October 11, 1978.If only we will back off a little more on our demands that Russia live up to the Helsinki agreement on human rights, a strategic arms limitation treaty can be signed any day now.Secretary of State Cyrus Vance has given away the B-1 bomber, cruise missile, neutron war head and nuclear carrier. Now that all U.S. weapons advantages have been abandoned, the principle broadly defined as human rights is under final attack.
In the end we can expect that the noble precepts of human rights will be accorded short shrift.Perhaps our retreat from principle is inevitable. Human rights is, after all, a campaign catch-word that greatly complicates the real world of power politics if taken seriously.
Other nations, friends and foes, had difficulty figuring out what we meant by human rights. Not until President Jimmy Carter defined the term more precisely - in private - and turned down the volume did our international relations smooth out.The trouble was - and still remains for the American public - that "human rights" has too many meanings. Each hearer interprets the concept to suit his own convictions.
Irving Kristol, professor of urban values at New York University, summarized the problem some time ago in a guest analysis for the Wall Street Journal."Human rights really includes four very different political ideas," said Kristol."HUMAN RIGHTS PROPER is the least political of the four meanings, since it applies equally to all governments, regardless of their political structure.
It refers to those practices of government which, in the perspective of our Judaeo-Christian civilization, can flatly be called abominations, that is, where questions of degree are irrelevant. Genocide, whether on a large scale or small, is such an abomination. So is torture.
And so are restrictions on the right to emigrate."Though the U.S. since World War II has been properly outspoken on the issue of genocide and torture, it has avoided making any fuss about the right to emigrate. The reason, to put it bluntly, was fear of offending the Soviet and other Communists governments.
The Carter administration seems willing to continue this particular policy of 'moral detente.'."CIVIL RIGHTS are those of an individual with his government, and are summed up in the phrase, 'the rule of law,' to which even government is subject.
"It is important to emphasize, since we Americans have so parochial and impoverished a sense of history, that such civil rights can exist even in non-liberal or nondemocratic societies. Neither Henry VIII nor Tsar Nicholas I ever presumed to think he had the kind of arbitrary power which many member governments of the United Nations exercise today as a matter of course."As Robert Goldwin recently emphasized, we seem to have forgotten that our own broad definition of civil rights is rooted in our political and economic structure - in federalism, the separation of powers, judicial review and the diffusion of property in a private sector.
In short, our civil rights derive from the theory and practice of limited government."Our political leaders, when they come to praise civil rights in one world forum or another, do not argue in favor of limited government - perhaps because they no longer really believe in it. They always talk as if their mission is to persuade authoritarian or totalitarian governments to make a gift of civil rights to their people."POLITICAL RIGHTS are those to participate, in one degree or another, in government.
One-person-one-vote is indeed a constitutional principle by which a people may govern itself. But it is not the sole such principle. Only a dogmatist would insist that it is, everywhere and always, the best principle. Even the United States, after all, for most of its history has not been governed by this principle."The proper extent of political rights in any nation is not something our State Department can have a meaningful opinion about.
It can only be determined by the people of that nation, who will draw on their own political and cultural backgrounds in arriving at a suitable disposition of this matter."We can try to set them a good example by making our democratic republic as admirable as possible - as our Founding Fathers urged. But that's about all we can do - as our Founding Fathers recognized."SOCIO-ECONOMIC RIGHTS were inscribed in the United Nations Charter, and the United States, in its folly, has duly subscribed to the principle behind them. The principle is that a welfare state is always and everywhere better than a non-welfare state; that the more comprehensive a welfare state, the better; and that the right to a broad range of government services is absolute, whether the nation can afford them or not, and whether the people want them or not.
"A particular and debatable version of 20th-Century liberalism is suddenly presented to us as a universal 'human right.' Since, at this late date, it might be difficult to repudiate this absurd principle out right, we ought to ignore it as much as possible.".Failure to recognize the several interpretations possible of his campaign slogan has unnecessarily entangled President Carter in semantics. He frequently finds himself in the embarrassing position of lecturing our allies and looking the other way when our enemies commit worse violations.Now we are on the horns of a dilemma -one labeled SALT treaty and the other human rights.
To get one we must bury the other.And it really doesn't make much difference which.
Lindsey Williams is a Sun columnist who can be contacted at:.LinWms@earthlink.net.LinWms@lindseywilliams.org.Website: http://www.
lindseywilliams.org with several hundred of Lin's Editorial & At Large articles written over 40 years.Also featured in its entirety is Lin's groundbreaking book "Boldly Onward," that critically analyzes and develops theories about the original Spanish explorers of America. (fully indexed/searchable).
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