The United States discovered human rights two years ago or five years ago. Suddenly it’s the main object and leads to a degree of interference with the policy of other countries which, even if I sympathized with the general aim, I don’t think it’s in the least justified. People in South Africa have to deal with their own problems, and the idea that you can use external pressure to change people, who after all have built up a civilization of a kind, seems to me morally a very doubtful belief. But it’s a dominating belief in the United States now.
Human rights trouble me less than their blind acceptance. Not least because of the steadily creeping definition.
Recently I’ve been reading Thomas Pogge, who more or less takes human rights as a starting point for a moral commitment to help the poor. He says many things I find compelling (I will blog the book another time) but I was disappointed to see so much taken seemingly for granted.
Not long ago I discussed Michael Ignatieff’s take: human rights are merely useful, and that is good enough. I find this mostly persuasive. If I had to draw the veil of ignorance, not knowing what role or gender or nationality I would receive, I’d be much relieved by a world with human rights.
This is still a fairly weak basis for a global system of morality and justice (and not, I venture, the reasoning for many rights activists). I also do not have a good answer for my libertarian friends (and the little libertarian influence inside me). This philosophical neophyte welcomes recommended reading.