Human Rights Through The Looking Glass

Sunday, August 3, AD 2014

United Nations Human Rights

 

The UN is an increasingly Orwellian organization.  One of many, many examples is their outgoing High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay of South Africa.  Austin Ruse gives us her background:

 

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to name abortion advocate Navanethem “Navi” Pillay of South Africa as the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) this week despite reservations from the United States.

According to the New York Times, the United States has privately raised concerns about Pillay’s nomination to the top human rights post because of her strong support for abortion. Pillay is a founding member of the international non-governmental organization Equality Now, a group that has spearheaded campaigns for abortion access in Poland and Nepal. Pillay remains on the board of the organization which receives major funding from pro-abortion foundations including George Soros’ Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundation.

Go here to read the rest.  So, being in favor of snuffing out unborn kids is now a “human right”.  George Orwell was not so much a writer as a prophet.  As the chief human rights bureaucrat since 2008, Pillay has been pushing to have governments around the world criminalize the pro-life cause.  Go here to read about her efforts.  Ms. Pillay is a walking stereotype of the contemporary left in the causes which she embraces and those she opposes,  and in her firm conviction that those who oppose her agendas must be shut up by government power, so long as that power is wielded by her ideological think-a-likes.  Human rights for thee so long as thou agree with me, sums up her philosophy.

 

The attitude of Ms. Pillay in regard to the Gaza War is therefore predictable and Christopher Johnson, a non-Catholic who has taken up the cudgels so frequently for the Church that I have named him Defender of the Faith, gives a recent statement by her on the subject a fisking to remember:

Manhattan real estate is an incredibly valuable commodity. So whenever this country wakes the hell up and withdraws from the United Nations (or, at the very least, pushes through the idea of moving the world headquarters of that ridiculous institution to Geneva, Switzerland and permanently off American soil), what should be done with the Rockefeller family’s former Turtle Bay property?

The United Nations’ senior human rights official said on Thursday she believed Israel was deliberately defying international law in its military offensive in Gaza and that world powers should hold it accountable for possible war crimes.

Oh right, right, right, Hamas is bad too.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also said that Hamas militants in Gaza have also violated international humanitarian law by firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel, sometimes from densely-populated areas.

Except that we don’t really believe that.

Israel has attacked homes, schools, hospitals, and UN premises in apparent violation of the Geneva Conventions, Pillay said, a week after her Human Rights Council resolved to open a commission of inquiry into Israel’s alleged crimes against humanity.

“Therefore I would say that they appear to be defying… deliberate defiance of obligations that international law imposes on Israel,” Pillay told a news briefing. “This is why again and again I say we cannot allow impunity, we cannot allow this lack of accountability to go on.”

We all know the real criminal here.

She also criticized the United States, Israel’s main ally, for failing to use its influence with the Jewish state to halt the carnage.

“Many of my remarks have been directed to the United States since they are a party with influence over Israel to do much more to stop the killing, to bring the parties to the negotiating table. I’ve called also for an end to the blockade and an end to the occupation.”

Pillay said that she was appalled at Washington consistently voting against resolutions on Israel in the Human Rights Council, General Assembly and Security Council.

Here’s one blatantly obvious war crime for you. Israel refuses to share its self-defense technology with people who wish to exterminate it.

“They have not only provided the heavy weaponry which is now being used by Israel in Gaza but they’ve also provided almost $1 billion in providing the ‘Iron Domes’ to protect the Israelis from rocket attacks,” she said. “But no such protection has been provided to Gazans against the shelling.”

Seriously. I’m open to suggestions. Turn the UN into office space and/or a branch of the New York Public Library? Make the UN complex into an Orthodox synagogue and a particularly traditionalist Christian megachurch? Or should we just plow the place under and give it back to the Lenapes with our profuse and abject apologies.

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18 Responses to Human Rights Through The Looking Glass

  • Pope Benedict seemed to have a weird blindness in this area when he unprophetically wrote in Caritas in Veritate:
    ” 67. In the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth…. for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago.”
    If the UN had real teeth, it would put a blockade around Catholic and non Catholic countries that forbid abortion until they caved in on abortion and down the road…gay marriage.

    http://www.whichcountry.co/countries-where-abortion-is-illegal/

    This Church happy talk about international authority is dreaming by Popes that most humanitarian employees are in their occupations because they are selfless….errr no, it’s not like the priesthood… some are there because they had to pick a major in college and economics was boring as was engineering so they chose political science, history or English Lit. Many go into governmental or humanitarian institutions because security is there. If you are in capitalist occupations like say…sales for John Deere tractors and you don’t close enough sales per quarter, you get a Dear John letter from John Deere headquarters. Civil Service workers when I worked with them could arrive late everyday of the week and you couldn’t fire them if Jonny Cochrane was on your side showing that the gloves did indeed fit.

  • The Church attitude towards the UN reminds me of the Holy Roman Empire that the Church helped bring about, and then spent the next thousand years usually opposed to the emperor of the day.

  • Donald,
    Bingo.

  • B16 and JP2 seem naive to the cunning of the world. They are such good men and they hope others are too. Also comments about Islam seem naive.

  • In his 1967 encyclical, Populorum Progressio, Pope Paul VI said, “ Such international collaboration among the nations of the world certainly calls for institutions that will promote, coordinate and direct it, until a new juridical order is firmly established and fully ratified. We give willing and wholehearted support to those public organizations that have already joined in promoting the development of nations, and We ardently hope that they will enjoy ever growing authority. As We told the United Nations General Assembly in New York: “Your vocation is to bring not just some peoples but all peoples together as brothers. . . Who can fail to see the need and importance of thus gradually coming to the establishment of a world authority capable of taking effective action on the juridical and political planes?”
    No doubt, these popes believed that nothing less than such concentrated power could overcome the obstacles to the progress they desired. Those who seek the only the common good must be prepared to wound every separate and particular special interest and to defy public opinion and the feelings of the masses.
    If one believes that rulers need to be enlightened, rather than restrained, then few are more easily enlightened than many.

  • Michael PS,
    We in the US recently had a president that was getting oral sex from an intern while on the phone to a Senator and whose wife supports abortion choice and might win the next election. We have a president with similar if not worse abortion views. We have no concept of rulers, few or many, on the verge of enlightenment.

  • “Those who seek the only the common good must be prepared to wound every separate and particular special interest and to defy public opinion and the feelings of the masses.”

    I think such sentiments read better in the original German MPS.

