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Assessing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Last December was the 60th anniversary of the enactment of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has an article in The New Republic claiming that the Declaration was a major advance in the protection of human rights. I'm a big fan of Sen's work, even though I often disagree with him. In this case, however, most of his arguments seem unpersuasive.

A striking omission in the article is Sen's failure to identify even one country or region where the Declaration has led to increased protection for human rights or to some other form of tangible progress. If, as Sen claims, the Declaration really has "played an indisputably significant and astonishingly constructive role" in advancing the cause of human rights, we should be able to cite at least one case where it has led to major progress that would not have occurred otherwise.

Sen does claim that the Declaration facilitated progress in four different ways, at least three of which don't withstand close scrutiny.

I. Does the Universal Declaration Place Human Rights Above Legislation?

Sen argues that the Declaration was important because it "took the firm view that human rights do not depend on legislation for recognition. People have these rights simply by virtue of being human." Sen hails the Declaration's apparent conclusion that human rights transcend legislative enactments. But, as Sen himself acknowledges, this was hardly a new idea, since it had already been embodied in the US Declaration of Independence and in the liberal natural rights tradition more generally. Moreover, the text of the UDHR actually defends sweeping legislative constraints on the supposedly "universal" rights it purports to defend. Article 29 of the Declaration emphasizes that "In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society." Almost any restriction on freedom "determined by law" can be defended on the grounds that it is needed to promote "morality," "public order," or "general welfare." Worse still, Article 29 also notes that "These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations." Far from placing human rights above legislation, the Declaration makes them subject to the "purposes and principles" of an undemocratic transnational legislative body where oppressive dictatorships are heavily represented. From a natural rights standpoint,this is a retrogression relative to traditional majoritarian democracy, not an improvement. The issue is of more than just legalistic importance in light of recent UN initiatives such as the ongoing attempt to ban "defamation of religion." If the UN decides that this new norm is one of its "purposes" or "principles," the UDHR will not only permit governments to censor speech that violates it but may actually require them to do so.

II. Does the Universal Declaration Promote the Protection of Human Rights by Nonlegislative Means?

Sen's "second intellectual innovation of the Universal Declaration concerns the instruments that can be used to pursue the ethics of human rights." He claims that the Declaration for the first time allowed for the protection of rights through nonlegislative action, such as advocacy in civil society. However, nonlegislative human rights advocacy long predates the Declaration. Consider, for example, the nineteenth century antislavery movement, which made extensive use of the kind of "public discussion, social monitoring, investigative reporting, and the functioning of the media as a forum for news and comments" that Sen claims was an "intellectual innovation" of the Declaration.

Moreover, as noted above, Article 29 of the Universal Declaration gives repressive governments a wide range of rationales for suppressing individual freedom and those civil society organizations that dare to criticize their human rights records. For example, if governments decide that such organizations are inimical to "morality, public order [or] the general welfare," Article 29 justifies their suppression. And if they undercut the "purposes and principles of the United Nations," such suppression is not only permitted but arguably required.

I don't mean to suggest that the Universal Declaration actually leads to a net increase in repression. Most dictatorships would probably repress even without it. However, its provisions certainly don't alleviate it.

III. "Universality" and the Dirty Hands of the Declaration's Drafters.

Sen also argues that the Declaration was an advance over previous human rights law because of its supposedly greater universality:

[Another] remarkable feature of the Universal Declaration is its universal coverage: it applies to everyone in the world, without exception. This was a serious issue in the interpretation of rights following the American Declaration of Independence, since independence was fought and won on behalf of all even as the application of many of the rights remained for a long time confined to white people. Indeed, it is the non-inclusive character of the American Revolution that led Mary Wollstonecraft, the radical thinker, to make an enigmatic remark about Edmund Burke, who supported the American Revolution: "On what principle Mr. Burke could defend American independence, I cannot conceive." What could the revolutionary Wollstonecraft have meant in criticizing Burke, in many ways the father of British conservatism, for his support for the American Revolution? She was of course talking about the dubious viability of a human right from which an entire American population, the population of slaves, was excluded. The U.N. Declaration speaks up powerfully against any kind of double standard, and it is in many ways the watershed event in the recognition that universal coverage is essential for global ethics in the contemporary world.

Sen is certainly right to criticize the American Founders for failing to live up to their own principles, especially with respect to slavery. But it's hard to understand why he thinks the Universal Declaration is an improvement in this regard. After all, the Declaration was enacted in 1948, and its content heavily influenced by Stalin's Soviet Union and its allies. Stalin, of course, was one of the greatest mass murderers in world history, and his regime was guilty of many other human rights violations as well, including extensive use of slave labor on a much larger scale than in the Founding-era US. The Stalin-era Soviet Union also deported and partially exterminated numerous ethnic groups, such as the Crimean Tatars. The non-communist governments that helped produce the Universal Declaration were not nearly as egregious as their communist coauthors. But most of them - including a still-segregationist US - were hardly paragons of virtue either.

The fact that Stalin's minions played a major role in drafting the Declaration does not in and of itself prove that it is a bad document. Even the most evil regimes can occasionally do good. However, the nature of the Soviet regime is definitely relevant by Sen's implicit standards for judging human rights documents, which devalues the American Declaration of Independence because of the wrongs committed by its framers. Moreover, the USSR really did influence the content of the final draft for the worse. As John McGinnis and I discuss in this article (pg. 28), the Soviets prevented the inclusion of protection for the right to form political parties in order to legitimize their own one-party state, watered down protection for private property rights, and - most importantly - facilitated the inclusion of a "right" to suppress speech that constitutes "incitement" to "discrimination" (Article 7 of the Declaration). The latter has become a rationale for numerous proposals for censorship, including the movement to ban "defamation of religion" discussed above. As co-conspirator Eugene Volokh has often pointed out, Article 7 and other similar international law "hate speech" norms are a potentially serious threat to civil liberties.

If the universality of the Declaration of Independence is undercut by the moral failings of its authors, the same point applies with vastly greater force to the Universal Declaration.

Perhaps Sen merely means to say that the Universal Declaration was an advance because it is universalist in its wording, regardless of the intentions of its drafters. However, the same can be said for the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, which also make no explicit racial, religious, or ethnic distinctions.

Finally, Sen argues that the Universal Declaration represents an important advance over previous human rights documents because it incorporates "positive" socioeconomic rights such as the right to employment and state-provided welfare programs. I'm not going to give a complete rebuttal to this argument here. To do so would require recapitulating the entire longstanding debate between free market advocates and their opponents. Here, I will only note that the case for these rights is not nearly as open and shut as Sen suggests. To the extent that the inclusion of positive rights in the Declaration serves to legitimate government control of health care, welfare, and education, it might actually reduce the quality of their provision, for reasons that I elaborated in my recent post on the dangers of expanding government power. Nevertheless, I'm actually less critical of Sen on this point than on the others. The Declaration's positive rights provisions are vaguely enough worded that they need not necessarily be interpreted to mandate provision of these rights by the government, as opposed to free markets and civil society. Moreover, I am not as categorical as some of my fellow libertarians in opposing all state-imposed redistribution to the poor. At least in principle, I think that some redistribution to those genuinely unable to provide for themselves is defensible.

My overall verdict on the Universal Declaration is far more negative than Sen's. Some of the rights enumerated in the Declaration are eminently defensible, such as the right of freedom of association. These, however, are offset by the Declaration's more dubious articles, such as Articles 7 and 29 (which undercuts the impact of the Declaration's beneficial provisions by giving states easy justifications for their violation). I would not say that the Universal Declaration has had a significant negative impact on human rights. But Sen's claims of a massive positive impact are at best greatly overstated.

Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):

The latter has become a rationale for numerous proposals for censorship, including the movement to ban "defamation of religion" discussed above.

In Turkey, it is illegal to say that there was a genocide of the Armenians.

In Germany, it is illegal to say that there was not a genocide of the Jews.
2.3.2009 10:23am
Connecticut Lawyer (mail):
Isn't the "rifht of the people peaceably to assemble," U.S. Const. Amendment 1, the same as the right to free association?
2.3.2009 10:28am
Ilya Somin:
Isn't the "rifht of the people peaceably to assemble," U.S. Const. Amendment 1, the same as the right to free association?

No. It is usually interpreted much more narrowly than that, and does not protect associations for purposes other than "assembly."
2.3.2009 10:31am
martinned (mail) (www):
Wow! This post really takes my breath away. Respect to prof. Somin. To attack the document that more universally revered than any other secular document like this, takes serious intellectual courage. Color me unconvinced, though.
2.3.2009 10:36am
PersonFromPorlock:
Well, it's an exercise in public piety: you can't expect too much from it beyond its being signed.
2.3.2009 10:56am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Why are you unconvinced, martinned? What is incorrect about Prof. Somin's analysis? Can you point to any great success story?

Like most products of Europe these days, this document is big on words and short on deeds. As long as you pay lip service to the proper ideals, you can get a long way in Europe, whether you are an individual or a nation-state... what you actually do is nearly irrelevant.
2.3.2009 11:03am
martinned (mail) (www):

Well, it's an exercise in public piety: you can't expect too much from it beyond its being signed.

If it had been more than just a declaration, the US wouldn't even have signed it.
2.3.2009 11:03am
Seamus (mail):

After all, the Declaration was enacted in 1948, and its content heavily influenced by Stalin's Soviet Union and its allies.

The fact that Stalin's minions played a major role in drafting the Declaration does not in and of itself prove that it is a bad document.



I don't think Stalin's minions were all that influential. After all, none of the Soviet bloc states voted for the Declaration, which suggests that the final product wasn't to their taste. (Nobody wanted to vote no, but the Soviet bloc, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia abstained.)
2.3.2009 11:05am
Don Miller (mail) (www):

Wow! This post really takes my breath away. Respect to prof. Somin. To attack the document that more universally revered than any other secular document like this, takes serious intellectual courage. Color me unconvinced, though.


