What We're Fighting For
March 8, 2002 1:02 PM   Subscribe

What We're Fighting For : a group of 60 diverse academics lay out the basic principles shared by Americans and the West in the war against terrorism:
We affirm five fundamental truths that pertain to all people without distinction:
1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
2. The basic subject of society is the human person, and the legitimate role of government is to protect and help to foster the conditions for human flourishing.
3. Human beings naturally desire to seek the truth about life's purpose and ultimate ends.
4. Freedom of conscience and religious freedom are inviolable rights of the human person.
5. Killing in the name of God is contrary to faith in God and is the greatest betrayal of the universality of religious faith.
We fight to defend ourselves and to defend these universal principles.
[More inside.]
posted by dhartung (29 comments total)
This was posted on Instapundit last month, but didn't seem to attract much attention elsewhere -- though it has now been answered by Edward Said (itself critiqued at expadpundit).

The honest, forthright, and clear-eyed passage, among many, that struck me the most was the following:

Some people assert that these values are not universal at all, but instead derive particularly from western, largely Christian civilization. They argue that to conceive of these values as universal is to deny the distinctiveness of other cultures . We disagree. We recognize our own civilization's achievements, but we believe that all people are created equal. We believe in the universal possibility and desirability of human freedom. We believe that certain basic moral truths are recognizable everywhere in the world. We agree with the international group of distinguished philosophers who in the late 1940s helped to shape the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and who concluded that a few fundamental moral ideas are so widespread that they "may be viewed as implicit in man's nature as a member of society." In hope, and on the evidence, we agree with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that the arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice, not just for the few, or the lucky, but for all people.

Looking at our own society, we acknowledge again the all too frequent gaps between our ideals and our conduct. But as Americans in a time of war and global crisis, we are also suggesting that the best of what we too casually call "American values" do not belong only to America, but are in fact the shared inheritance of humankind, and therefore a possible basis of hope for a world community based on peace and justice.

Signatories include Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington (note: normally these two are considered opposite ends of foreign policy theory), Daniel Patrick Moynihan, as well as representatives of Islam and Judaism.

As detailed and impassioned as this is, are the values and motivations it lays out sufficiently broad yet still distinct enough to matter? Is it possible to build a new American center that will bridge the philosophical gaps of the past generation and forge forward with a stronger value system tested in the refiner's fire of a gut-wrenching conflict? I believe it is, and that would certainly be my hope.
posted by dhartung at 1:11 PM on March 8, 2002

That all sounds nice. Words without action is just rhetoric. I wonder if they understand the consquences of these ideas.
posted by raaka at 1:12 PM on March 8, 2002

Thanks, but I'm a traditionalist. I'm still fighting for Franklin Roosevelt's Four Freedoms.
posted by sheauga at 1:16 PM on March 8, 2002

If these ideas were implemented universally and without prejudice, I have no doubt that terrorism would wither on the vine.

The problem is that often these ideas are subverted because powerful interests need to make sure their needs are met before international law, morals and ethics can be applied universally.
posted by cell divide at 1:22 PM on March 8, 2002

After having read the Said article (read the declaration a while ago), I must admit he brings up some good points, even though buried within his piece is the acknowledgement that the documents aims and goals are things that he fundamentally agrees with. The extrapundit critique is sleight and fails to grasp most of what Said is talking about.

Overall it seems that no one can disagree (including Said) with the essential message of the declaration. What can be debated is how likely implementation of anything like this would be, and how the declaration is presented (Said's concerns).
posted by cell divide at 1:28 PM on March 8, 2002

Edward Said is as big a hypocrite as I've ever seen. He couldn't find the freedom to express himself in his homeland, so he fled to the very same West he rants about; then he publishes snarky screeds in Al-Ahram attacking the same society he shelters in.
posted by mrmanley at 1:31 PM on March 8, 2002

American troops fight to protect the constitution. Too bad most politicians fight the constitution.
posted by dagny at 1:35 PM on March 8, 2002

i think it goes along with the god squad's proclamation a couple months back :) and you've seen how effective the universal declaration of human rights has been!
posted by kliuless at 1:40 PM on March 8, 2002

5. Killing in the name of God is contrary to faith in God and is the greatest betrayal of the universality of religious faith.