  • It is indicative of the sheer inertia of the United States Government (with regard to any task other than distributing bon bons to Democratic Party clients) that the San Francisco treaty was not torn up long ago and that filthy organization given notice to vacate American soil. There are about three-dozen international organizations which might engage in useful co-operative ventures in specific areas of endeavour (e.g. civil aviation or postal services or international credit extension). The United Nations is not one.

  • @bill, a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth ? Personally, I’d prefer to strengthen the concept of nations of families, because I doubt the ability of governments to substitute for families. For as long as man is born of woman.
    .
    And, there is urgent need of a true world political authority ? I’m not getting the point of Popes calling for one world[ly] authority, bigger and better than ever before. Will we build a tower together? ha ha just kidding.

  • People of good will for the common good and general welfare are having their good will violated and their tax money abused by an organization that neither provides equal Justice or equal human rights.
    .
    Created equal, the individual is endowed with unalienable human and civil rights.
    Equal Justice is predicated on the principle that each and every person is endowed with and entitled to all human rights. The individual person cannot be disenfranchised or discriminated against by any law imposed ex post facto, after the fact of human rights inscribed in the Declaration of Independence. Human rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence cannot be eradicated. Unalienable human rights take precedence to any alienable, finite rights brought into existence to manipulate, infringe and disenfranchise any one human being. The newly begotten human being, as science has proven through DNA, is an individual substance of a rational nature, a Person.
    .
    The individual human being is at the core of unalienable human rights, equal Justice and the acknowledgement and provision of human rights in freedom and democracy. The group mentality, the herd, the tribe, the communist party, the nation at the United Nations, is the vehicle for denying individual human beings every unalienable human right, human rights endowed by “their Creator”.
    .
    Only an infinite God is capable of endowing unalienable human rights. Finite rights endowed by the United Nations may be altered and removed by the United Nations, as is evidenced by the prescription of illegal, immoral, unjustified dictates being imposed to circumscribe human rights and prohibit freedom, using tax money; nothing less than totalitarianism.

  • “B16 and JP2 seem naive to the cunning of the world. They are such good men and they hope others are too. Also comments about Islam seem naive.”
    .
    Peace on earth to men of good will. B16 and JP2 have no authority to submit Catholics to evildoers.

  • The enemies of the Catholic Church, who are not Catholics, use the calls of a pope for a one world government, comments in support of strengthing UN control, pro-Socialist, pro-Communist, and pro-wacko environmental policies to greatly damage the reputation of Catholics here in the US.

  • “And, there is urgent need of a true world political authority ? I’m not getting the point of Popes calling for one world[ly] authority, bigger and better than ever before.” Tamsin

    Me too. And what happened to that idea of subsidiarity that the Church has always encouraged.

  • Anzlyne asks, “And what happened to that idea of subsidiarity that the Church has always encouraged.”
    Lord Acton argued that the inclusion of different nationalities in one state is the greatest guarantee of subsidiarity and this would be especially true of am international authority.
    “Private rights, which are sacrificed to the unity, are preserved by the union of nations. No power can so efficiently resist the tendencies of centralisation, of corruption, and of absolutism, as that community which is the vastest that can be included in a State, which imposes on its members a consistent similarity of character, interest, and opinion, and which arrests the action of the sovereign by the influence of a divided patriotism… It provides against the servility which flourishes under the shadow of a single authority, by balancing interests, multiplying associations, and giving to the subject the restraint and support of a combined opinion. In the same way it promotes independence by forming definite groups of public opinion, and by affording a great source and centre of political sentiments, and of notions of duty not derived from the sovereign will. Liberty provokes diversity, and diversity preserves liberty by supplying the means of organisation. All those portions of law which govern the relations of men with each other, and regulate social life, are the varying result of national custom and the creation of private society. In these things, therefore, the several nations will differ from each other; for they themselves have produced them, and they do not owe them to the State which rules them all.”

  • The three Orwellian contradictions that defined “DoubleThink”: War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength and Freedom is Slavery . . . now add to that, courtesy of the fascist, secular humanist Left, Death is Life.

  • I understand Acton was talking about a union of sovereign nations. There is a big difference between that and the obliteration on nations under the authority of one huge system of order.
    The aforementioned San Fransisco Conf. Brought up the concern about at least regional or group interests. There was a liberal idea about parenting a few years ago that encouraged children to “color outside the lines.”
    I wNt to say this about that: Lines are important.
    Subsidiarity depends upon them.

  • Anzlyne wrote, “I understand Acton was talking about a union of sovereign nations…”

    No, he was talking of different nationalities living in one state, his examples being Austria (in those days the Dual Monarchy, with German, Italian, Magyar and Slav populations) and the United Kingdom, with its English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish components.

    “In Austria there are two circumstances which add to the difficulty of the problem, but also increase its importance. The several nationalities are at very unequal degrees of advancement, and there is no single nation which is so predominant as to overwhelm or absorb the others. These are the conditions necessary for the very highest degree of organisation which government is capable of receiving. They supply the greatest variety of intellectual resource; the perpetual incentive to progress, which is afforded not merely by competition, but by the spectacle of a more advanced people; the most abundant elements of self-government, combined with the impossibility for the State to rule all by its own will; and the fullest security for the preservation of local customs and ancient rights. In such a country as this, liberty would achieve its most glorious results, while centralisation and absolutism would be destruction.”

    As was common at the time, he uses “nation” to mean race or ethnicity, although, in practice, the criterion is language.

  • Sovereignty is self-discipline which harmonizes with Justice and Truth. Only sovereignty is sovereignty. The golden orb held by Jesus Christ, the King and another suspended from a chain around Our Lady’s neck are the symbols of the sovereign self…disciplined and accomplished. Each human being has a sovereign self.
    .
    The sovereign personhood blessed by our Creator and endowed at the infusion of the rational, immortal, human soul into the newly begotten human being at the fertilization of the human egg by the human sperm makes us human. The sovereign personhood of the individual human soul constitutes the sovereignty of the individual from the very first moment of his existence and is the compelling interest of the sovereign state to protect and provide for the newly begotten individual. The sovereign personhood of the individual human soul constitutes the sovereignty of the state, every state, every government, every sovereign nation and every sovereign monarchy.
    .
    The sovereign personhood of our Founding Fathers brought this sovereign nation to birth with The Declaration of Independence and our Constitution that are inscribed with the acknowledgment of our Creator and Endower of unalienable rights, spiritual and civil. One of these rights inscribed in the Preamble, the unchangeable purpose of our Constitution is: “to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our (constitutional) posterity”, that is, for citizens to have and to hold our constitutional posterity, all future generations.
    .
    To surrender our sovereignty as a sovereign nation and the acknowledgment of our sovereign personhood to an entity that refuses to acknowledge almighty God as the Endower and Creator of sovereignty and the sovereign person is to plunge ourselves into annihilation. Without acknowledgement of the human being, composed of body and soul, with sovereign personhood, man, the human being, is relegated to the position of beast of burden to the state, or to the government or entity that imposes this atheism on the unwilling society of sovereign persons.
    .
    This was tried and failed at Auschwitz concentration camp. There is no need to try it again, as there as sufficient photos and proof of its failure.