I think it about time that someone challenge it. I think too many people give it a pass because it has a nice name. If you don't support it, people accuse you of not supporting "Human Rights".

As the good Professor pointed out, there is an awful lot of bad stuff in it. A "right" to Government welfare? What if your country doesn't offer Government Welfare, do you still have a right to something that doesn't exist?

Article 29 is even worse, any country is able to regulate or control access to any of these supposed Universal rights. The Universally of them is a sham if they aren't treated equally across the globe.

This document is horribly bad. The original intent was praiseworthy, but the execution was bad and deserves to be condemned. Honest brokers on the topic would be lobbying to get a better Standard in place.

This document's main purpose is to try and beat up Governments that actually care what people think of them.
2.3.2009 11:08am
Oren:

No. It is usually interpreted much more narrowly than that, and does not protect associations for purposes other than "assembly."

True historically, but I thought Boy Scouts v. Dale protects association for the purpose of expression. CJR puts it as broadly as imaginable:
Consequently, we have long understood as implicit in the right to engage in activities protected by the First Amendment a corresponding right to associate with others in pursuit of a wide variety of political, social, economic, educational, religious, and cultural ends.



A striking omission in the article is Sen's failure to identify even one country or region where the Declaration has led to increased protection for human rights or to some other form of tangible progress. If, as Sen claims, the Declaration really has "played an indisputably significant and astonishingly constructive role" in advancing the cause of human rights, we should be able to cite at least one case where it has led to major progress that would not have occurred otherwise.

Establishing the universal opinion of mankind, even if it's aspirational, is itself progress.
2.3.2009 11:10am
martinned (mail) (www):
@PatHMV: Not having read prof. Sen's original article, I'd say that where the analysis goes wrong is in section 2. I suspect that in section 1 there's a bit of a strawman problem going on, since I can't imagine that Sen actually said what prof. Somin says he did, but OK.

What is missing here is the way this document moved the goal posts of the discourse. Even if it is honoured more in the breach, and remember it is not a Treaty, from 1945 onwards human rights violations required a justification.

If you'll allow the analogy, consider the conferred powers of art. I (8) of the US constitution. Imho, Congress still does whatever the h*ll it feels like, but at least now they are forced to make up an elaborate story as to how they're staying within their conferred powers, and occasionally the Courts give them a bloody nose.

This is not a matter of all talk and no game. Because of the Declaration, all sorts of things require a justification that never did before. The same goes for the ius ad bellum as it is laid down in the UN Charter. Countries still go to war with one another, but at least now they have to come up with a plausible excuse.

What all this does is it allows the people of the offending country, as well as the international community, to have a discourse about what is done and the justification that is offered. Obviously, a treaty would have been better, which is why we now have the ICCPR and the ICESCR. But to ignore the effect of this document on the discourse is callous, at best. It gives people rights to claim, even if they don't get them.

It was (and is) an essential step in the development of an international human rights regime, a process that is still far from complete, as pointed out in the original post.
2.3.2009 11:13am
Hannibal Lector:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is to the Declaration of Independence &US constitution as Rousseauan democracy is to the real thing.
2.3.2009 11:13am
martinned (mail) (www):

This document's main purpose is to try and beat up Governments that actually care what people think of them.

Exactly. Isn't it great?
2.3.2009 11:15am
martinned (mail) (www):
And another thing. I know you Americans are a little funny about your own history, American exceptionalism, etc., but will you please stop talking about the US Declaration of Independence? There are whole lists of similar documents that are much more important and/or older, from the Magna Charta and the UK Bill of Rights, to the 1581 Dutch Declaration of Independence, to the Declaration of 1789. No one outside the US cares about your Declaration of Independence.
2.3.2009 11:17am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
No, because the governments that care what people think of them are not, on the whole, terribly bad offenders of human rights. Most governments don't particularly give a damn about the opinions of Mankind, other than as such may affect aid packages and debt relief, and those tend to be the wholesale offenders of human rights. So an obsessive focus on the peccadilloes of the West (and the U.S. in particular) detracts time, energy, and focus which could better be used to improving a lot of actual, real suffering.

But hey, sure sounds good to chat about at fancy international cocktail parties. Yapping is a lot easier than doing. Criticizing nice, safe governments is the coward's way out.

If you really care about freedoms, try promoting the freedom of religion in Saudi Arabia by bringing in a Bible. Let me know how that turns out for you.
2.3.2009 11:20am
Oren:

If you really care about freedoms, try promoting the freedom of religion in Saudi Arabia by bringing in a Bible. Let me know how that turns out for you.

As I understand it, they are now allowed for personal consumption -- just don't bring in more than one per person. This is, of course, still unacceptable, but it's better to be outraged at the actual facts than some hyperbolic fantasy.
2.3.2009 11:25am
martinned (mail) (www):
@PatHMV: No piece of paper, be it law or declaration, is going to make a d*mn bit of difference to a regime that is sufficienty committed to the use of violence against its own people. (Birma, Saudi Arabia, etc.) That's not the purpose of the document. Such regimes can only be overthrown through violence and/or their own incompetence. (BTW, how is that regime change thing working out for you?) Human rights matter when the regime is changing, such as in the 1980s when Communism fell. Stalin didn't have to care about human rights, but when Gorbachev opened the door, he couldn't ultimately stop Lech Walesa, Boris Jeltsin and the others come in and claim their rights.

Governments that care what people think of them are the only target audience for this declaration and all (other) human rights treaties. The law cannot work miracles.
2.3.2009 11:26am
Bob from Ohio (mail):

No one outside the US cares about your Declaration of Independence.


That's ok. No one inside the US cares about your Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
2.3.2009 11:30am
krs:
International law is like the stuff white people like post on "awareness"--it's a bunch of high-minded stuff written on paper that allows high-minded people to congratulate each other for writing such high-minded stuff.
2.3.2009 11:32am
martinned (mail) (www):

That's ok. No one inside the US cares about your Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

1. Your loss.
2. Since Eleanor Roosevelt wrote it and President Truman signed it, it's yours as well.
2.3.2009 11:33am
Oren:

That's ok. No one inside the US cares about your Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Funny how you can post this in a blog entry about an article written by a professor at Harvard University. Or are we reviving the Palin distinction between real American and fake America.
2.3.2009 11:35am
nicehonesty:
This document's main purpose is to try and beat up Governments that actually care what people think of them.


Exactly. Isn't it great?


Hooray for vapid propaganda tools we can use to arbitrarily bludgeon people we politically disagree with!
2.3.2009 11:40am
Sarcastro (www):
This document is clearly an afront to all people who disagree with it! That's why everyone should agree with me and ignore it while at the same time ridiculing it!
2.3.2009 11:44am
MadHatChemist:
This Declaration is antithetical to true rights and liberties. Its problems are many:

1. It mixes negative and positive rights, with the clear implication that you have a right to free speach in the same way you have the right to welfare;
2. Because of treating negative rights like positive rights, then your rights are ultimatly a dispensation from the state -- and anything but fundamental;
3. Since the government "grants" these rights, it also "balances your "rights" against others, as well as balance one type of "right" with another, and this balancing is at best subjective ;
4. The Declaration clearly states that rights can not be excercised contrary to the interests of the government -- meaning that you only have a right if the governments lets you have it!

The U.S. Bill of Rights and this Declaration are mutually exclusive.
2.3.2009 11:49am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Regime change is working fairly well for the Iraqis at the moment, martinned. They all voted, quite peacefully, just last week. Still too soon to see if it will take, of course, but it's certainly going in a promising direction at the moment.

Ask Lech Walesa which meant more to the Poles and their ability to gain their freedom, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the existence of America and the support it gave to Poland (and the cold war it waged against the Soviet empire).
2.3.2009 11:50am
martinned (mail) (www):

Ask Lech Walesa which meant more to the Poles and their ability to gain their freedom, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the existence of America and the support it gave to Poland (and the cold war it waged against the Soviet empire).

Don't be silly.
2.3.2009 11:53am
Bruce_M (mail) (www):
Rights with "exceptions" are no rights at all. It will be interesting to see if any government that ever exists in humanity grants real rights. I think the U.S. Constitution intended to, but within a few hours people started to get offended at others' execising their rights, and a few hours after that, legal "exceptions" started to be carved out.
2.3.2009 11:59am
RodT (mail):
Have to agree with Professor Somin on this one. The Declaration is not of great consequence in the world; ask the Chechens, Georgians, Iranians, etc 'How's that working for ya?'. Stalin's successors wouldn't waste their breath asking how many battalions it has.
At best it's an incremental step, building on the same foundations as the US Declaration of Independence (no, I'm not going to list it's antecedents). In a revisionist perspective, it's nothing but a paper shackle forged by the colonialist powers to force the developing nations to support their racist power structure by limiting the people's ability to re-educate capitalist slavers and crypto-fascists. The fact that the signatories failed in the past to live by these ideals shows their hypocrisy and liberates us from the need to abide by this scrap of paper until such a time as they can prove that they have never transgressed it's shining ideals.
2.3.2009 12:09pm
martinned (mail) (www):

The fact that the signatories failed in the past to live by these ideals shows their hypocrisy and liberates us from the need to abide by this scrap of paper until such a time as they can prove that they have never transgressed it's shining ideals.

I'm wondering, does that approach work for other law as well? Say, the US Constitution? (To start at the top.)
2.3.2009 12:12pm
Sarcastro (www):
New decleration of human rights:


Governments: don't be dicks, or the US is totally gonna kick your ass! If we feel like it.
2.3.2009 12:19pm
The Unbeliever:
Don't be silly.
Don't be dismissive.

It's a valid question: which one was more useful to Poland in their attempt to achieve freedom?