Well then it's a damn good thing we're not on some sort of crusade, now isn't it?
posted by dogmatic at 1:44 PM on March 8, 2002

Need it be so complex? I find an affirmation of the rights to life, liberty, and property to be sufficient enough.

The problem is not rights, or whether they are true or not. There are people, no matter what this little cabal 'agrees' on who will deny the idea of natural rights, and there are people who will deny the idea of a value system which everyone can know by virtue of their conscience.

Men may indeed know what is right and what is wrong, but that does not make them good, and that does not mean they will uphold what is right. Knowledge without virtue is like pearls on a dunghill (to paraphrase Cervantes).

Religion gives people a framework for morality. English common law, and the English Bill of Rights, were derived primarily from the Christian religion, for example. Christianity developed the Western idea of natural law, which I believe offers a decent starting point for understanding why rights exist.

I don't know of any example where the idea of natural law and natural rights has been as developed as in the West, whose primary religious text, for thousands of years, has declared that the law is written on the hearts of men (Romans 2:14), and whose primary modern political document declares the truth of natural right 'to be self-evident.'

Try convincing people of non-Western cultures, will they agree, or will they even have a point of view that can accept these ideas?
posted by insomnyuk at 1:45 PM on March 8, 2002

This sounds like a proclamation from 60 diverse clerics not 60 diverse academics. Three of Five of the proclamations seem unduly focused on God and religion.

I respect the universal declaration of human rights because it focuses on the rights of individuals to exist not simply as members of some hive-like religious collective but as people with wants and desires with a need for dignity and growth. The phrase "foster the conditions for human flourishing" does not even begin to address this.

This seems less of a polarity between Western and non-Western than between the rights of individuals vs. the rights of institutions like government and religion.
posted by vacapinta at 1:52 PM on March 8, 2002

the universality of religious faith

Since I don't experience religious faith, I must be outside the universe. Crap.
posted by holycola at 2:05 PM on March 8, 2002

Lately, any of the criticisms of America posted on the posted site would be attacked by some more-patriotic-than-thou types as slanderous. If anyone else said it on metafilter, some would be sure (maybe not every time out, but a good part of the time) to attack the "intellectuals" as being out of touch, etc., etc. Said says that with the Cold war came "the domestic campaign to stifle debate, intimidate critics, and restrict thought." I didn't think the instant attacks on American foreign policy and culture and thinking immediately after Sept. 11 were at all appropriate, and certainly not very politically astute. The left is still largely talking to itself. But I've seen plenty of stifling of debate out there recently, stifling of even mild criticism, six months after the disaster. It's pretty bothersome.

As for the part about this representing the "center," Fukuyama and Huntington only seem to me to disagree as to whether certain nations or cultures can ever accept democracy. I'm with Fukuyama on that one, mostly, but both men are fairly conservative, by American standards. Nothing wrong with that, mind you, but don't sell it like they're "left" and "right" on "Crossfire," say. Moynihan I respect, but it's not unfounded to say that he's verged to the right on more than a few occasions.
posted by raysmj at 2:07 PM on March 8, 2002

We recognize our own civilization's achievements, but we believe that all people are created equal.

i guess my thing is like said said :) it seems disingenuous to me, in the "some people are more equal than others" vein. i mean why distinguish your civilization and in the same breadth proclaim the equality of all human beings?

like it comes across as nationalism, just drawing the borders a little wider under the rubric of universal principles. take not the name of Humanism, your Universal Principle in vain!
posted by kliuless at 2:22 PM on March 8, 2002

Church & State must remain separate entities, but it is impossible to completely cut the umbilical. In fact history is kinda fuzzy on which came first: kinda like the chicken & the egg. Did a religion get developed first in early tribal clans and it was religous leaders who developed political systems, or did a political leadership emerge which then realized it needed some kind of theological explanation to reinforce the rules it already created for the earliest communities? We don't know. We never will.