11 Responses to Defense of Self Against Unlawful Attack

  • Did you notice that according to that law and probably many such laws, a person cannot use force if the bad guy is escaping after stealing? Now this contradicts the ever prudent sage, Axl Rose inter alia…” you can take anything you want, but you better not take it from me.”…from the yesteryear tune, “Welcome to the Jungle”. You according to law have to watch the criminal leave with your goods….( in your fav blue athletic bag no less.) My bad. But I retrieved by force a lethal weapon that likely would have been used later in a street murder. Aquinas…”the lawgiver cannot foresee every situation”…ergo, epikeia is needed. The law literally means that a gunstore owner coming upon a thief leaving his store with 30 Taurus pistols in a sack….cannot use force to stop him despite the imminent distribution of said guns to thugs. Lawyers….help me out with this.

  • Bill, I’m pretty sure that if you run into a thief coming out of a gun store with guns, you can reasonably be expected to conclude he’s an imminent threat to life and limb.

  • Foxfier,
    I hope you are correct but if the bag were closed and like many burglars (for sentencing reasons) he carried no loaded weapon himself outside the bag, I wouldn’t bet on the outcome in court if the owner fractured the guy’s skull with a gun butt.
    On your topic of the police, there have been cases of home invaders announcing themselves as police. Awful dilemna….whether you have a gun or do not. What do you do outside Indiana? Amazon sells great adjustable door braces (knob to floor white metal pipes with rubber ends) that you place in position in a second.
    Very good for big city life.

  • If more Gentlemen and good willed citizens owned guns Criminals would think twice more often and people would not have to wait ten minutes for cops to arrive to arrest a man who left eight minutes before, The problem of Mexican drug smugglers killing ranchers in the Southwest would not happen as often because criminals get guns whether it is legal or not, your average Joe on the other hand tends to obey the law.

  • Bill whether someone is a cop or not it is still wrong for them to kill someone innocent.

  • Atleast in Newark Delaware a lot of cops act like totalitarians I know a story about a young girl who was taken to the Police station because she was looking for a balloon for her birthday with her friends in the middle of the day and the way the cop got her to go to the station was by threatening to send her parents to Jail. All because people are so freaked out about security when no one was doing any harm to them except the po po pig that took her away to the station on her birthday.

  • The common law rule was very simple and straightforward. A householder could use force against an unlawful intruder, but he acted at his peril: if the entry was authorised, then killing the officer was murder.

    Just as the entry was either lawful or unlawful, so was the killing. As far as justification went, the householder’s state of mind was immaterial. The fact that the householder believed the entry was lawful, when, in fact, it was not, would not turn him into a criminal for killing the officer. Likewise, his belief that it was unlawful, when it was not, was no defence.

    This meant that no enquiry as to his state of mind was necessary at the trial. The test was purely objective, which makes for simplicity and certainty.

  • Michael, I think you have it backwards, but you’re right– up to that court decision, the common law was perfectly fine.

  • I am not sure why a guy who you don’t know, probably doesn’t live in your neighborhood, and makes a living sending people to jail somehow is the exception to the rule of people not being allowed to barge into your house. I think neighborhood guards who are local and morally upright are more trustworthy than a lot of police officers.

  • I find it odd for police officers to be surprised when someone their putting in shackles fights back, I think something which Christ tells to Peter is “Those who live by the sword die by the sword” one of the things that means is that if you punch someone or spray mace at their eyes don’t be surprised to get a hay maker in the jaw.

Orwell Would Have Loved This

Sunday, July 11, AD 2010

The head of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights speaks out on stoning:

The hard-line chief of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, the longtime political operator and insider Mohammad-Javad Larijani, says the sentence of stoning against an impoverished mother of two accused of adultery stands, even though it is under a required review. 
In other words, 43-year-old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani could still be buried up to her neck and pelted with small rocks until she dies because she was convicted of having sex outside of marriage.

Larijani, a well-connected regime loyalist, blamed the Western media for making a big deal out of nothing.

“Our judicial system cannot change its course because of Western attack and media pressure,” he told the official Islamic Republic News Agency in a report published late Friday (in Persian). “The Western media’s attack on the Islamic Republic of Iran comes under a pretext every time, and in recent years it is the instructions of the Islamic religious law that have been the target of their attacks.”
No one’s quite sure what’s next for Ashtiani. Larijani said Ashtiani’s sentence of death by stoning had not been rescinded, contradicting a statement issued Thursday by the Islamic Republic’s embassy in London.

“Regarding this criminal, I must point out that first of all the punishment of death by stoning exists in our constitution but the esteemed judges issue this verdict on very rare occasions,” said Larijani, whose brothers include the head of the judiciary branch and the speaker of parliament. “This case has passed its long procedure, and the defendant was first sentenced to 90 lashes and then, in another court, to death by stoning. The review of this sentence in currently underway.”

Her lawyer said even if they halt the stoning, he’s worried they’ll put her to death by some other means. “We do not know which penalty will be substituted for stoning,” her lawyer told Babylon & Beyond.

He said he’s asked for her pardon four times, especially since no private individual is seeking her prosecution — just the government. “For the sake of the Islamic system and its reputation in the world, nobody should be stoned to death anymore,” said Ashtiani’s lawyer, Mohammad Mostafai. “If the judiciary branch is attaching importance to the prestige of the system in the world, then the stoning should be stopped.”

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4 Responses to Orwell Would Have Loved This

  • I hate to say this, but smaller stones will actually make it a longer and more painful thing. Better just to drop a great stone on her from a great height and have it done in one quick moment from a humanitarian view. Horrible either way. Marginally more horrible with pebbles.

  • What is happening to the man who is supposed to have been the instrument in her alleged adultery?

    Because he is male, he’s okay, but she’s an adulteress. He didn’t commit adultery, he just had sex with a woman who was not his wife.

    So he committed adultery too, but for him it is no crime.

    So the media and western -particularly leftist -governments bend the knee and kowtow to the religion of Peace – actually, Submission – and that’s what they’r doing – submitting.
    Gutless bastards!