Put it another way--in a world where there exists, to use your own words, a "regime that is sufficienty committed to the use of violence against its own people", which is more likely to end that state of affairs? Present day American guns, or decades-old American/international pledges?
2.3.2009 12:19pm
MarkField (mail):

No one outside the US cares about your Declaration of Independence.


IIRC, the Chinese students at Tianamen Square made a pretty big deal of it.
2.3.2009 12:21pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@The Unbeliever: Dismissive was entirely the right tone, since the question was silly on its face, to the extent that it wasn't asked and answered.
2.3.2009 12:22pm
martinned (mail) (www):

IIRC, the Chinese students at Tianamen Square made a pretty big deal of it.

Really? That's the first I've heard of it. If you have a cite, I'll retract my claim.
2.3.2009 12:23pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):

Funny how you can post this in a blog entry about an article written by a professor at Harvard University.


Sen is Indian. I assume "martinned" meant non-Americans.

Look up "hyperbole" in any event.
2.3.2009 12:28pm
Blue:
I'm in the camp that the UDHR is actively harmful to true human rights by incorporating the ridiculous positive "rights" within the document. I'm not a lawyer so I won't speak to the legal issues. I do policy assessment and evaluation for a state legislature. The fundamental rule of evaluation is that as the number of metrics increases the value of any individual metric is decreased. UDHR provides a great example of this. Take Cuba, for example. UDHR allows that country to "balance" its repression of true basic political rights by the provision of "free" health care. Sadly, many in the world buy into this logic for their own reasons (which are often tied into discrediting the US). This was a powerful weapon for Communism during the Cold War and it is being turned into a weapon against the US and the West by the Muslim world today.

Oh, and martined, asserting that a Dutch document of any type has more relevance to the rest of the world that the US Declaration of Independence just shows how hopelessly provincial you are.
2.3.2009 12:36pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@Blue: The positive vs. negative rights problem I'll leave for another time. I don't really have a very strong opinion on that one, one way or the other. This one does demand a reply, though:

Oh, and martined, asserting that a Dutch document of any type has more relevance to the rest of the world that the US Declaration of Independence just shows how hopelessly provincial you are.

What I said was that there were other such documents that were more important, older, or both. The Dutch Act of Abjuration clearly is an example of older. (By 200 years, to be exact.) That's why I included it in the list. Its importance is obviously minute compared to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though it did sow the seed for the US Declaration, in that it was the first time a people asserted their right to throw out the king for violating their rights.
2.3.2009 12:41pm
David Warner:
martinned,

"Governments that care what people think of them are the only target audience for this declaration and all (other) human rights treaties. The law cannot work miracles."

Au contraire. The target audience is those suffering under governments that don't, in order to offer them a prospective alternative and foment unrest against said governments.

Regime change is working out surprisingly well presently, thanks for asking, and no thanks to you and millions of your fellow supposed devotees of "human rights" for shitting all over every effort to make it work.
2.3.2009 12:42pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Free compulsory education (that must support the UN).

Paid holidays.

Usual commie garbage.
2.3.2009 12:43pm
martinned (mail) (www):

"Governments that care what people think of them are the only target audience for this declaration and all (other) human rights treaties. The law cannot work miracles."

Au contraire. The target audience is those suffering under governments that don't, in order to offer them a prospective alternative and foment unrest against said governments.

Sorry. All lofty documents are useless unless the government is at least part of the way there. If the leadership is sufficiently committed to holding on to power, only weapons can help. Otherwise, you're right in that my formulation was a little sloppy. Of course the people who live in such "part of the way there" states are the target audience.


Regime change is working out surprisingly well presently, thanks for asking, and no thanks to you and millions of your fellow supposed devotees of "human rights" for shitting all over every effort to make it work.

The problem with regime change isn't one of human rights. Human rights wise, there is no problem. The problem is one of state sovereignty, a cornerstone of the international state system ever since it was invented in 1648. And who, pray tell, is the great eternal champion of national sovereignity? (To the point of railing agains the UN and its attempts to establish an international human rights regime...)

[crickets...]
2.3.2009 12:48pm
Nathan_M (mail):
I agree with Professor Somin that the UDHR hasn't magically ended human rights abuses. As the American constitution at the time of independent and the constitution of the USSR vividly illustrate, an oppressive society can have an admirably constructed constitution that on its face protects human rights.

So I don't think the suggestion that the UDHR has weaknesses in its drafting that enables rogue regimes to violate human rights. A government intent on oppressing its people or supporting slavery that is not opposed by powerful internal institutions will do so regardless of its constitution, and the government of a free society, such as the United Kingdom, will largely respect human rights even if it is unconstrained by any written constitution.

The UDHR isn't, except on the margin, going to cause bad governments to respect human rights. But hopefully it provides an example that will change the structure of societies so their governments have no choice but to be more respectful of human rights. So hopefully the UDHR is better at changing these norms and protecting human rights by nonlegislative means than Professor Somin gives it credit for.
2.3.2009 12:53pm
Blue:
Sigh. The easy comparison of 1787 America and the Soviet Union in the 1920s is more than a little tenedentious, don't you think?
2.3.2009 1:02pm
The Unbeliever:
And who, pray tell, is the great eternal champion of national sovereignity?
I think I missed the point of your sarcasm. But my good-faith answer would be the UN is a champion of status quo, which necessarily means they treat national sovereignty as absolute at the macro level. However the UN is a horrible meddler with sovereignty at the micro, or details, level; cf. the ICC, the blue helmet peacekeepers, etc.

If you want the US-centric view, the champions of national sovereignty are the conservatives. And we get quite ridiculed for sticking up for the concept, too.
2.3.2009 1:02pm
David Drake:
Martinned:


Not having read prof. Sen's original article, I'd say that where the analysis goes wrong is in section 2. I suspect that in section 1 there's a bit of a strawman problem going on, since I can't imagine that Sen actually said what prof. Somin says he did, but OK.


There is a link to The New Republic in which you could have easily verified the quote and the content of Section 1 and the entire article.

Your comment on Section 2 is pretty much what Prof. Sen says in the second part of his article. You simply ignore Prof. Somin's point, probably because you didn't bother to read the article itself, which point I take to be that the text of the Declaration itself qualifies the grand stated goals of the document and Prof. Sen's celebration thereof.
2.3.2009 1:04pm
David Drake:

What I said was that there were other such documents that were more important, older, or both. The Dutch Act of Abjuration clearly is an example of older. (By 200 years, to be exact.) That's why I included it in the list. Its importance is obviously minute compared to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights...


You're kidding, right?
2.3.2009 1:08pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@The Unbeliever: Going back to the 1919 Senate debate about the league of nations, and before that to all sorts of 19th century fun that I don't know enough about to comment, not to mention Washington's farewell address, American exceptionalism has always been something that bridged the whole political spectrum. The only difference has traditionally been that the left wanted to go and teach the world, and the right wanted isolationalism. What they had in common was the idea that the US constitution was perfect and that they had nothing to learn from the rest of the world. (Which, of course, was mostly true pre WW I, with the notable exception of Somersett's case.) To this day, the US want to theach the world about all their wisdom, or, in the alternative, they want to be left free to do as they please. At least the latter has the benefit of not being annoying. Point is, ever since international law really took off after World War I, the one country that has defended its national sovereignty every step of the way is the US. Hence my snide remark about regime change. (Well, that and the fact that it turned out to be a lot more difficult than originally imagined.)
2.3.2009 1:13pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@David Drake: What prof. Somin wrote in reply does not come close to addressing the point.

And why would I be kidding? The Dutch declaration only matters to the Netherlands to begin with, and even then we're already on our second constitution since then. Even here the document is only of historic interest.
2.3.2009 1:21pm
Mark Rockwell (mail):
What?

I... What?

What on earth would constitute a respectable, worthwhile document? The founding creed of the NAZI party?!

Criticize implementation. Criticize elements. But for christsake, what (aside from self-aggrandizement) is the reason for criticizing the entire Declaration of Human Rights!? It's like saying the Red Cross was a wicked mistake because people still die.
2.3.2009 1:28pm
Steve P. (mail):
martinned —
If you have a cite, I'll retract my claim.

Here is a possible reference. I'm not totally convinced of its authenticity; damn events that ocurred before the popularization of the internet!
On an ABC newscast, Chinese students read a line from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …"
2.3.2009 1:29pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
martinned wrote:


IIRC, the Chinese students at Tianamen Square made a pretty big deal of it.


Really? That's the first I've heard of it. If you have a cite, I'll retract my claim.
Here's the opening of Ho Chi Minh's Declaration of Independence for Vietnam:


SEPTEMBER 2, 1945)

"All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness"

This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America m 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.

The Declaration of the French Revolution made in 1791 on the Rights of Man and the Citizen also states: "All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights." Those are undeniable truths.

Nevertheless, for more than eighty years, the French imperialists, abusing the standard of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, have violated our Fatherland and oppressed our fellow-citizens. They have acted contrary to the ideals of humanity and justice. In the field of politics, they have deprived our people of every democratic liberty.

They have enforced inhuman laws; they have set up three distinct political regimes in the North, the Center and the South of Vietnam in order to wreck our national unity and prevent our people from being united.

They have built more prisons than schools. They have mercilessly slain our patriots- they have drowned our uprisings in rivers of blood. They have fettered public opinion; they have practised obscurantism against our people. To weaken our race they have forced us to use opium and alcohol.

In the fields of economics, they have fleeced us to the backbone, impoverished our people, and devastated our land.

They have robbed us of our rice fields, our mines, our forests, and our raw materials. They have monopolised the issuing of bank-notes and the export trade.

They have invented numerous unjustifiable taxes and reduced our people, especially our peasantry, to a state of extreme poverty.

They have hampered the prospering of our national bourgeoisie; they have mercilessly exploited our workers.

