Human Rights: moral authority or relativity?

The objections to the present tone of the discourse of human rights seem to be framed around the suspicion that Western civilization is seeking to assert itself as the moral authority and beneficiary, as well as the aversion to the idea that such categorical righteousness exists. By extension, I believe the thinking of those who are bothered by this exchange of ideas–that categories originating in so-called developed countries would be favourably presented to so-called developing countries–is heavily influenced by a brand of moral relativism.

Religious groups and non-governmental organizations from the West may be at the centre of the debate over the universal morality of human rights, with the moral thinkers on the periphery offering criticisms but not solutions. However, this dispute also often involves governments pitted against each other and against multi-national coalitions. A recent situation that comes to mind first is the deadlocked presidential election in Zimbabwe. At the first suggestion that the U.S. or the United Nations might intervene, influential individuals and nations in the African continent warned that the power struggle was an African problem and needed an African solution. True leadership would entail declaring unity to be the central aim and interest of the region, and welcoming all who wish to consult and act on the means to achieve that end.

First, we must overcome our aversions to and suspicions of every promotion of human rights issues; that all is hopelessly tainted by both the ideology of individualism and ulterior motives of the proponents of Western policies. Such mainstream criticisms about the moral failures of globalization–of course, there is more truth to some than others-have not yet, on the most part, offered a viable solution to the problem. By only contributing destructive criticism, these “moral thinkers” are in fact preventing any learning or progress, however imperfect it may be.

Before anyone despairs that we’ve reached checkmate, there is one solution that hasn’t been tested, and that is to infuse the human rights discourse with the requisite spiritual component and the realization of the harmony between science and religion. More on that to come.


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