  • Here are more details on the case Don.

    http://www.tonic.com/article/sakineh-mohammadi-ashtiani-avoids-death-by-stoning/

    Supposedly the two men involved received a whipping also, but if they received any other punishment I can find no record of it. Reading between the lines, it appears to me she was sentenced to die for adultery because evidence could not be found to convict her of complicity in her husband’s death. However, apparently in Iran no evidence is no problem if a judge really wants to get someone. “Under a rule called “judge’s knowledge,” which empowers Iranian judges to convict and sentence without evidence, Ashtiani was sentenced to death in late 2006.”

  • Terrorist sympathizers, America-is-evil saints, Obama-worshipping liberals, e.g. Jimmeh Carter, love it.

    Orwell hated barbarism and tyranny.

Social Contract and Morality

Friday, June 11, AD 2010

Kyle Cupp has a brief post describing the dehumanizing moral effects of seeing human dignity and rights as springing entirely from a social contract (implied or explicit):

This reduction occurs when we understand and act upon our moral obligations to one another only within the framework of a social contract–when we limit our obligations to those who have entered into such contracts and consider ourselves obligated only to those who share our citizenship, have signed a treaty we have signed, or participate with us in some other contractual arrangement. I make this reduction when I don’t care about torturing terrorists because they’re not signers of the Geneva Conventions, when I wish to alienate the immigrant who enters my country against my country’s laws, when I ignore my obligations to those not yet born because the laws of the land do not recognize their personhood, or when I insist that others shouldn’t be given Constitutional rights when the rights I wish to withhold from them are basic human rights.

I think that he’s right as far as he goes, but I don’t think that his point that basic human rights and duties are inherent to humanity (rather than assumed via some sort of contract/relationship) is actually the point usually at dispute in our society. Rather, what seems often to be disputed is what the extent of basic human rights are — and which “rights” are merely agreed civic rights which we grant explicitly via the social contract.

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15 Responses to Social Contract and Morality

  • Of course what are called “human rights” today are almost entirely the product of Western societies since the Sixteenth Century, much of it from Great Britain and America in origin. Much of what we call “human rights” today would have been denounced as pernicious and/or dangerous throughout most of human history by most cultures. To say that “human rights” arise simply due to inherent moral obligations that exist between people, we are confronted with the difficulty that most cultures for most of human history would vigorously disagree.

  • Thank you for the thoughtful response, Darwin. I’m pretty sure that I agree with the points you make, particularly in your last paragraph. To clarify my post, let me say that when the reduction is made, it isn’t usually (if ever) made flat out in a way that covers a person’s entire morality; it’s rather applied here and there inconsistently.

  • Donald,

    You raise a good point about the history of rights language. It is a recent invention. I tend to call rights a useful fiction, myself.

  • I do agree with what Kyle said. But, from other discussions I know that I don’t agree with how Kyle applies his generic or all inclusive definition of basic human rights to all persons of all types of backgrounds, since his definition doesn’t seem to take into consideration ( or very little consideration) certain circumstances and/or the consequences that one must face when committing a crime or an act of war. This is applicable with regards to both illegal immigrants and terrorists.

    While I do believe that enhanced interrogation techniques are justified in very extreme, life saving circumstances, I do think that the Bush administration allowed the use of them too frequently. But, then again, one needs to realize the atmosphere after 9/11, and no person wanted anything like this to ever happen again. I don’t support the three items on your list. They are in violation of basic human rights. With regards to immigration, I am all for legal immigration but am against illegal immigration. One would think that having secure borders would be a good thing, especially for our safety, but certain people deride people who advocate for secure borders and call us other vile names just because we want immigrants to follow our laws and immigrate here via the proper channels.

  • My only issue is that I don’t ever recall Morning’s Minion, whom Kyle is supposedly defending with his post, demonstrating an accurate understanding of classical social contract theory, nor providing and concrete examples of this bad sort of “contract thinking” in our society.

    There is nothing wrong with the social contract. It defines clearly the parameters of government. The alternative is arbitrary authority. We as Catholics can be proud that the resistance to absolute, arbitrary authority probably began in the Salamanca school.

  • Yes, clearly those who support enhanced interrogation do so on the basis that:

    (a.) It is not a violation of basic human rights;

    (b.) Strictures against using such techniques in the civilian criminal and civil code apply only in the civilian criminal and civil code, because they arise from the social contract;

    (c.) Strictures against using such techniques against prisoners of war also arise, not from a fundamental right, but from a contractual obligation; namely, treaty obligations regarding lawful combatants. These do not apply to persons whose status is “unlawful combatant.”

    Of course, (b.) and (c.) depend on first establishing (a.). If in fact everyone does have a basic human right, intrinsic to their dignity as a human person, not to be waterboarded, why then the presence or absence of a contract doesn’t matter a whit. Only if (a.) is true, does anyone even bother with (b.) and (c.).

    So, what about (a.)?

    To repeat, (a.) asserts that enhanced interrogation is not a violation of the basic human rights intrinsic to the dignity of human persons.

    Now it sounds absurd on the face of it to say this. Obviously we know we shouldn’t go grabbing random persons and waterboarding them, so, in obedience to this moral intuition, we conclude that it must be “a violation of their basic human rights” to do so, right? And if it’s a violation of the basic human rights of any random person, it must likewise be a violation of the basic human rights of a war criminal like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, right?

    Well, not so fast. One mustn’t go around waterboarding random persons. One mustn’t go around locking up random persons, either. Does it follow that locking up Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a violation of his basic human rights?

    Why, no. It would only be a violation if he were innocent of wrongdoing. As he is a particularly nasty terrorist and about as far from innocent as it is possible to be, it’s perfectly okay to violate his basic human right of liberty, which is intrinsic to his dignity as a human being, by locking him up.

    Actually, I said that incorrectly. It’s not okay to violate his basic human right…but locking him up is no violation, because getting locked up is a freely-chosen consequence on his part. He chose, even asked, to be treated that way just by doing what he did. If he wasn’t willing to do the time, he shouldn’t have done the war-crime.

    But that raises a problem. Why can we not likewise argue that, while of course persons in general have a right to not be waterboarded, KSM voluntarily renounced that right by choosing to orchestrate terror plots to kill thousands of innocent people. Why can we not argue that, by doing this, he “chose, even asked,” to be waterboarded?

    Is there some qualitative or categorical difference between the right to freedom from imprisonment and the right to freedom from waterboarding, such that the former right can be voluntarily renounced by evil deeds, but the latter cannot?