In the autumn of 1940, when the Japanese Fascists violated Indochina's territory to establish new bases in their fight against the Allies, the French imperialists went down on their bended knees and handed over our country to them.
Note the obvious parallelism to the U.S. Declaration of Independence's list of grievances against King George III.

And from Fidel Castro's defense at trial in 1953:

The Declaration of Independence of the Congress of Philadelphia, on July 4th, 1776, consecrated this right in a beautiful paragraph which reads: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness; That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it and to institute a new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.'
I guess a fair number of people that you wouldn't expect find the U.S. Declaration of Independence quite important.
2.3.2009 1:32pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@Steve P.: Thanks for the cite. I'm not entirely convinced, though. I appreciate the difficulty in finding a good cite for this, but the article you referenced is so Evangelical that I'm having a hard time avoiding the impression that the author exaggerated the influence of Christianity and America on the students.


Ever-increasing numbers of Chinese are being drawn to Christianity. Not only is the political conscience of the students being awakened, especially by writings from the West, but their curiosity about Christian values is being aroused like never before. The world is now seeing the truth of the words of the Apostle Paul written in the First Century: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (II Corinthians 3:17). The great outpouring of the Holy Spirit which has been taking place in China in recent years is now manifesting itself in the political realm.
2.3.2009 1:35pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@Clayton E. Cramer: Ho Chi Minh??? That is extremely cool. Consider my claim retracted: Some people outside the US do care about the Declaration of Independence.
2.3.2009 1:37pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Ho Chi Minh??? That is extremely cool.
No surprise. OSS parachuted into Vietnam and providing training and weapons to the Viet Minh to fight the Japanese. I suspect that Ho Chi Minh expected that quoting the Declaration of Independence would cause President Truman to back Vietnamese demands for independence from France.
2.3.2009 1:39pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
"Asked and answered," martinned? I certainly asked the question, but you sure have not answered it. Was the Declaration of Rights more important to achieving freedom for Poland or was it the existence of the United States and the U.S.-led NATO efforts to contain the Soviet Union (and the arms race which helped bankrupt the Soviets)?

What distinguishes the United States, historically, from the many, many, many governments of European nations is that our framers recognized that rights could not be protected merely by pretty words. They set up a governing structure which reduced the risk of government abuse of rights.

And I have to say that every time I hear a European condemn "American exceptionalism," I have to laugh. I'm perfectly willing to admit that my country isn't perfect. But it's a damn sight better than most European nations, and we seem to be one of the few countries left who actually DO care about the suffering of human beings in despotic regimes, those that Europe wants to occasionally send in impotent "peace-keeping" forces to look after, while being entirely unwilling to actually use force to defend the innocent.
2.3.2009 1:40pm
martinned (mail) (www):

No surprise. OSS parachuted into Vietnam and providing training and weapons to the Viet Minh to fight the Japanese. I suspect that Ho Chi Minh expected that quoting the Declaration of Independence would cause President Truman to back Vietnamese demands for independence from France.

I kinda knew that, actually, but the story is so much cooler and more ironic if you ignore that part.
2.3.2009 1:41pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

But it's a damn sight better than most European nations, and we seem to be one of the few countries left who actually DO care about the suffering of human beings in despotic regimes, those that Europe wants to occasionally send in impotent "peace-keeping" forces to look after, while being entirely unwilling to actually use force to defend the innocent.
I think this is a bit unfair. The Coalition of the Willing contributed forces--and lost lives--in Iraq. That included a lot of European countries. And I'm gratified at how many countries that you would not expect are spending blood and treasure in Afghanistan: Iceland; Sweden; Germany; Lithuania; Estonia; and many others. Some of them are there because they were obligated after 9/11 by the NATO treaty. But Sweden wasn't required to do so.
2.3.2009 1:44pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I kinda knew that, actually, but the story is so much cooler and more ironic if you ignore that part.
Ho Chi Minh was a sleazy politician. At one point in the 1930s, he and fellow members of the Communist Party decided that the most effective way to raise funds for the cause was to betray one of their colleagues to the French government for the reward money.
2.3.2009 1:46pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@PatHMV: As I wrote at least two times already in this thread, it is trivially true that guns get rid of dictators much more quickly than any document can. However, that hardly proves anything about the Declaration of Human Rights, which is why it was a silly non-argument on your part.

As for the importance of governing structures, well, yes, that's why we invented things like the League of Nations (didn't work), the UN (works a little better) and, most notably, the European Union. The US seem reluctant, at best, to participate in such governance structures.

That leaves the glorious notion of using force to defend the innocent. It's an illusion. No country ever actually does it. Countries only ever go to war when their national interest requires it. (Or at least when the interest of their leadership does.) For a variety of reasons, the countries of Europe have grown weary of war, while the US has not (yet). Feel free, have at it, knock yourselves out. Just try to at least obey international law while you do it. That can't be too much to ask.
2.3.2009 1:48pm
Perseus (mail):
And another thing. I know you Americans are a little funny about your own history, American exceptionalism, etc., but will you please stop talking about the US Declaration of Independence? There are whole lists of similar documents that are much more important and/or older, from the Magna Charta and the UK Bill of Rights, to the 1581 Dutch Declaration of Independence, to the Declaration of 1789.

Like all too many intellectual historians, you fail to appreciate the distinctive arguments of the American Declaration of Independence that distinguishes it from the Magna Charta or the Dutch Declaration of Independence and instead try to assimilate it into some broader category of "human rights" declarations.
2.3.2009 1:50pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@Perseus: While noting that I retracted one statement from that comment, I am actually curious as to what you mean. What is so unique about the US DoI?
2.3.2009 1:52pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

That leaves the glorious notion of using force to defend the innocent. It's an illusion. No country ever actually does it. Countries only ever go to war when their national interest requires it. (Or at least when the interest of their leadership does.)
I think you can never be too cynical about foreign policy, but there are times that the U.S. has taken actions for entirely selfless reasons. The decision to send forces into Somalia under President George Bush I was in that category. The U.S. had no strategic interests there. (Could anyone?) Now, once it got bloody and unpleasant, President Clinton cut and run. But the initial motivation was pure.

The Kosovo intervention is complex, but the U.S. could have stood well back and let the Europeans handle this all by themselves (which means nothing would have happened but aggravated handwringing). But there was no strategic interest for the U.S. in the Balkans--and considerable difficulty was created for U.S./Russian relations by our involvement.

Similarly, while there may have been economic motivations for some, much of what drove the U.S. into war with Spain in 1898 was concern about the rights of the Cubans. William Randoph Hearst, the archetype limousine liberal (back before limos), was certainly hyping the war because it increased newspaper circulation, but he seems to have had a genuine desire to free the Cubans from Spanish oppression, and there was a sizeable American movement in support of that war for that reason. Political elites weren't that enthused about the war; President McKinley certainly didn't want to go to war.
2.3.2009 1:57pm
The Unbeliever:
martinned:
...American exceptionalism has always been something that bridged the whole political spectrum. The only difference has traditionally been that the left wanted to go and teach the world, and the right wanted isolationalism.
Pardon my use of Internet shorthand, I caused a labelling problem. I was referring to present day American conservatives and present day American liberals, who hold little resemblance to the factions who carried those banners even a scant 50 years ago.

(In the same vein, the modern day GOP barely resembles Lincoln-era Republicans, just like FDR would be appalled by modern day Democrats. A flame war for another time, perhaps.)

Point is, ever since international law really took off after World War I, the one country that has defended its national sovereignty every step of the way is the US. Hence my snide remark about regime change.
Actually the US is remarkably consistent in this manner. Historically at least, it repeatedly acted in the way best suited to maximize its own sovereignty, while pursuing its policy goals throughout the world... even if those goals involve some, shall we say, forceful overruling of other state's sovereign powers.

This is not hypocrisy, it is rational self-interest based on the realities of power struggles, as written in blood and carved by steel throughout the entire history of mankind. Any given state will protect its sovereignty even if (especially if) it finds it beneficial to not respect others' claims. Why should it be otherwise?
2.3.2009 2:02pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

For a variety of reasons, the countries of Europe have grown weary of war, while the US has not (yet).
You've spent several centuries fighting wars, sometimes over important issues (World War II), sometimes over the most absurd (the Franco-Prussian War), and I fear that you have culled many of the warrior genes out of your population. Warriors are necessary--at least as long as there are other societies that have maintained warriors, and are prepared to fight for dominance. That's part of why Europe, in another 50 years, will be Muslim, and a real threat to the United States.
2.3.2009 2:03pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@Clayton E. Cramer: The older Bush may actually be an exception to the rule. I read his memoires recently, and I was struck by how sentimental he was, deciding to go to war with Iraq, talking about those poor mistreated Kuwaitis, Kurds and Shi'ites. I found that rather unsettling, actually, since I would prefer it if the self-proclaimed leader of the free world went to war for better reasons than that. (Self interest is predictable, sentimentality is not. You don't want such power used in an arbitrary manner.)

Still, I don't think either Somalia or Kosovo prooves the point. G.H.W. Bush and Clinton were trying to invent a new system of international relations, one were the US would necessarily take the lead, one where evil would be banished from the face of the earth one intervention at a time. They didn't do it because there was a US national interest involved on the ground, but because there was a US national interest in assuming the position of sole world superpower.

I don't know much about the US-Spanish war, but from what you describe that sounds like political interest instead of national interest. So also not a counterexample.
2.3.2009 2:04pm
Sarcastro (www):
Wait...Guns get rid of dictators. The US is full of guns...

Why are there still dictators? Have they evolved into some sort of gun-resistant strain? If so, I worry about these new superdictators, and wish we had used our guns more responsibly in the past.

Steps to prevent gun-resistant dictatorships:

- less use of guns in everyday industrial activities such as agriculture.
- realizing not all dictators need to be treated with guns.
- Once gun treatment has started, continue the course even after the regime's symptoms seem to have passed.
- Prevent dictatorships in the first place. through regime control protocols and good moral hygiene.
- develop new guns dictatorships may not yet be resistant to
- look into other, alternative treatments.
2.3.2009 2:07pm
Oren:

I suspect that Ho Chi Minh expected that quoting the Declaration of Independence would cause President Truman to back Vietnamese demands for independence from France.