Church & State are symbiotic, and humanity is what connects them. However, if both Church & State are controlled by the same oligarchy, there lies the way to fascism and tyranny.

When I say Church I'm not limiting it to Jewish, Muslim, and Christian doctrines. This includes Buddhism, classic pagan, modern wiccan, humanism, blind science, and any cult or theological concept followed by any one human entity on the planet no matter how far fetched or irrational. If they want a one world government someday (which in case you haven't noticed is the direction they're going), it will need to be tolerant of all these, within the design of their "inalienable rights" framework.

This is a good start but raaka is right: "Words without action is just rhetoric." In order to properly implement this, the constitution of the United States would have to bow to this new line of thinking. So would all the equivalents in every country on the planet that waves a banner.

I don't know about the rest of you. I'm not prepared to accept that. It will take several generations, and a lot more bloodshed, before this rhetoric is put into action. I just hope the Brave New World that our descendants create learns how to not mesh change with bloodshed.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:24 PM on March 8, 2002

Oh: Charles Wilson from the Univ. of Miss., on the other hand, is fairly liberal. He's just fairly big on what he sees as the central role of religion in American life, although he's been known to have a somewhat satirical take on it now and then. Otherwise, I sense a strong communitarian flavor here, from the ones who aren't easily identified as die-hard conservatives, a la Harvey Mansfield. Etzioni? Anyway, I'm still not quite sure what to think of communitarianism, especially with it's stressing of religion and "the limits of privacy" and all that. It carries all that too far for me and, I bet, plenty of others, to ever be as big a movement as it would like.
posted by raysmj at 2:26 PM on March 8, 2002

I have always enjoyed readin Said and counting how many sentences he takes before he veers into a discussion of Zionism, the Jewish lobby, and the Middle East as distinct from the subject that is his announced project. He never disappoints.
The declaration sounds pretty much like an Arts and Sciences college meeting: Bound to please all, to offend very few, and to offer no specifics.
posted by Postroad at 2:41 PM on March 8, 2002

basic principles shared by Americans and the West in the war against terrorism: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Except for those pesky gays and the dirty, dirty atheists, apparently.
posted by aaronetc at 2:52 PM on March 8, 2002

We should all feel very proud that this group of 60 diverse academics think they know what both they and our leaders are not fighting for.

"My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori."

posted by insomnia_lj at 3:27 PM on March 8, 2002

We affirm five fundamental truths that pertain to all people without distinction:
1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
2. The basic subject of society is the human person, and the legitimate role of government is to protect and help to foster the conditions for human flourishing.

We fight to defend ourselves and to defend these universal principles.

I'm especially proud of those first two, aren't you?

And stained glass is pretty, don't you think? Why, can you possibly imagine an entire house made of red, white, and blue stained glass? Lovely. Proud.

Living there, one would want to be oh so careful with stones, eh?

But sorry, as I started to say, I'm proud we adopted these "Western" ideals, and swear by them here in "the West". Our nation above all lives these ideals, as we should. After all, it'd be the lowest hypocrisy to crank people up to kill others based on these ideals if, oh, say, the average life expectancy of a black American man in Harlem was less than that of a man in Bangladesh, or if the average American black child could expect to make only 1/3 the lifetime wages of a white child.

Damned proud too that we here in "the West" can speak from a consistent historical authority. I mean, a nation/culture like "the West" would look pretty damned foolish browbeating other cultures if "the West" had a history of practicing genocide against their own indigenous peoples (and keeping any survivors in poverty for generations). Or slavery...sheesh, let's not even go there...ugh.

But back to that glass house...our house and our "fundamentals" are better than theirs, dontcha get it? So let's roll . No, pardon me, you western devil, I believe our own tenets are actually "the truth", so you'll understand if we drive some airplanes into your skyscrapers. No, really, our "Western principles" are better (and make more money, incidentally), so we'll sell arms and train your people to kill for our interests...er...I mean "principles". No, really, OUR "Western ideals" are really, really better, so we get to rain bombs on your country.