    So the question is this:

    Given that people voluntarily renounce certain of their rights (at minimum, their liberty and/or property) when they commit heinous crimes by committing those crimes, it is reasonable, and not a violation of their rights, to forcibly deprive them of the benefits of the rights they have renounced.

    Yet, even before we read Church teachings on the matter, we recognize that the Moral Law forbids us to treat these persons as if they had, by committing whatever evil deed, renounced all of the rights intrinsic to the human dignity. We may lock them up; so, crimes are clearly capable of constituting a rejection of one’s right to liberty. We may not hang them from a mechanized hook and lower them an inch at a time, screaming, into an industrial shredding machine; so, crimes are clearly incapable of constituting a rejection of one’s right to not be shredded alive.

    How then, can one distinguish between the two categories of rights? Which ones may be renounced by crimes of sufficient magnitude, and which may not, no matter how horrific the crime?

    The Right to Not Be Waterboarded seems, according to Church teaching and most thinking Catholic opinion, to fall in the category of rights which are never, ever renounced. Even if one were, say, to personally rape and slowly murder fifty thousand innocent children while enjoying the whole process, one would have, by doing so, renounced one’s rights to both life and liberty, but not one’s right to avoid waterboarding.

    Why so?

    I am perfectly content agreeing that there is a line to be drawn; I am perfectly content saying that that is where the line is drawn; but I am confused about whether it was drawn there arbitrarily and could have been placed elsewhere, or if it was drawn there according to some unalterable moral principle which, when understood, allows us to see that the line could only ever be drawn in that way.

    Does anyone want to propose a principle which explains the positioning of the line? Or is it arbitrary, after all?

  • Joe,

    I agree that there is nothing wrong with the social contract per se. My concern is with the social contract used as a metaphorical framework for moral thought and action. I’m critical of thinking of moral obligations too much in terms of a social contract, moral thought that relies too heavily on the metaphor, that at times fails to account for obligations that exist beyond its boundaries. When someone denies another a basic human right because that other is not a “signer” of the social contract, he has treated a personal moral obligation as if it were an obligation under a social contract.

  • And as others have pointed out, we have to distinguish between civil and “basic human rights.” Who decides what a basic human right is?

    For instance, I believe an illegal immigrant has a basic human right to have their immediate needs met – if they are hungry, feed them, if they are naked, clothe them, if they are sick, care for them, contract or no contract. That is the basic Christian obligation.

    But when it comes to say, access to social services such as medical care beyond the emergency level, or education, or food stamps, etc. – then the public authorities, whose charge is to maintain the common good, have every right to regulate and restrict who has access to these services on the basis of what is fiscally and socially sustainable.

    This used to be understood in Catholic social thought. Now I’m not so sure it is. Now “common good” has come to mean services and spending without limit, in the name of satisfying “basic human rights.” That is to say, more and more things are falling under the umbrella of “basic human rights”, all of which the state is obliged to tax and pay for.

    But unsustainable policies cannot benefit the common good. If society collapses under the weight of entitlements, benefits, and a greatly expanded understanding of “basic human rights”, then I would say a much greater moral harm is done a great many more people. Some may call that “consequentialism”, but I don’t think it is an intrinsic evil for states to set boundaries and limits in order to ensure basic functionality.

  • Who decides what a basic human right is?

    Spoken like a good anti-Christian nihilist!

  • I wasn’t going to allow or respond to this childish nonsense, but for the sake of clarity I will indulge:

    My intention was not to say that it is impossible to decide what a basic human right is, but that in politics, there are many competing claims that demand recognition.

    I am neither anti-Christian nor a “nihilist” (another one of the pet words). I will rephrase the question: who decides which claims to basic human rights are endorsed by the state? Why is it that many more things are considered “basic human rights” than were 100 years ago? I don’t say that there are no basic human rights, but that in the current political climate, the concept continues to expand without limit, without regard for realistic limitations, and in doing so, putting ALL human rights in jeopardy.

  • Joe, don’t let Karlson get under your skin. That’s just how he reacts when he can’t control the discussion and drop the comments that he doesn’t see as advancing his pet agenda. He becomes unhinged and resorts to desperate ad hominems. It’s his tell – like when someone who doesn’t have any good cards tries to bluff his way through a poker hand but doesn’t realize that when he does his unconscious “rub-his-nose-with-his-index-finger-and smile” routine he is telegraphing the fact that he’s got nothing to every skilled player at the table. Pity him.

  • Yeah, sorry, Joe. I didn’t see Henry’s comment while it was still sitting in moderation, or I probably would have just deleted it as the non-comment it is.

    Pity is probably the right move here.

  • Eh. Maybe I should have let you, but it’s good to clear the air. People should see what we’re dealing with too.

  • My understanding, with regard to whether a terrorist or criminal forfeits the right not to be tortured, lies in the distinction between torture and other types of violence. War is inherently violent, and if it is unjust it is a travesty, but if it is just it is permitted (notice I don’t say noble, however, though personal acts of courage that are genuinely noble certainly occur even in unjust wars). Torture is not merely violence, but violence ordered toward a particular end: getting information out of the subject. So, where punishment or defense merits “violation” of the right an aggressor forfeits, the same may not be true of merely getting information from them by force that damages the body or the mind. (That’s my definition of torture in concrete terms, also.) I would suggest that while punishment is oriented directly toward dealing with the action it punishes and defense likewise, torture is on the other hand oriented directly toward information and therefore not, in the moral order, an immediate necessity and justified response to forfeiture of rights (which is a very limited forfeiture even where it does occur, by the way; it’s almost as if the criminal forces his rights out of the picture, although I do not mean by that a necessity argument which is a nicer way of saying a utilitarian argument). I would further argue that we have historically viewed torture as wrong regardless of any contract — things such as the Geneva Convention were put together largely after and in response to the great war crimes of the twentieth century that we prosecuted anyway (waterboarding by the Axis forces in WW2, for example). Finally, I would note that the Church appears (I say appears because the Catechism has been unclear in the past, inasmuch as stating as if it were required what is still technically only pious opinion is technically unclear) to teach that torture, that violence ordered toward extraction of information rather than either punishment or direct defense, is intrinsically evil.

    Thus, while I’m not totally closed to being corrected if I’m mistaken as to any of those moral standpoints, those are the well developed points that would need to be addressed to even begin suggesting torture is permissible on those who forfeit the bulk of their rights.

