The term “human rights” is central in the rhetoric and overall worldview promoted in the United States and Western Europe. The idea is that certain individual liberties are endowed to each person, and societies that do not respect such liberties are immoral. The idea goes on that it is the moral imperative duty of everyone to spread expand access to these liberties to as many people as possible across the planet and to pile moral condemnation on the forces that would deny such liberties to people.
Every society is expected to have the same level of free speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of press as is experienced currently in the United States.
The rights of the individual are deemed to be sacred, and expansion of those rights and the rolling back of restrictions and obligations on individuals by the collective, is deemed to be the tide of historical progress. If a society does not have such freedoms, it is immoral, a “bad country.” If a society does have such freedoms, it is moral, a “good country.”
Hypocrisy in “Spreading Freedom”
This worldview is extremely shallow and ahistorical. It lacks any level of understanding of how human society has developed and what factors have contributed to its various forms throughout history.
But even following their own logic, the United States is guilty of extreme hypocrisy. The US arms and coddles the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a society where people can receive the death penalty for “insulting the king” or “sorcery.” On March 12th, the Saudi autocracy ruled by an absolute monarchy, set a record of 81 beheadings in a single day.
The National Security Law of South Korea is an extreme violation of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of the press etc. The law makes it a serious crime to say anything vaguely defined as against the country’s foreign policy interests or sympathetic to the government in the northern half of the peninsula. Under this law Park Jung-geun received a suspended jail sentence simply for retweeting a North Korean official in 2012.
In 2009, the United States backed the military in toppling the elected President of Honduras. Following the Honduran coup, the US armed and financially backed the free market regime in Central America as it disappeared journalists, LGBT activists, and other dissidents, often in situations where the police, the military and drug cartels worked hand in hand to remove those critical of the status quo.
The list of human rights violating governments that the United States is friendly and financially involved with is not small. The deceptiveness of claiming US foreign policy and who Washington chooses as friends and enemies as being based on “human rights” is quite obvious.
Human rights violations or alleged and unproven claims of human rights violations by rivals of Washington’s geopolitical power are widely promoted in the media. The crimes of Washington’s allies are downplayed and ignored.
US wars and interventions are often justified by US leaders in the name of human rights, often when they involve the United States arming and assisting human rights violating entities. The USA justified its efforts to topple the Syrian government alleging that it violated human rights, all while the USA armed Wahabbi religious fanatics who beheaded, tortured, and otherwise terrorized people on the basis of their religion and ethnicity, and sought to overthrow the secular Syrian Arab Republic and create an autocratic religious government. The USA currently condemns Russia for alleged human rights violations while arming the fanatics of the Azov Battalion in Ukraine who are conducting torture, summary executions, and shelling of civilian areas.
A Shallow Ahistorical View
However, beyond the hypocrisy of US leaders’ rhetoric is an even deeper misunderstanding. No one on the planet spoke “life, liberty and property” or “the rights of man” until the 1400s in Europe. Is this because human beings were simply evil until this point? They were not enlightened about the “natural rights” all humans are endowed with by birth?
Of course not. The emergence of civil liberties and freedoms in society was based on a particular stage of development. It was with the dawn of the capitalist mode of production and the defeat of feudalism by the emerging mercantile class that the economic basis of such liberties could be made possible. Running a feudal society on the basis of subsistence farming while allowing anyone to think, say and act as they wished would be impossible. The authoritarianism of feudal society was not based on a lack of morality, but economic necessity. More freedom emerged when a higher level of development and stability in society was reached.
Even the most advanced western countries recognize that in a state of war, civil liberties are suspended. If the United States were invaded or facing a state of domestic insurrection or civil war, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and other liberties would be restricted as the conditions would necessitate locking down.
Furthermore, the freedoms of US society have not always been what they are today. Women did not receive the right to vote until 1920. Freedom of Speech was greatly expanded by the rulings of the US Supreme Court during the 1960s when it was led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, and more recently have been somewhat subtly rolled back by anti-terrorism legislation. Native Americans were prevented from exercising their freedom of religion in a number of US states up until the 1970s.
As the conditions facing US society have changed, the nature of the rights and liberties granted to citizens have also changed. This in itself reveals that the notion that these rights are inherently sacred or God given does not match reality. Freedom in any society is rooted in the nature of the existing conditions. The “social contract” through which the existing authorities derive their power is constantly evolving and adapting. Different conditions necessitate different levels of restriction on human behavior and different levels of social control.
A Dumbed Down View of the World
For US leaders to claim, as they often do, that all societies should have the exact same kinds of freedom that the USA currently enjoys, is patently absurd to anyone familiar with the diverse conditions facing different countries across the planet. To expect countries with different levels of development, different levels of instability, different threats to have the same freedoms as the United States is ridiculous.
It is certainly disturbing that this kind of elementary school level of thinking “good countries versus bad countries” “free world versus the slave world” is pervasive in Washington DC. However, the naiveté of such thinking can explain many of the short-sided decisions the US government has made in recent years.
The philosopher Leo Strauss, who was highly influential on many among the American political elite, considered an ideological father of Neoconservatism, argued that such simplistic understandings were necessary for average Americans. His book “Persecution and the Art of Writing” presents intellectuals and philosophers as always facing pressure and threats from the inferior masses, and having to publish their work in a coded manner. Strauss argued that in order to keep average Americans from assembling some kind of totalitarian movement to threaten the freedom of intellectuals, it was necessary for the intellectual class to water down politics for them. A simplistic black and white view of the world was needed for the broad masses, while the nuances of the more complex geopolitical reality could be left to the politicized elite.
However, decades after the death of Leo Strauss, it appears this practice of dumbing down discourse has resulted in a level of self-delusion among the American establishment. The simplistic “good countries versus bad countries” rhetoric, originally established as a way of dumbing down global politics for average Americans, appears to be believed by many of the people making foreign policy decisions. The work of influential foreign policy thinkers like Anne Marie-Slaughter who worked in the Hillary Clinton State Department of the Obama administration during the 2011 Arab Spring protests, is littered with these kinds of simplistic ahistorical assumptions.
With a dumbed down view of the world, seeing civil liberties as existing in a vacuum and the geopolitical stage as a mere battle to “defend freedom” from “autocrats and tyrants” the USA is deteriorating internally. The ability of US leaders to accurately assess the impact of their decisions is fading. The ultimate results could be quite negative for the west and its much-celebrated ideology of “freedom.”
Caleb Maupin is a widely acclaimed speaker, writer, journalist, and political analyst. He has traveled extensively in the Middle East and in Latin America. He was involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement from its early planning stages, and has been involved many struggles for social justice. He is an outspoken advocate of international friendship and cooperation, as well as 21st Century Socialism. He doesn’t shy away from the word “Communism” when explaining his political views, and advocates that the USA move toward some form of “socialism with American characteristics” rooted in the democratic and egalitarian traditions often found in American history. He argues that the present crisis can only be abetted with an “American Rebirth” in which the radicalism and community-centered values of the country are re-established and strengthened.