We'd have saved 25k American lives and untold Vietnamese is he'd had the sense to accept it then. Despite the constant drumbeat of "total war" and realpolitik, it seems like this is an instance where sticking to lofty principles would pay tangible dividends.
2.3.2009 2:10pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Pardon my use of Internet shorthand, I caused a labelling problem. I was referring to present day American conservatives and present day American liberals, who hold little resemblance to the factions who carried those banners even a scant 50 years ago.
Do you remember a few years back when we elected a President who said that our job was not to be the world's policeman, and we weren't going to be intervening in matters that weren't in our national interest? And liberals (including many in Europe) were whining (at least for the first eight months of his Presidency) about "isolationist" America? Yeah. That guy. President George Bush II.

9/11 was a wakeup call, and he realized that waiting for the barbarians to arrive was a mistake. Eurointellectuals are going to wake up one of these mornings and discover that between their failure to reproduce, and Muslim willingness to do so, the political question will be whether to implement shari'a law, or simply reduce the rest of the population to dhimmitude.
2.3.2009 2:11pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

We'd have saved 25k American lives and untold Vietnamese is he'd had the sense to accept it then. Despite the constant drumbeat of "total war" and realpolitik, it seems like this is an instance where sticking to lofty principles would pay tangible dividends.
Actually, 54K American lives, and about 2 million Vietnamese. You might be right, but I wouldn't be so sure that making nice with Ho Chi Minh would have avoided serious problems there.

There are two theories on this:

1. Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist first, and became a Communist in reaction to the lack of Western willingness to bend. I don't buy that, largely because his involvement with the Communists went back to the Versailles Treaty conference. (Ho Chi Minh even worked in New York City, I think before World War I.)

2. Ho Chi Minh was a power-mad sort, as many totalitarian politicians are, and was prepared to say whatever he needed to lull the U.S. into supporting him.

There was certainly no strong argument for backing France against Ho Chi Minh. We didn't need French help after World War I--quite the opposite. Truman's advisors may have thought that Ho Chi Minh was in category 2, and decided to back the French for that reason.
2.3.2009 2:16pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Why are there still dictators? Have they evolved into some sort of gun-resistant strain?
It's because dictators and the clueless who pave the road to dictatorship with good intentions work hard on creating gun-free societies.

An armed society is not a perfect solution to the problem of tyranny, and there are societies that disarm their populations without developing a tyranny—but the history of modern times suggests that disarming the general population, creating a monopoly on deadly force in the hands of the government, is a risky proposition.
2.3.2009 2:19pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

@Clayton E. Cramer: The older Bush may actually be an exception to the rule. I read his memoires recently, and I was struck by how sentimental he was, deciding to go to war with Iraq, talking about those poor mistreated Kuwaitis, Kurds and Shi'ites. I found that rather unsettling, actually, since I would prefer it if the self-proclaimed leader of the free world went to war for better reasons than that. (Self interest is predictable, sentimentality is not. You don't want such power used in an arbitrary manner.)
You certainly don't want nations running around saving people from genocide, rape, and torture. Why, that could get out of hand, and before you know it, it won't be safe to be a government bureaucrat!

Argue if you want that the Iraq occupation was badly handled (until the Surge); argue that Bush (and most other leaders) erred on side of caution about WMDs there; but to argue that Iraq is worse off today than it was under the tortureocracy and rapeocracy of Saddam Hussein is to put oneself on the side of monsters.
2.3.2009 2:23pm
Anderson (mail):
The Declaration is not of great consequence in the world

Neither is the Sermon on the Mount; I await Prof. Somin's debunking of the latter document.
2.3.2009 2:24pm
MarkField (mail):
For some more cites to foreign references to the DoI, see here and here and here.
2.3.2009 2:26pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Clayton... certainly a very valid point about the contributions of members of the coalition of the willing. I would note, however, that the Iraq war was nearly universally unpopular, from the beginning, among the populations of the European nations. That certainly does not detract from, and probably magnifies, the valor of their troops. But as a general characterization, I think my point is valid.

martinned, of what use is the declaration of rights if it doesn't actually ensure any rights to those whose rights are most oppressed? It is an utterly toothless document, used today primarily to bully the politically incorrect. Who has actually benefited from it? What tangible, positive difference has it made in anybody's life, anywhere on the globe? You've yet to identify anybody.

As to the multi-national institutions you mention, only the European Union is actually a government of any sort. The U.N. is the biggest waste of money the world has ever seen, in my view. While a few of its organs provide beneficial labor, it mostly exists to provide political cover to dictators (look at the various distinguished nations to preside as chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights) and to allow a certain segment of society to feel self-important because they are busy helping to "save the world."

And the European Commission, or whatever body is actually dictating policy in Europe these days? It is so far divorced from democracy as to be laughable. At best it's a nanny state, setting rules for every aspect of economic life. People are free to smoke pot in Amsterdam and go topless on beaches, but free to work, free to hire and fire people, free to do what they want with their own property? Not nearly so much.

The U.S. strongly objects to such multinational "government" because we realize that it is a very grave threat to individual freedom and democracy. As others have noted, Europe is unwilling to actually protect freedoms even within its own borders when it comes under attack from violent thugs. A society unwilling to defend its principles is a dying society.
2.3.2009 2:29pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Clayton... certainly a very valid point about the contributions of members of the coalition of the willing. I would note, however, that the Iraq war was nearly universally unpopular, from the beginning, among the populations of the European nations.
I wonder how "nearly universally unpopular" it was, and how much of this was that the European intellectuals and their sock puppets, the European news media, decided that this was the case. I would expect that a lot more governments would have fallen if this was the case, and a lot faster.
2.3.2009 2:32pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Anderson, I don't think Prof. Somin is disputing that words and documents can have hortatory influence, by inspiring actions even if the document itself is toothless. But can you actually cite an example of a freedom movement in a repressed country which drew its inspiration primarily from the UNDHR? Any examples of political prisoners memorizing its precepts, surreptitiously passing them to one another to inspire the movement?

As others have noted, the document itself is deeply flawed with its emphasis on "balance." While all rights must be balanced, in one sense, against the rights of others, the UNDHR's explicit adoption of this balancing act guts it of any real meaning. When does one man's speech begin to interfere with another man's rights? The document gives us no guidance.
2.3.2009 2:36pm
Anderson (mail):
Pat, I don't think the Declaration was meant to do what your examples imply. Rather, it's bad press for a country to be in evident disregard of the Declaration.

Bad press has its limits, but even countries like China are sensitive about it, and there's nothing comparable to the Declaration to put such countries on the hot spot, since everyone's ratified it.
2.3.2009 2:41pm
Oren:

There are two theories on [Ho Chi Minh]:


I'm fully behind your second theory -- he was mad with power. 1 million Catholics didn't flee NV just for nothing. That said, I feel like nothing we did made him any less of a tyrant and, quite likely, made things worse.

Hugo Chavez, for instance, seems to have been a lot worse since our support for that failed coup attempt in 2002. Not that I liked him in the first place, but the real crazy-paranoid-delusional seems to have started around that time.
2.3.2009 2:44pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Hugo Chavez, for instance, seems to have been a lot worse since our support for that failed coup attempt in 2002.
You mean, compared to the kinder, gentler Hugo Chavez who led a coup attempt in 1992?
2.3.2009 2:46pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Bad press? That's the best you've got in support of the UNDHR? I think Prof. Somin's side has won out here.
2.3.2009 2:51pm
Sarcastro (www):
[PatHMV if the upside is so weak, what's the down side then?]
2.3.2009 2:54pm
nicehonesty:
It's worse than that, PatHMV; the best they've got in support of the UNDHR is selective bad press.

I say again, Hooray for vapid propaganda tools we can use to arbitrarily bludgeon people we politically disagree with!
2.3.2009 2:58pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Who said there was a downside, Sarcastro? Prof. Somin critiqued Sens' claim that the document was a major advancement in the protection of human rights. The evidence does not support that claim.
2.3.2009 2:59pm
Michael B (mail):
You can't legislate morality.
2.3.2009 3:04pm
Sarcastro (www):
[PatHMV OK. Assuming that's right, does that mean the document is worthless and shouldn't exist?

Seems like the UN to me. More useful for keeping an idea alive than for accomplishing it's lofty goals.

I'm glad that the whole world isn't realpolitic.]
2.3.2009 3:06pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Well, that would be a different discussion entirely, Sarcastro. I doubt it hurts terribly much, other than the waste of time and energy and resources it creates. On the other hand, its balancing acts do lend themselves to abuses, as we're seeing now with the Canadian prosecution against the likes of Mark Steyn and the European efforts to stifle speech critical of Islam. The UNDHR is used to justify those acts of oppression.

Is Newspeak dangerous?
2.3.2009 3:11pm
Anderson (mail):
Pat HMV laughs. It's not so funny to a dissident who gets out of state custody after a foreign newspaper picks up his story.

As Sen's article suggests, the best contribution of the Declaration may simply be "human rights" itself -- the rights once peculiar to the French and American declarations, now at least publicly acknowledged to be prior to constitutions or statutes.
2.3.2009 3:22pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
At the risk of agreeing with Anderson, the notion of "universal human rights" (regardless of the exact rights defined) is a giant step up from those who believe that there is nothing but power and the willingness to use it.
2.3.2009 3:36pm
Oren:

You mean, compared to the kinder, gentler Hugo Chavez who led a coup attempt in 1992?

Things can (and often do) go from bad to worse. Chavez, for instance.
2.3.2009 3:37pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
And what does the UNDHR have to do with that dissident and the foreign newspaper, Anderson? I'm not laughing at the dissident, I'm laughing at you and the idea that the UNDHR has anything at all to do with that dissident.