    Also, if one does argue that torture is permissible on war criminals because they’ve forfeited rights, one has to demonstrate the forfeiture of rights before one can act on it — and in terms of law, that generally means convict the war criminal first and interrogate after — which entirely robs the “necessity” argument of any urgency factor, the way it takes time to convict. One could argue also that an active combatant proves his status by that action, as these are whom one may shoot in a war without any trial or other formal process; however, one may not generally shoot an enemy who is captured and deprived of ability to combat because you’ve removed them from the very situation of immediate combat that both allows and necessitates said immediate judgement, so it’d be questionable whether such a parallel would even make torture of captured foes legitimate or rather prove it illegitimate.

  • I should also note regarding my definition of torture that damage need not be permanent. Also, I’m not sure I shouldn’t include direct infliction of pain in there, but one could argue pain as passing mental damage (since it impairs one’s immediate ability to think clearly)… but it’s the direct infliction, not the result of damage, that makes the difference — not that the classical notion of the direct object of an act means anything to the vast majority even of Catholics today, who would probably fail to realize that that _is_ drawing the line between mere discomfort (which is different from pain in kind, not just degree) or poor living conditions or anything like that and actual inflicting of pain. Let’s see, anything else… Risk. I’d probably count anything that risks such things just as sure as anything that obviously does it, simply because morality doesn’t play loose with possibilities and doubts (even where it acknowledges the _subjective_ effects of doubt, which, mind, can worsen the moral content if one is guilty of allowing the doubt to stay and especially to stay in a thing one knows one will act in).

    There’s a lot of temptation these days to call definitions unclear because we can equivocate around them, as if a clear definition would be immune to equivocation — and yet actually, that’s in the definition of equivocation: when something’s not clear in the first place, there isn’t a good meaning #1 for which to misconstrue with meaning #2, now is there? So anyway… yeah, I felt the need to try to add further qualification. Not sure I succeeded.

    And of course, one can also say all this is my “armchair theologian” pontification, but then, I don’t have to be stolen from to tell you we should criminalize theft either.

The Birth of Freedom

Tuesday, April 13, AD 2010

A trailer for a documentary from the Acton Institute.  This documentary examines the role of Judaism and Christianity in creating the conditions which led to the concept of human freedom cherished in the West.  A number of short clips from the video are available on-line and I will be using them in posts in the days to come.  In regard to the trailer I would state the following propositions for discussion:  (1)  The clash between Church and State that characterized Western Europe in the Middle Ages was a fundamental pre-condition for the concept of limited government as it developed in the West; (2) the insistence of the Church that all men and women were equal in the eyes of God established the basis for the concept of human rights; and (3) that as a Western society becomes divorced from its religious roots the very concept of freedom as it has been understood in the West becomes difficult to maintain from a philosophical standpoint.

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20 Responses to The Birth of Freedom

  • Agreed on all three. On 2, the very concept of “person” and personhood was born out of the early Trinitarian & Christological controversies in the Church… how many secularists are even aware of that? And similarly for 3… freedom is understood as indifference, license… definitely not the more philosophically-robust concept born out of the 13th century.

  • You hit the trifecta, my friend.

    The American colonists were fighting for rights they considered theirs by birthright as Englishmen. Those rights were forged in the Middle Ages, not the “Enlightenment.”

    The “Enlightenment” gave us the Jacobins, the deification of Reason, the Reign of Terror, the Vendee, the Napoleonic Wars, and communism.

  • Nothing like a little Whig propaganda!

  • “Nothing like a little Whig propaganda!”

    Actually WJ I believe Lord Macaulay, the embodiment of Whiggish history, would have argued vehemently against all three of my propositions.

    “Those who hold that the influence of the Church of Rome in the dark ages was, on the whole, beneficial to mankind, may yet with perfect consistency regard the Reformation as an inestimable blessing. The leading strings, which preserve and uphold the infant, would impede the fullgrown man. And so the very means by which the human mind is, in one stage of its progress, supported and propelled, may, in another stage, be mere hindrances. There is a season in the life both of an individual and of a society, at which submission and faith, such as at a later period would be justly called servility and credulity, are useful qualities. The child who teachably and undoubtingly listens to the instructions of his elders is likely to improve rapidly. But the man who should receive with childlike docility every assertion and dogma uttered by another man no wiser than himself would become contemptible. It is the same with communities. The childhood of the European nations was passed under the tutelage of the clergy. The ascendancy of the sacerdotal order was long the ascendancy which naturally and properly belongs to intellectual superiority. The priests, with all their faults, were by far the wisest portion of society. It was, therefore, on the whole, good that they should be respected and obeyed. The encroachments of the ecclesiastical power on the province of the civil power produced much more happiness than misery, while the ecclesiastical power was in the hands of the only class that had studied history, philosophy, and public law, and while the civil power was in the hands of savage chiefs, who could not read their own grants and edicts. But a change took place. Knowledge gradually spread among laymen. At the commencement of the sixteenth century many of them were in every intellectual attainment fully equal to the most enlightened of their spiritual pastors. Thenceforward that dominion, which, during the dark ages, had been, in spite of many abuses, a legitimate and salutary guardianship, became an unjust and noxious tyranny.”

    Macaulay, History of England, Chapter I

  • What that old Whig, Lord Acton, would have thought about the video from the Acton Institute is interesting to contemplate. Perhaps he would merely be surprised that they got it done, unlike Acton’s History of Freedom which he spent his lifetime not writing!

  • What influence of Judaism? Judaism as a religion and social force had zero influence on historical European culture. The Catholic Church marginalized Judaism because of the anti-Christian teachings of the Talmud. It was the Old Testament, as interpeted by Jesus, the apostles, and their successors that influenced the development of polictical and religious freedom. The Jews as a social force had no influence on European-American culture until the birth of modern liberalism. And they were Jews who threw off the shackles of the Talmud and sadly rejected both the Old and New Testament. Instead, they sought to ‘free’ mankind by inventing or supporting socialism, communism, and many other various isms that bedevil s to this very day.

  • Stephen, Judaism influenced European history because Christianity was born from Judaism. Judaism influence Europe the same way the root of a plant influences the flower.

    It’s in the first book of the bible we that find the truth that we are all created in the image of God, and this is the basis for our conception of the fundamental dignity of each & every human being.

  • The American colonists were fighting for rights they considered theirs by birthright as Englishmen. Those rights were forged in the Middle Ages, not the “Enlightenment.”

    This is an iffy proposition, at best. “rights they considered theirs by birthright as Englishmen” were, as Edmund Burke (a strong, and sometimes paid, advocate of the colonies) made clear, a product of the Glorious Revolution. This can be very fairly placed under the umbrella of Enlightenment, even as we recognize the big differences between the several British ones and the several continental ones (all stand in contrast to the “Middle Ages”).

