"Neither nature, experience, nor probability informs these lists of 'entitlements', which are subject to no constraints except those of the mind and appetite of their authors." -- Jeane Kirkpatrick talking about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she termed "a letter to Santa Claus."
Chris-in-a-rush sends me this (above) in an email this morning. To me, it really touches upon a point that I find interesting and worth considering. And that is while Kirkpatrick is positing that the UN's declaration is based solely on the particular philosophical perspectives of those persons who formulated the declaration, it remains dubious whether she realizes that the same, in fact, holds for her own perspective. Really, this is to ask the question why (or under what authority) the right to gather or the right of free speech is in any way more fundamental or inalienable than say the right for clean water and nutritious food-- or universal healthcare? And, more, is there really such a thing as natural rights- and if so, under what authority?
It always comes back to the same example, but Kirkpatrick was a famous petitioner against authoratarianism. But how does one respond when the world's largest democracy is so mired in corruption that an unforgivable percentage of its population lives in abject poverty. Is the right to vote in fact somehow more desirable-- or more a moral imperative-- than the right to food?
The Europeans seem to consider all of the above essential human rights. Other regions , however, focus on certain rights over others. And, this is a significant point that both Daniel Bell and Parag Khanna have been working to address (and again, Khanna in particular I think does a great job here).
And, it's true that I can no longer abide by utilitarians.
More to the point, perhaps, is that I suppose personally I just don't have real libertarian tendancies. So, in that way, when I think about the issue of Three Generations of Human Rights, I tend to categorically value all of them-- but especially the 2nd generation ones.
My new friend Phil rightly says that in the EU one does not have to lose social welfare rights to gain individual liberty ones-- and I too think this is the ideal. Japan, as well, I think does a very good job at simultaneously safeguarding many of the 1st and 2nd generation rights. However, reading Bell's book (which is translated into japanese under the title, Asian Values & Liberal Democracy-- A Dialogue between East and West) I have felt so far that his ideas about both Confucianism and Communitarianism could also be appropriately applied to japan.
This is from a comment I left for Phil:
Concerning East Asian communitarianism, I do agree with Bell that in japan it is the focus-- both legally and culturally-- that issues which benefit the greater number of people will take precedent over the protection of individual rights. So, that in Japan, economic and social rights are prioritized over political/personal liberty rights for example. People argue that because Japan is a basically racially homogeneous society that things are just less complicated (that is they don't face the same challenges as a multi-ethnic pluralistic society). Maybe, but this ignores the point that society is set up very differently in Japan as compared to the US (and I am only comparing to the US right now).
Japan has outstanding universal medical care. Education is
egalitarian (budgets not decided by property taxes etc. all public schools have similar conditions), there are all kinds of economic protections for families, home owners, etc. Of course, it is not perfect, and compared to certain parts of the EU there are real lagging areas, at the same time, I would say these kinds of communal welfare issues are prioritized over and above individual legalistic protections (disrimination)
Here in LA, I am in a neighborhood )with pretty stringent community codes that keeps people from annoying each other (no painting your house blue or hanging out your laundry)... in Japan, there is no real legal recourse for issues at the commnuity level. We belong to neighborhood associations (and children's associations, and wife's associations ) to get things done. So, that things are done by consensus at this community level. Divorce too is much different in Japan (much more use of mediation using "community elders" before a divorce is even granted if both sides are not in agreement).. the list could go on and on.
On the other hand, there are gray areas with regard to censorship and things like wire tapping/listening in on phone calls, rights if you are arrested... all kinds of personal liberty issues in Japan are what I would call as gray. Media and business are much tighter with government-- which is run in a rather paternalistic fashion. This year the director of Shall we dance has a new film out about individual liberty issues for those accused of a crime. And this does not in any way mean that japanese people do not care about these political or personal liberty issues. Not at all. Just that the stress is placed more strongly on issues of communal welfare.
So to respond to Alan Baumler's question of what I am enjoying about the book, I would say that it is Bell's overall commitment to pushing back the boundaries of "western academic and cultural presumptions." I wrote about this at length here, particularly my interest with regard to linking this to the work of a professor whose work I translate in the field of aesthetics. Related to this is the question of social welfare as a human right-- which Bell brings up. I guess I am less interested in the Asian values versus liberal democracy debate as I am in Bell's overall philosophical project.
With regard to Bell's presentation of Asia in generalized terms. I understand your point, Alan. I cannot agree, however, as I am still in his China section so everything I have read till now has been confined to China. And again, I do not see describing China as Confucian as any more problematic than defining US society as being informed by Enlightenement philosophy and Protestantism (city on a hill). Having said this, though, I would be interested in learning Bell's stance on Charter 08.
I can imagine what he would say, but I don't really know.
This book remains about means not ends (but I say that being only part-way through the book!)
Painting at top by another favorite Vietnamese painter, Le Thiet Cuong.