Does the foreign newspaper say that Dissident X is being jailed in violation of Art. 1.3 of the UNDHR? Of course not. Those articles say that Dissident X is being jailed for writing a play critical of the government, or for being a member of the wrong party.

I cherish the concept of human rights. It's the idea that the UNDHR is some great contribution to the freedom of man that I find amusing.

It provides the added distraction of allowing all these people like mantinned who want to "do good" somehow to focus their energy in nice, safe directions of speaking truth to powers who are so thoroughly committed to human rights that he is at no risk for doing so. This leaves him feeling like he's done his share for freedom this week, even as he admits that such documents do very little for the vast majority who are suffering from the worst abuses of human rights. If there's anything pernicious about the UNDHR, it's that.
2.3.2009 3:38pm
John Moore (www):
@Orin
We'd have saved 25k American lives and untold Vietnamese is he'd had the sense to accept it then.


Try 47K American lives.

Ho Chi Minh, however, had long been a Communist with ties to the USSR, so his creation was almost certainly a cynical attempt to manipulate opinion.

After the French were defeated, he still had the opportunity to make peace. Instead he purged North Vietnam of non-communists and Christians, causing 900,000 to flee to the South, 500,000 of whom were Catholic. He also had many of his Viet Minh competitors executed.

During the Vietnam War, he ruthlessly sacrificed generations of youth to force his rule on the South, which was a different culture and had little interest in conquest by a brutal, collectivist dictatorship. Even though the South was not democratic, most of its people preferred their relative freedom compared to that of the North.
2.3.2009 4:00pm
Kirk:
Ilya,
At least in principle, I think that some redistribution to those genuinely unable to provide for themselves is defensible.
As a principle, this is very defensible. But doesn't it all fall apart in arguments over exactly what consistutes "genuinely unable to provide for themselves"?

martinned, the Dutch declaration you cite is not bad, but (at least in the English translation I found) I didn't see anything that approaches Jefferson's wonderful paragraph:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.


However, saying "since Eleanor Roosevelt wrote it" is not going to endear you to very many on this side of the Atlantic.

And PatHMV's statement is about the least silly comment on this entire thread.
2.3.2009 4:07pm
Kirk:
Clayton,

Ho Chi Minh's Declaration is a great example of the influence of the US Declaration.

I wonder, however, if the immediate substitution of that fatal word peopleS (the plural of "people" aka "ethnic group") in place of people (the plural of "person") was deliberate, or merely the result of less than complete fluency in English.
2.3.2009 4:08pm
ys:

As the American constitution at the time of independent and the constitution of the USSR vividly illustrate, an oppressive society can have an admirably constructed constitution that on its face protects human rights.

The admirability of the USSR constitution has been greatly exaggerated. Once it proclaims at the beginning that the Communist Party is the leading force of everything, it pretty much does not matter what else it says. Incidentally, that "else" does overlap with a number of items in the UDHR.


martinned (mail) (www):

Ask Lech Walesa which meant more to the Poles and their ability to gain their freedom, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the existence of America and the support it gave to Poland (and the cold war it waged against the Soviet empire).

Don't be silly.


I heard his serious answer to this question when he talked at the JFK Harvard school. Try to guess what it was.
2.3.2009 4:12pm
JoeSixpack (mail):
The only relevant Dutch document in the area of human rights is the document that decriminalized weed.
2.3.2009 4:21pm
Anderson (mail):
I cherish the concept of human rights.

Not so any of us could notice it. If you think that "human rights" was a widely accepted concept before the Declaration, cite away.

At the risk of agreeing with Anderson, the notion of "universal human rights" (regardless of the exact rights defined) is a giant step up from those who believe that there is nothing but power and the willingness to use it.

Inimicus Anderson, sed magis amica veritas?
2.3.2009 4:29pm
Steve2:
I'm going to skip over the discussion of the relative demerits of Ho Chi Minh and Ngo Dinh Diem and whether either of the Vietnamese factions in the Vietnam War deserved support from anybody and stick to assessment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And to that... Locke and Jefferson coined a nice phrase with a lofty-seeming principle, and Article 3 of this declaration pulls from it. Those wrongly idealistic men foisted on the world this "right to life" nonsense that interferes with the proper administration of justice through widespread capital punishment and provides a rallying point to support the immoral and rights-infringing phenomenon of duty-to-retreat law, and is enshrined in Article 3. Then, Article 5 goes and pulls from that great error of the U.S. Constitution, the 8th Amendment. No torture, no cruel punishment, that means no proper justice. In the zeal to eliminate the torture of the undeserving, the U.S. went beyond the proper measures of abolishing torture as an interrogation measure and a penalty for minor offenses, and made it impossible for torture to be imposed upon the deserving following accurate conviction by a fair jury. The world has wrongly followed suit, and as a result garden variety rapists can't be disembowled as they ought, the doctors at Tuskegee and Willowbrook couldn't have been burned, and the most severe punishment Israel was able/willing to give Eichmann was the grossly inadequate hanging. I find Articles 3 and 5 of the international document to be unsupportable.

And for that matter, where are the positives of the UDHR? What rights does it enumerate that we can point at and say, "Yeah, that's a really important right to give explicit protection to, and our country should put it into the constitution just to make sure nobody can try to deny it by saying it isn't in the text and is only implicit. Thanks for the heads up, Universal Declaration!" Hmm? I mean, we can look to, say, the Constitution of South Africa's Article 28, Section 1, Clause h, and see that South Africa's constitution gives explicit protection to a child's right "to have a legal practitioner assigned to the child by the state, and at state expense, in civil proceedings affecting the child, if substantial injustice would otherwise result", and from that we can, if we agree, say about that peculiarly unique constitutional provision, "Hey, we agree that the right to a guardian ad litem is important enough to put into our own constitution, thanks for the good idea South Africa!". What in the UDHR is similarly uniquely explicit?
2.3.2009 4:46pm
JoeSixpack (mail):
I agree with Steve2. Even the US Declaration of Independence has items such as calls for protection from the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
2.3.2009 4:56pm
Michael B (mail):
I suspect that Ho Chi Minh expected that quoting the Declaration of Independence would cause President Truman to back Vietnamese demands for independence from France.
We'd have saved [] American lives and untold Vietnamese [if] he'd had the sense to accept it then. Despite the constant drumbeat of "total war" and realpolitik, it seems like this is an instance where sticking to lofty principles would pay tangible dividends.
Others have alluded to this, but there's virtually no indication of note this would have been true, there's virtually no indication that suggests Ho Chi Minh's overture was anything more than a Machiavellian gambit. A few salient factors:

+ Ho served both Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong, within Soviet Russia and China, for something like two decades, all the while learning and conforming to Marxist/Stalinist and Maoist praxis and ideological dictates.

+ Re, nationalism vs. Marxism - Ho sided with Stalin and against Joseph Tito's more independent and nationalist regime in Yugoslavia, further confirming his doctrinaire Marxian convictions. Ho, at no point, was a S.E. Asian version of Tito, he was a confirmed ideologue in the Leninist/Stalinist mold.

+ On the evening of Feb. 14, 1950, three men toasted one another in a banquet hall in the Kremlin: Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Joseph Stalin. They had been agreeing upon and solidifying certain plans and alliances. In part, Stalin had summoned Mao to Moscow out of fears that Mao would stray, much as Tito had. In other part they were confiming plans for S.E. Asia.

+ Ho was not the only potential national leader when he arrived in Hanoi - to the contrary and decidedly so, there was a large number of competitors for national leadership. Ho proceeded, in Leninist/Stalinist manner, to assassinate his competition, not deal with them in an electoral process.

+ The "land reforms" instituted by Ho and his followers c. 1953/54 were Stalinist/Maoist forms of "reform" wherein approximately 50,000 peasants ("kulaks") were variously murdered, for "the cause."

+ The insurgency that began in the South almost entirely managed from the North, from Hanoi, and it included widespread use of terror and assassinations in the South to help insure ideological and more practical conformity to plans drawn up in Hanoi and Moscow. Some indigenous southerners were recruited, but it was not an indigenous, spontaneous rebellion that manifested itself in the South. This is one of the primary reasons, conceived within Truman's containment doctrine, why Kennedy escalated a bare minimum number of advisors to a few thousand, c. 1961/62.

Those are merely a few of the more salient factors that could be listed, not many ideologically tendentious histories of the Left notwithstanding.
2.3.2009 4:58pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Not so any of you can notice it, Anderson? Just because I won't glorify some product of a multi-national committee, you say that? I support far more human rights than you, I'm quite certain. The right to private property. The right to speak one's mind no matter how offended others may get. The right to decide with whom one associates, and with whom one does not.

My criticisms have been leveled strictly at the UNDHR, not at the concept of human rights itself. Can you not defend the UNDHR and set forth its positive effects in the world without declaring all those who oppose your vision to be uninterested in human rights themselves? Sadly typical of the left these days. "You don't agree with me, so you're BAD!"
2.3.2009 5:07pm
Anderson (mail):
Pat, the point we are trying to make, but which the English language does not seem sufficient to convey to you, is that the Declaration helped create and popularize the concept of "human rights" that you praise.
2.3.2009 5:20pm
John Moore (www):
The UNDHR certainly deserves little applause. It codifies what the US Declaration recognized, but it also codifies "rights" that are not natural rights (passive), but rather entitlements (active, presumably by government).

It provides cover for tyrants, while scarcely restraining them. Their depredations go against widespread pre-existing understandings of rights and dignity, while they can derive excuses from its active entitlements. It also gives them a platform for deflecting attention from their tyranny by condemning democratic rights-loving countries for relatively minor transgressions.
2.3.2009 5:27pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
CREATE? CREATE? Are you serious? Men have yearned for freedom from the beginning. We've slowly gotten better and better at learning how to govern ourselves to promote the freedoms individuals have always sought. The UNDHR didn't change any of that, didn't provide any new actual universality.