  • “Judaism as a religion and social force had zero influence on historical European culture.”

    Quite untrue. Just one of many examples: The grudging tolerance that the Church gave the Jews in the Middle Ages, often in the teeth of popular hatred, was the earliest glimmerings of the concept of religious freedom and tolerance in the modern world. Christians in the Middle Ages, at the command of the Church, had to acknowledge the existence of a group within their ranks that were alien to them. Now the expulsion of the Jews from many Western nations, England for example in the thirteenth and Spain in the fifteenth, illustrates how precarious this tolerance was, but the insistence of the Church upon it was an inmportant factor in the development of the concept of freedom in the West. It is interesting that as religious faith has waned in the West, anti-semitism has become a potent force.

  • The American colonists were fighting for rights they considered theirs by birthright as Englishmen. Those rights were forged in the Middle Ages, not the “Enlightenment.”

    Thank you Joe. The more I study of the period (and I’ve studied a lot) the less enamored I become of the so-called Enlightenment influence on America. I’ve argued that the Americans were more influenced by the Scottish philosophers than the French, but I even think that is exaggerated. If you want to see the influence of Enlightenment thought, look at France, not America.

  • As the ones with the money, and being very independent because they did not have the same status as others in the countries they were in, the Jews had a considerable amount of influence on the shape of world history. Those who got their money often got the resources needed for power; those who did not, often lost out.

  • Messers McClarey and Burgwald, you missed the entire point of what I had to say. “Christianity was born from Judaism” says Mr Burgwald. Not true. Christianity is based on the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, who rejected the teachings of the rabbis who were the founders of Phariseeism which became Rabbical Judaism, which was codified as the Talmud. See Matt 23 Judaism is not the religion of the law of Moses, so it is impossible for Christianity to have developed from it.

    Mr McClarey, ‘tolerance’ doesn’t prove your point about “the earliest glimmerings of religious freedom and tolerance in the modern world”. The Jews were tolerated out of pity for their spiritally lost state. They were allowed to have their synagoges for worship services. But they were put under many restrictions to prevent them from having much interaction with the population. The anti-Christian attitudes fostered by the Talmud were well known to the Catholic clergy, so many laws were passed in all the Catholic contries to limit Christian exposre to Jewish perfidy.

    Yes, “tolerance” was “precarious”, but given the active Jewish hostility toward the Christian faith, (which is pretty well documented in history books such as “Reckless Rites” by Elliot Horowitz) what else could they expect?

    Mr McClarey is correct about anti-semitism becoming a potent force since religious faith has waned in the west. Since the Jews have gained their freedom from a formerly Christian European culture, they have used that freedom to support and sponser anti-Christian movements such as socialism, communism, fascism, gay rights, drug legalization,pornography, etc. Their known control of the mass media gives them the clout to pull this garbage off. Is it any wonder that anti-semitism is becoming “a potent force”?! Lets hope that Europe and America can recover its Catholic heritage before the Jews “freedom” destroys what’s left of it.

  • Judaism and phariseeism are not identical, Stephen. Jesus was a Jew, His mom and adoptive dad were Jews, He worshipped His Father in the Jewish Temple, His first followers were Jews and they likewise went to the Temple for prayer. St. Paul — also a Jew — makes clear that Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism. To claim utter separation between Judaism and Christianity is akin to the early heresy of Marcionism.

  • The last paragraph of Mr. dalton’s 9:53am post should have the moderator’s “Danger, Will Robinson!” klaxons going off at full volume.

  • Mr Burgwald, I’m well aware Jesus kept the Mosiac law.
    He fullfilled the law. But I repeat again, The Mosiac law and Judaism are not the same thing. The Jewish Encyclopedia’s article on Phariseeism makes it quite clear that Judaism is Phariseeism, and it is not the law of Moses. Christianity is not the fullfillment of Judaism/Phariseeism, it is the fullfillment of the law of Moses.

    As for Mr Price’s comment on the last paragraph of my last post, he must not know much about the history of Eropean politics in the last three hundred years. Otherwise, he would not have made such an assinine remark.

    And in case anyone tries to use the anti-semite smear on me, I happen to come from a very old Marrano family. For the uninformed, thats a Spanish slang word for a secret Jew. So I’m very well informed about Judaism and it’s teachings. I only wish Price, McClarey, and Brugwald were too.

  • Bye Stephen, take your issues with Jews elsewhere. You are banned from this blog.

  • Johnathan,

    “This is an iffy proposition, at best. “rights they considered theirs by birthright as Englishmen” were, as Edmund Burke (a strong, and sometimes paid, advocate of the colonies) made clear, a product of the Glorious Revolution. This can be very fairly placed under the umbrella of Enlightenment, even as we recognize the big differences between the several British ones and the several continental ones (all stand in contrast to the “Middle Ages”).”

    A couple of points.

    First, do you have a problem with the phrase “Middle Ages”? We have to call those centuries something. If you don’t, why the scare quotes?

    Second, the English Bill of Rights didn’t come out of a vacuum. You can draw a line from the Magna Carta (with its own historical antecedents), through Edward I’s establishment of Parliament, and so on and so forth, up to the English Civil War, which was fought, among other reasons, over the interpretation and understanding of these rights.

    If you look at life in the Middle Ages as well, especially in England, you can see how such a conception of rights would develop. Most of the villages were autonomous, they weren’t micro-managed by lords or by bureaucrats. If a serf escaped to a town and lived as a free man for a year and a day, he became emancipated. And there was the Church, which always stood as a barrier between the people and the rapacity of secular government.

    Of course it wasn’t all fun and games, it wasn’t The Shire, there were wars, rebellions, plots, massacres, repressions – but these exist everywhere. I don’t think you can judge a society by what it shares in common with every other society, but by which is unique to it.

    I think many of these features of medieval life at the practical level were replayed on the virgin soil and boundless spaces of America after these medieval conditions were supplanted by absolutism in Europe. If not for Protestantism, I daresay that something resembling medieval Christendom could have been established in North America.

    I think therefore that in both theory and practice, the American colonists were decidedly more conservative and backward looking certainly than the French revolutionaries. I think they were fighting to preserve their rights, not to create new ones out of nothing. But I think what they were trying to preserve was also a way of life that had a tradition going back many centuries, even before medieval times, a way of life that was gradually supplanted by the encroachments of governments.

    All the English Bill of Rights did, really, was to codify them.