Every damned wicked deed done on this planet is justified in terms of "principles" and "ideals" and every other kind of miserable, two-bit rationalization. And now "we fight to defend ourselves and to defend these universal principles"?

Right. Sure "we" do. And so do "they". Same ol', same ol'.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 3:37 PM on March 8, 2002

What a bunch of blowhards. We believe in killing in our principles, and as far as I recall, George W. has been insistent and clear that all our principles come straight from the bedrock of our Christian values. (As one of my students wrote recently, "Had they chose for the criminal to die instead of Jesus, the Christian view would be that they did the greatest of goods." This sounds about like the vernacular Christian motivation for killing GWB made famous as Governor of Texas.)

And you've got to love the directive on what "the basic subject of society" is. Sorry, even in individualistic America, I believe that the bonds and totems of society sometimes need to coerce folks to do what may not appear preferable and "flourishing" from their individual perspectives. (Just wait for the draft, boys...) Fine, go ahead, call me a Durkheimian.

And #3? I think it's charming that they're quoting the opening line of Aristotle's Metaphysics, but I'm not sure where that leads us as a political principle? Into a reasoned view of the first causes of the universe, sure, that might distract us from war and hate and oppression...
posted by Zurishaddai at 4:06 PM on March 8, 2002

funny that dhartung linked to this on the same day i linked to this:

'This declaration took the form of a pompous sermon about the American war against evil and terrorism being "just" and in keeping with American values, as defined by these self-appointed interpreters of our country. Paid for and sponsored by something called the Institute for American Values, whose main (and financially well- endowed) aim is to propagate ideas in favour of families, "fathering" and "mothering," and God, the declaration was signed by Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama, Daniel Patrick Moynihan among many others, but basically written by a conservative feminist academic, Jean Bethke Elshtain. Its main arguments about a "just" war were inspired by Professor Michael Walzer, a supposed socialist who is allied with the pro-Israel lobby in this country, and whose role is to justify everything Israel does by recourse to vaguely leftist principles.'

he manages to summarise my feelings, mostly.
posted by asok at 5:06 PM on March 8, 2002

The Spartans were right. Citizenship should be earned, not given for free at birth.
posted by Captain Ligntning at 5:58 PM on March 8, 2002

These five principles kind of remind me of the first part of the Statement of Principles and Purposes of the Unitarian Universalist Association:

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote:

-The inherent worth and dignity of every person
-Justice, equity and compassion in human relations
-Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
-A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
-The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large
-The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
-Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

(n.b.: I'm not a Unitarian-Universalist myself)
posted by CrunchyFrog at 6:12 PM on March 8, 2002

I'd be happy with just two rights:
- the right to control what happens to my body (which means y'all can't act in a way that harms me or significantly carries a significant likelyhood of harming me; and I can do what I want with my body as long as it accords you the same safety from harm)
- the right to control what happens to my property (which means you can't steal or harm it).

Or, at any rate, I think those two priciples make a good foundation from which to build.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:15 PM on March 8, 2002

Definitely communitarianism. Play "spot the names." (Even Mansfield, a conservative ideologue, is a Tocquevillian, and no Alexis, no communitarianism.)
posted by raysmj at 6:50 PM on March 8, 2002

Captain Lightning, with all due respect, the Spartans' social system failed miserably. It only succeeded so long as there were productive communities around them worth conquering. It only worked so long as the walls surrounding their property was strong enough to withstand opposition. The socio-political system devised by the Spartans of ancient Greece was shortsighted and easily corrupted. Any society which embraces cutural elitism is incapable of surviving indefinitely - those walls will someday fall, it's just a question of when.

There is talk now in America of creating a national ID card which would prove one's citizenship and register one's rights as a citizen of the United States. I see no difference between this and the Spartan system of earning one's inalienable rights. I'm reminded of Nazi Germany and the requirement for people to present papers if they wandered into certain zones, or were out past curfew, or people required to wear stars and triangles on their lapel so that their religion or sexual orientation were easily detectable by the powers that be. The very presence of such legislation and enforcement demeans the rights of all individuals regardless of who they are or where they come from.