Man is created free. Man has these rights inherently, and always have. They were not "created" by any document. These freedoms cannot be revoked. They can be suppressed by force and the threat of force, by the more powerful (including governments). But they exist independently of any document, and they were recognized by mankind LONG before this foolish little document you seem to revere did.

What CREATED the concept of "human rights" were any number of ancient religious texts, followed by the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and a number of other documents which had previously been written AND IMPLEMENTED in a meaningful way.

I would suggest that causation was the other way around. Human rights, as a concept, had become such a cause around 60 years ago, that all the sorts of people who loved the newly-formed UN felt it had no choice but to create such a document, lest it be seen as out of touch. They added in enough stuff so it wouldn't be TOO hideously onerous to the actual dictators and repressive regimes which make up much of the UN (especially the 2 permanent-veto tyrannies, Russia and China). People who really care about actual freedoms, rather than paper freedoms, supported it because, well, it probably wouldn't hurt and to not support it would lead to accusations such as the one you made against me a bit ago, Anderson.

At any rate, you've done a truly lousy job at summoning evidence to support your minimalist claim that the UNHDR "helped create and popularize the concept of 'human rights'."
2.3.2009 5:33pm
whit:

Isn't the "rifht of the people peaceably to assemble," U.S. Const. Amendment 1, the same as the right to free association?



the right to free association in the US was eliminated by the VAWA.

routinely, judges now issue no contact orders, often (if not usually) against "victim's" wishes.

iow, an arrest is made on PC, and the judge issues the order automatically when they release the defendant.

you have a person who has not been convicted of anything and a "victim" who often wants to associate (ie hang out with/live with) with that person being denied that right.

husbands unable to see or even phone their wives based on a mere PC standard of a crime, and with no desire from the other party for this "protection".
2.3.2009 5:48pm
PlugInMonster:
UDHR does not bring an end to human suffering at the hands of other humans. However, the libs have used UDHR has a weapon against Bush admin officials.
2.3.2009 5:57pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

However, the libs have used UDHR has a weapon against Bush admin officials.


In that respect, it is rather like when New York City made an example out of Bernie Goetz--instead of the thugs who tried to rob him, and went on to bigger and better crimes while out on bail (like sodomizing a woman who was very pregnant). Goetz definitely broke the gun control law, and arguably, used excessive force against one of the thugs. But those were the days when NYC was far more concerned about people like Bernie Goetz than the thugs that made the place into a living hell.
2.3.2009 6:30pm
MarkField (mail):

However, saying "since Eleanor Roosevelt wrote it" is not going to endear you to very many on this side of the Atlantic.


According to this poll, ER is one of the most admired Americans of the 20th C.
2.3.2009 6:50pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
I think Liberty does inhere (to some degree) in human nature. However, if you look at history, you don't necessarily see such a truth as "self evident." It had to be "discovered."

The Bible for instance seems utterly unconcerned with human political liberty and only concerned with spiritual liberty (freedom from sin or sin's consequences, however you want to put it).

St. Paul told believers in Romans 13 to submit to any government, no matter how tyrannical, because all governments were "ordained" by God. From his perspective, as along as you have your salvation, what difference does it matter if you are a chattel slave.
2.3.2009 7:00pm
Michael B (mail):
Jon Rowe,

You're reifying Paul's theological/ecclesial concerns during the 1st century C.E. into the political arena regardless of time.
2.3.2009 7:10pm
Michael B (mail):
Not only has the Left used the vainglorious UDHR as a partisan weapon/justification, they have also used it very selectively even when it comes to particularly grievous situations such as the Sudan, Zimbabwe, the Congo, Rwanda, Pol Pot's regime, etc.

With that type of ideologically induced selectivity and myopia in mind - together with the historical/empirical record - it should be prima facie apparent that the UDHR has permitted a fig leaf of moralizing pretense, while simultaneously permitting genocides to proceed apace, then leveraging it for partisan/ideological purposes as well. Hence J. Moore's note concerning "cover for tyrants." Hence the actions of the UNRWA in Gaza and the West Bank. Hence, likewise, the rank duplicity of the UNHRC and UNRCR so often acting in a similarly duplicitous manner - against Israel, while serving to forward Arab and Persian Muslim agendas against Israel, against Animists, Christians and non-Arab Muslims in the Sudan, etc.

Such moralizing is reminiscent of the much maligned and stereotyped religionist: superficially and outwardly devout, while reflecting varied levels of hypocrisy in their personal/familial lives.
2.3.2009 7:18pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

You're reifying Paul's theological/ecclesial concerns during the 1st century C.E. into the political arena regardless of time.


Yes if you are a Christian who believes the Bible the infallible Word of God Romans 13 is as applicable today as it was when written.

Explaining these verses &chapters away because of "historical context" is fine with me. But there is a term for it: Cafeteria Christianity.
2.3.2009 8:14pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

But those were the days when NYC was far more concerned about people like Bernie Goetz than the thugs that made the place into a living hell.


I think the reason why NYC sympathized was because crimes rates got out of control. America as a country got tougher on violent crime and Rudy Guliani esp. got tougher in NYC and crime rates when down. If crime rates creep back up to 1970s level (which, if the economy gets bad enough, they probably will) look for a new sympathy for Goetz, Dirty Harry or Paul Kersey like characters. And if Hollywood wants to cash in on that sympathy, hello remake of the Dirty Harry and Death Wish series. Stallone has noted he wants to remake Death Wish, although I think Harvey Keitel would make the perfect Paul Kersey. This, btw, is my favorite scene from Death Wish 3.
2.3.2009 8:29pm
cognitis:
US merchants excited sedition against the Crown's universally recognized and indisputable authority to capture merchants' rights: tariff rights, manufacturing rights, trade rights, etc; merchants sold all the other rights to stupid peasants in place of wages in order to get peasants to risk lives. Recently, Bush sold terrorism to stupid peasants in order to get peasants to cede citizens' rights and also to risk lives; US merchants accepted from Bush record large defense contracts. To comprehend Man's acts, eject the bullshit and retain only matters of force and interest.
2.3.2009 8:51pm
Sergei Zhulik (mail) (www):
It's an entirely academic question, but has anyone considered the effect of Article 29(3) in light of its probable reference to the UDHR itself? It seems a reasonable interpretation of said Article to read the Declaration into the UN "purposes and principles" given primacy--indeed, one could argue the UDHR is a weighty source of such "purposes and principles," given its (arguably undue) popularity over its 60-year history.

Perhaps this could be at least one redeemer for the embattled Article.
2.3.2009 9:58pm
John Moore (www):
Ah cognitis... trolling again
2.3.2009 9:59pm
cognitis:
Too bad you didn't read carefully. I consented with your description of UNHR as "cover for tyrants"; but all the same arguments could be used with US Declaration as well.
2.3.2009 10:30pm
Michael B (mail):
Jon Rowe, the only thing "explained away" was your own pious reduction.

What you offered, in syllogistic form:

me smart
they dumb
me right

RCS, Remedial Cafeteria Solipsism?
2.3.2009 11:43pm
Ricardo (mail):
Ilya is right that a major weakness of the Sen article is failure to look at the specifics of what the UDHR does and does not say. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution unambiguously gives any member of the press in the U.S. the right to reprint the Mohammed cartoons without any civil or criminal penalties.

Under Sen's own framework for thinking about rights, this ought to be an important right given how some radical Muslims sought to violate the human rights of others through threats and intimidation and given the media's role in examining these threats to human rights. The UDHR contains a plausible escape hatch for a government that wants to ban reprinting the Mohammed cartoons on the grounds of public safety or public order, though.

Sen also really stretches in saying that it is OK to enumerate rights that can't be implemented in reality since rights should be seen as aspirations. I agree with this but would add it trivializes the right against arbitrary detention and torture to include it in the same document as one mandating a right to paid vacation. Even 60 years after the UDHR, the latter right is still irrelevant to much of the world's population as Sen would no doubt appreciate: probably a majority of the labor force in the world is not employed in the formal sector.
2.4.2009 12:24am
David Warner:
martinned,

"The problem with regime change isn't one of human rights. Human rights wise, there is no problem. The problem is one of state sovereignty, a cornerstone of the international state system ever since it was invented in 1648. And who, pray tell, is the great eternal champion of national sovereignity? (To the point of railing agains the UN and its attempts to establish an international human rights regime...)"

There are a variety of reasons one might rail against the U.N. that have nothing to do with state sovereignty, the most obvious being that the United Nations is nothing of the sort. It's the United Representatives of Democracies hanging out with the appointed delegates of dictators.

A one-man one-vote world body would be a different question entirely, but I think the main problem with your formulation is the change that took place between 1648 and 1776, as sovereignty itself was transformed from something enjoyed by the head of state (L'etat c'est Moi) to something exercised by the people themselves, at times in concert, at times on a personal level (the Anglo-American contribution over the French, which conceived of a monolithic sovereignty merely transferred from Crown to People).
2.4.2009 12:28am
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
Whit,
Please on the VAWA whining. At least in California, if the victim shows up and requests the Court release the order, it happens.
2.4.2009 12:55am
Perseus (mail):
While noting that I retracted one statement from that comment, I am actually curious as to what you mean. What is so unique about the US DoI?

It wasn't unique for very long with the French Declaration of the Rights of Man following soon thereafter, but the American Declaration was the first to boldly proclaim universal natural rights (i.e. all men are endowed with certain unalienable rights) unlike its predecessors such as the Magna Charta or the Act of Abjugation, which claim rights for people in a particular regime. I'd also say that the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights, by virtue of its Kantian gloss on rights (esp. the emphasis on human "dignity") and assertion of positive rights, is a different animal from the American Declaration.
2.4.2009 1:54am
Math_Mage (mail) (www):
martinned:
Really? That's the first I've heard of it. If you have a cite, I'll retract my claim.