  • Joe, thanks for your explanation. It does not seem to me, however, that your reasoning above is in line with the claim my first comment highlighted, which was this: the American colonists were fighting for rights they considered theirs by birthright as Englishmen, rights not forged in the “Enlightenment.”

    To your points –

    First, do you have a problem with the phrase “Middle Ages”? We have to call those centuries something. If you don’t, why the scare quotes?

    Quotes because the Middle Ages, like the Age of Enlightenmnet, is a large and complicated term with a variety of meanings across a variety of time and environments. This is one reason why your claim is awkward, and why it would be awkward for me to make the opposite claim (i.e. The American colonists were fighting for rights they considered theirs by Enlightenment). I have mentioned before that my personal view is that the American founding is a mixture of Greco-Roman civic republicanism (and how much has our educational system minimized this!), Enlightmenment romanticism, and a moralistic therapeutic Deism. This is a strange, strange, strange brew, and it has allowed democracy and orthodox religion to flourish. Yet, even so, how did the Founders understand themselves? Some by your description, but not nearly enough for your generalization.

    Second, the English Bill of Rights didn’t come out of a vacuum. You can draw a line from the Magna Carta (with its own historical antecedents), through Edward I’s establishment of Parliament, and so on and so forth, up to the English Civil War, which was fought, among other reasons, over the interpretation and understanding of these rights.

    Yes, I concur completely.

    If you look at life in the Middle Ages as well, especially in England, you can see how such a conception of rights would develop. Most of the villages were autonomous, they weren’t micro-managed by lords or by bureaucrats. If a serf escaped to a town and lived as a free man for a year and a day, he became emancipated. And there was the Church, which always stood as a barrier between the people and the rapacity of secular government. ……..

    So what does this tell us other than “Enlightenment” had very deep roots? Heck, I’d argue its roots go back to Athens and Jerusalem, those places where humans were very serious about the search for knowledge!

    I think therefore that in both theory and practice, the American colonists were decidedly more conservative and backward looking certainly than the French revolutionaries.

    Without question. In fact, I’d even argue that the Federalists were conservatives.

    I think they were fighting to preserve their rights, not to create new ones out of nothing.

    Is this true of Thomas Paine? Maybe, but its not terribly clear.

    Now in some respects we have a lot of agreement on these questions, perhaps. But your generalization which I highlighted in my first comment shouldn’t be made. Let us take the dominant religious sentiment of the founders (and of many colonists, although there was great diversity of religion across the colonies, one big result of toleration by investors in England trying to make some quick money), Deism. Deism was an outgrowth of 17th and 18th Century scientific speculation! Follow Nature – not Revelation. Use math. Ect.

    What I am saying is that when it comes to America, the Enlightenment, that large and messy term, is everywhere and always present. It cannot be escaped. This is why our conservatives will always differ from European conservatives, who can root themselves in blood and soil.

  • Johnanthan,

    Well, I disagree.

    “Quotes because the Middle Ages, like the Age of Enlightenmnet, is a large and complicated term with a variety of meanings across a variety of time and environments. This is one reason why your claim is awkward”

    This can be true, but these phrases have some pretty commonly understood meanings too. Because they do, my claim isn’t awkward at all. It can be made awkward to the extent that one wants to complicate the common understanding of when the Middle Ages occurred and when the Enlightenment occurred, but it isn’t as if these two periods follow one after the other anyway.

    I’m the first to admit that all such epochal groupings can be fought with difficulties. Nonetheless there is a massive difference between the “Age of Faith”, “Christendom”, “the Middle Ages” – and all of its dominant paradigms – and the Enlightenment with its own. And that means ideas born in each, or lets say, which gestate and develop in each, will end up looking quite differently, as did indeed the American and French Revolutions.

    “Yet, even so, how did the Founders understand themselves? Some by your description, but not nearly enough for your generalization.”

    Here I think you’re wrong again. I think they all recognized that they were fighting for rights that had historical, and not merely abstract, justification – it is only a question of how many of them ALSO believed in various Enlightenment ideals.

    I suppose it might be another awkward formulation in your view, but that is another way I separate the epochs, and I think it is how Burke did as well.

    “So what does this tell us other than “Enlightenment” had very deep roots? ”

    Now see, how is this not just a fallacious expansion of an epoch to suit the need of the moment? I don’t mean that in an insulting way, please understand, but that’s how it looks, as if now we can draw no lines, we can mark no transformation from quantity to quality, we can see no essential differences between one period and another. But this is obviously false.

    The “Enlightenment” may well have deep roots, but they weren’t sprouting very much during the reign of Christendom, thanks to the Church and her true Enlightenment.

    So, what those historical facts I pointed out “tell us” is that the rights American colonists fought for were, as I said, forged during the middle ages, during the rule of the Church, Christendom, the Age of Faith, the supposedly bad old days during which everyone was oppressed. During the very time that the “Enlightenment” supposedly came to put an end to, to eradicate for all time. So to me, that’s a tension, a contradiction, and an undermining of the Enlightenment’s supposedly vast role in the American founding.

    For crying out loud, even Marxists such as Karl Kautsky saw that the “Reformation” took a much different path in England than it did in Germany, and that in the former it ended up usurping many of these rights and driving tens of thousands of peasants into starvation.

    The autonomous village and the free town of the Middle Ages must have seemed like a lost paradise in comparison, which is probably why the whole English national identity is wrapped up in the concept of “Merry Old England”, that is, the time when the Church of Rome and not that of England held sway!

    “Is this true of Thomas Paine? Maybe, but its not terribly clear.”

    Thomas Paine wasn’t a founding father, so it really doesn’t matter. I’ll even grant that it wasn’t true of him.

    ” But your generalization which I highlighted in my first comment shouldn’t be made.”

    Which one, though? If its the one about the American founders fighting for English rights, you may have a point, though I think I’m right in saying that it was a baseline view and that it was views about the Enlightenment that greatly varied. I mean, once they ceased to be Englishmen upon telling King George to stuff it, they had to have a different reason to continue the fight. Enlightenment ideals helped.

    If its the second point, though – that the rights were forged in the Middle Ages – I stand by that. Jefferson didn’t copy John Locke, after all, who said nothing about unalienable rights. Some people think he was influenced by St. Bellarmine. And Bellarmine was following Aquinas. And Aquinas was… well, we get the idea. It’s speculation but it makes sense.

    “What I am saying is that when it comes to America, the Enlightenment, that large and messy term”

    Well sure, I agree.

  • Ok, I see better the disagreement, and it would be instructive to parcel out the American revolution in this context. I believe there were two revolutions, and hopefully we can extend these conversations. And generalizations are an unfortunate necessity in blogland….