Tuesday, March 22, 2011
MARCH ISSUE: STRENGTH THROUGH DIFFERENCE THE MALLEABILITY OF HUMAN RIGHTS, EXERT OF AN ESSAY BY BEN CRAVEN
Are human rights a fiction of modern, western liberal democracies that bring us no closer to a shared ethical framework?
Human rights, especially human rights abuses, are often talked about in western media. The term itself can mean different things to different people. This essay will seek to argue that human rights are a fiction of modern, western liberal democracies and that it is in our best interests to not come to a shared ethical framework, even if this were possible. It will also prove that human rights are detrimental to cultural diversity and that their foundations are deeply infused with Christian undertones, making them unappealing, imperialistic and alien to many peoples and cultures. This essay will first cover and critique the Liberal doctrine of John Locke, then assess the significance Christianity has played on the emergence and evolution of human rights. The latter part of this essay will assess contemporary and historical issues to enforce the thesis statement, from diverse areas such as; the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, US foreign policy in regards to the Armenian Genocide and the evolution of Buddhism and eventual emergence of Zen Buddhism in China.
John Locke is credited with being one of the founding fathers of Liberalism, through this he was also an instrumental character in the formation of human rights and the fiction thereof. An avid admirer of Euclid and his axioms, Locke attempted to establish his own in regards to political philosophy, coming to the self-evident axiom “Where there is no property, there is no injustice”. Locke believed that injustices stemmed from individuals in the State of Nature and in subsequent political communities encroaching on another’s property rights. For him, a right to property, along with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were to be seen as being intrinsic, inalienable rights of every individual. Locke’s emphasis on the rights of the individual was instrumental in founding the modern fiction of western human rights. However, Locke’s philosophy was drastically influenced by the current political and social climate at the time. During the time that Locke wrote his works of political philosophy, there was a mass emigration of people out of Europe heading towards the New World. Critics of Locke argue that his philosophy of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness extended only to men of European extraction and that Locke would not have dreamed of the same liberties being given to women and blacks. Furthermore, it is argued that Locke believed that his theory of property rights extended to include slaves held in bondage. Locke, therefore, though traditionally held to be a revolutionary force against the monarchs of the Old World, could be viewed as leading a populist movement – his target audience being comprised of industrious white men with high ambitions of becoming successful upon making it to the New World. Such a claim is not without merit, as Locke, amongst other theorists can be linked to the intellectual background to the United States Declaration of Independence.