingenuous interest in international human rights was focused far more on the right's political allies, than on all those who abuse and oppress.

When one talks of the current "rape camps" in the Congo, you get the usual and bored clucking of the tongues... "tsk... tsk... so horrible," but little in actual interest or protest. Yet, when Muboto was in charge and the Congo part of now defunct Zaire, then they cared. They care little for Castro and Che's "long ago" vicious repression and "reeducation" but still call for the blood of the deceased Pinochet (himself a terrible tyrant). They continue to rehash the legacy of American slavery (toppled almost a century-and-a-half ago), but seem to care very little for the African and Southeast Asian slave trade that is happening at this very moment.

It's because the socialist left's interest in human rights is not benevolent, but has been made a part of their philosophy, part of their politics. While individuals may actually care, they have ascribed themselves to a philosophy that does the caring for them, takes action for them. The political philosophy's interest is not really in human rights, but rather in what can human rights do for itself, how can they advance its own interests. And if their interests are domestic or all ready met, well that's too bad for the oppressed masses.


  1. Hey I wrote a post today about this discussion. I would be interested in what you think about it. I enjoyed reading this piece.

  2. This is a very important topic, and I thank you and the Commissioner for addressing it. It does seem to me, from the vantage of this moment in history, that the popular left is moving closer to academic Marxism but, if we look back in time, we see the left in this country actively supporting Stalin, who was responsible for more deaths than Hitler. The left also supported the Soviet Union's acquisition of nuclear weaponry. No, the popular left never was far from Marxism.

    I think a somewhat more accurate description of what is happening today is that Marxism has been experiencing a victory in academia for some time now, and that academia is dragging the rest of the country with it. Let's face it, not many proponents of any socialist agenda could even tell you what socialism is, never mind communism. The tenets of Marxism have gradually infiltrated the popular culture and are accepted as truisms, even valued as moral precepts, replacing "that ol' time religion." Witness how angry people get when you challenge a socialist concept. I think you are exactly right in pointing out that the topic of human rights is a tool used by the left to advance its own interests, and I think The Commissioner is right in identifying those interests as whatever furthers their acquisition of power. It was Marx who wrote: "We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror." He was a little more honest than today's breed, who might say: "We have no compassion for you, but we do demand compassion from you. When our turn comes, we will blame the terror on you."