The definition of citizen is partly geographic. One cannot help where they are born. This is a choice made by one's parents before one is born. I happen to think America is one of the better places to live on this planet. Perhaps not THE best but to be fair, I'm exceedingly lucky. There are others on this planet born into a community without respected rights of life, liberty and property, and they are being punished for their place of birth, because they have no means to go some place better.

The very fact that you are a human being entitles you to certain rights. Even if those rights are not respected. A society that completely dismisses those rights, except for a select few, diminishes the very potential for humanity's future. Because there are places, individuals and governments on this planet which do not respect inalienable rights for all humans, we have to put walls up to protect ourselves from those who would seek to strip us of those rights for their own selfish, ethnocentric and egocentric ends.

We think we are keeping foreigners out, but we are also imprisoning ourselves at their discretion. We are forced to restrict our own rights at the barrel of their guns. Even though one may live throughout their entire lives without feeling oneself terrorized directly, terrorism threatens all of us, and could strike anywhere, any time, without warning. If you disagree with me on that, I cite Nine Eleven as exhibit A in my defense. If someone in Rwanda is being terrorized, so are you. So am I. So long as any one human being is treated with less respect than their very birth deserves, ALL of our rights are restricted. There but for the grace of God go I. We ALL go there. That path is there for each of us to stumble upon. We all have the (albeit potentially rare for some) chance of walking in Daniel Pearl's shoes. No man is an island.

The man who lives behind the barrell of a gun is restricting his own inalienable rights. He is putting a price on his own head, and paying for his ill-gotten livlihood with the fear and bloodshed of others. The people of Sparta never learned that truth. Nor it seems have we.

Looking at yet another period in world history, the feudal Dark Ages in Europe led to a restricted gene pool among its aristocracy. It started by living behind the sword, and those who "won" the now forgotten battles for land and personal freedom, built their own walls and castles and ruled the peasants through fear and bloodshed. They then insisted their offspring could only fraternize with others of equal or better standing. This gave way to what is called "blue blood." From a genetic level, when a select group of people restrict themselves to only breeding with their kind, it weakens that groups gene pool over the generations, until it becomes very difficult for a bloodline to sire healthy offspring. While the aristocracy weakened itself, the lower classes fluorished and bred stronger offspring because they were not so restricted. The same is true across the board. Not just genetically, but sociologically, politically, economically, and in many other ways.

Humanity cannot excel and improve itself for our future generations so long as we allow the theory that some human beings deserve better treatment than others. Few intelligent minds would accept that ethnic cleansing is acceptable behavior. However, where is there a distinction beyond the obvious issue of death, between blatant ethnic cleansing and more subtle class separatism? Blacks would still only fraternize with blacks. Jews with jews. The end result of restricting our freedoms remains clear. If a certain demographic becomes unpopular with the reigning government, one's inalienable rights become priviledges which can be taken by the oligarchy on a whim.

One does not have to earn their humanity. One is born with it. One is born as a citizen of the world. We must learn to assist one another regardless of geopolitical origin, because we're all stuck on this spinning rock in space. We have no means to go some place better.

The Spartans were wrong, and how dare anyone seek to undermine thousands of years of cultural evolution by throwing us back to Sparta. We might as well return to caves and throw rocks at each other.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:59 PM on March 8, 2002

1. All human beings are born equal, but some are more equal than others.

2. The basic subject of society is the human person, and the legitimate role of government is to balace the needs of the individual with the needs of the corporations who help fund political parties.

3. Human beings expend most of their efforts in working, getting drunk, making out and fighting. Many would like to drive an S.U.V.

4. Freedom of conscience and religious freedom wouldn't mean shit if compulsory conscription was announced tomorrow.

5. Killing in the name of God is bad unless it's us doing the killing, in which case it's fine and God's on our side.

Next stop, Iraq.
posted by skylar at 1:44 AM on March 9, 2002

Um, no.
posted by Captain Ligntning at 12:31 PM on March 9, 2002

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