Rhetoric and Philosophy

"...when [Jefferson's] words appeared unexpectedly from the mouths of demonstrators about to be mown down in Tiananmen Square in 1989, what should we say has bridged that great chasm of time, space, and culture between colonial America and communist China?"

And again, though secondhand:
The American Revolution

And again:
http://www.lewrockwell.com/shaffer/ebook/23.html

and again:
http://tsquare.tv/themes/TatTcover.html
2.4.2009 2:59am
Math_Mage (mail) (www):
Anderson:
Pat, I don't think the Declaration was meant to do what your examples imply. Rather, it's bad press for a country to be in evident disregard of the Declaration.

Bad press has its limits, but even countries like China are sensitive about it, and there's nothing comparable to the Declaration to put such countries on the hot spot, since everyone's ratified it.


It's bad press for a country to be in evident disregard of human rights. The Declaration didn't change that, it merely helped codify it so that complainers can point to article n and say country x is violating it, and therefore violating human rights. What's the big difference between "China is violating its citizens' freedom of speech!" and "China is violating article x of the UHDR by restricting speech!"? A short-term benefit at best, and accompanied by the harm of codifying loopholes for countries that want to avoid bad press.
2.4.2009 3:15am
Anderson (mail):
<i>A short-term benefit at best, and accompanied by the harm of codifying loopholes for countries that want to avoid bad press.</i>

Well, absent a global police force, whatcha gonna do?
2.4.2009 6:58am
Andy Freeman (mail):
> The UDHR isn't, except on the margin, going to cause bad governments to respect human rights. But hopefully it provides an example that will change the structure of societies so their governments have no choice but to be more respectful of human rights. So hopefully the UDHR is better at changing these norms and protecting human rights by nonlegislative means than Professor Somin gives it credit for.

Doesn't the appropriate amount of credit depend on how much those hopes have been realized?

We're still waiting for examples where they have.
2.4.2009 9:51am
Andy Freeman (mail):
> For a variety of reasons, the countries of Europe have grown weary of war, while the US has not (yet). Feel free, have at it, knock yourselves out. Just try to at least obey international law while you do it. That can't be too much to ask.

Why should the US obey "international law"?

Obeying it doesn't get us any benefits and disobeying it doesn't cost us anything.

That's especially true if we use the "curious" definition of "IL" promoted by Euros. (In some cases, obeying that "IL" costs us and disobeying benefits us.)
2.4.2009 9:57am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
We're weary of war, too. It's just that we understand that there are things worse than war. We understand that wishing for everybody to like us won't make it happen. We understand that ignoring a problem won't make it go away. We understand that there are people in the world who DESPISE our culture and our way of life, who want to force us to adopt THEIR ways (ways which are exceedingly backward and barbaric). We understand that if we are to remain free from such barbarity, we must in fact fight on occasion, when we have no other real options. We understand that appeasement, capitulation to demands made under threat of violence, will only bring about more violence and more incivility in the future.

We're tired of war, alright. But we're not yet tired of standing up for our own way of life.
2.4.2009 10:33am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Michael B,

Whatever dude.
2.4.2009 11:29am
whit:

Whit,
Please on the VAWA whining. At least in California, if the victim shows up and requests the Court release the order, it happens.


i don't work in california. maybe it's more "enlightened"

i can tell you in the last two jurisdictions i have worked

1) in many cases judges will issue an order AGAINST the wishes of the alleged victim, even if the victim pleads for the order not to be put in place.

2) in other cases, where "victims" are indigent and can't get a lawyer (there is no right to a lawyer for "victims" petitioning to get a no-contact order lifted), they find it difficult if not impossible to get the order lifted.

i have seen umpteen examples of both examples happen here.

the point is that big brother thinks they have the authority to tell people "you can't hang around with person X because there is an allegation they committed a domestic violence offense against you. "

if that doesn't eliminate the right to free association, between a frigging husband and wife for pete's sake, what does?
2.4.2009 2:01pm
Callimachus (mail) (www):
The American Founders don't deserve the traducing they've taken here, especially in comparison to the U.N. Founders.

The Americans knew they had a deadly flaw in the heart of their system. They knew they had an institution that touched all of them personally and was an enemy to their national goals and personal ideals.

They saw no way out of it. Simply declaring all slaves free in 1787 would have been a bloody, costly quagmire for everyone. Nonetheless, many of the Founders managed to inch the country toward an end of slavery, and to do relatively well by their own slaves.

The worst you can say of them is they punted the problem to the future. And hoped they had set up a country where slavery would whither. There was good reason to hope that in those years, before the cotton gin.

Does any of that sound like Stalin's henchmen or the Saudi ruling family?
2.4.2009 7:26pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
Human rights, sure, as long as the U.N. doesn't have to do anything to protect or ensure then and as long as there is no human right to be critical of Islam and the prophet Mohammed.
2.4.2009 7:44pm
Math_Mage (mail) (www):
Anderson:
Well, absent a global police force, whatcha gonna do?


We're not discussing how the UDHR could be stronger, we're discussing whether it was strong to begin with. As you point out, the benefit is invariably going to be small because there's no enforcement (and because, as I pointed out, the concept of human rights was present prior to the UDHR).
2.4.2009 8:28pm
wfjag:
Clayton E. Cramer wrote:

There was certainly no strong argument for backing France against Ho Chi Minh. We didn't need French help after World War I--quite the opposite. Truman's advisors may have thought that Ho Chi Minh was in category 2, and decided to back the French for that reason.

It's been along time since I read F. Fitzgerald's Fire In The Lake, but as I recall, it answers your questions about how the US ended up supporting France in IndoChina, and eventually supporting Diem in South Vietnam against Ho and the Viet Minn.

FDR didn't want Truman as his VP, and Truman was essentially not authorized access to anything. FDR dropped dead (unexpectedly to himself, but not unexpectedly for anyone else) and Truman suddenly found himself Pres. At the end of WWII, Churchill was strongly supporting France's, and other European colonial powers, efforts to re-assert their colonial power over their (former) colonies, because the UK wanted to do the same. This would not be possible in the US opposed that. To greatly simplify what occurred, French and Brit. representatives came to Truman and said "Aren't we allies?" (got a "Yes" response) and "Don't we need to help each other stabilize the world?" (another "Yes") and "Don't we need to contain those Russians and other Commie dictator-types?" (again a "Yes" -- this being after Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech -- it being no accident that that speech was given in Truman's home state of Missouri). So, the French went back into Indochina, and then asked the US for help, and got it.

Truman was a fast learner, and by about 1949 had figured out he'd been snookered into helping European nations re-establish their imperial power and colonies, and started withdrawing US support. As you seem to have notice, European elites are excellent with saying high sounding phrases -- but, it's always best to keep in mind when listening to them that sometimes words have two meanings.

However, then, China "fell" to Mao, and in 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. Pretty quick "Who lost China?" was the political-rhetorical question being asked in the US.

Eisenhower became Pres. in 1953, and tried to, as gracefully and quietly as possible, get the US uninvolved in Indochina. Having been Supreme Allied Commander and dealt with European elites on a daily basis, he was better able to judge what the high sounding phrases really meant. By 1956, the US had largely withdrawn its support for continued French presence there. The US refused French requests for military assistance to save its isolated garrison (which fell). There was a UN sponsored peace conference, in which Vietnam was divided into North and South -- with unification elections to be held within 2 years. As a fig-leaf for the French, a Catholic Vietnamese named Diem was appointed head of the South Vietnamese "government." No one expected him to be anything other than a figurehead-caretaker. Ho, however, got greedy and expelled over 500,000 Viet. Catholics from the North (and killed a bunch more) who came south as refugees. A US Army Colonel named Tom Dewey showed up in Saigon and took it upon himself to organize Diem's government to fight the Viet Minn, and the refugees (many of whom were vets of fighting the Japanese) gave him the beginning of a force to fight the Viet Minn. Dewey was an amazing organizer and leader.

Vietnam didn't get a lot of attention in the US until, due to rhetoric by Presidential candidate JFK -- who was anxious to show that his kind of Democrat didn't lose China -- containing the spread of Communism and preventing the fall of countries in SE Asia to Communists "like dominos" became the talking point. JFK, as Pres., formally recognized the Special Forces as a separate Army organization and went looking for something for them to do. (And, after the Berlin Wall being built, and the Bay of Pigs, both happening on his watch, JFK needed someplace to prove he was tough.). Meanwhile, the CIA sponsored a coup that overthrew Diem (and in which Diem was killed) and replaced him with So. Viet. Generals who were more acceptable to the US. So, by the time JFK was murdered, the US was deeply involved in Vietnam (again). However, there is little evidence that the US had a strategy.

Meanwhile, JFK had cut LBJ out of the loop even more than FDR had cut out Truman. LBJ, relying on advisors who'd been picked by JFK and knowing little to nothing about foreign affairs, followed the advice of the Best and the Brightest on handling Vietnam.

So, how did the US end up supporting the French return to Indochina after WWII? It appears to have been a classic case of "Sh*t Happens." A lot that followed also appears that way.
2.4.2009 9:36pm
David Warner:
There was a time in Europe long ago

Where no man died for freedom anywhere,
But England's lion leaping from its lair

Laid hands on the oppressor! it was so
While England could a great Republic show.

Witness the men of Piedmont, chiefest care
Of Cromwell, when with impotent despair

The Pontiff in his painted portico
Trembled before our stern ambassadors.

How comes it then that from such high estate
We have thus fallen save that Luxury

With barren merchandise piles up at the gate
Where noble thoughts and noble deeds should enter by:

Else might we still be Milton's heritors.

- Oscar Wilde, Quantum Mutata
2.5.2009 5:51am