One of the most extraordinary things that came out of the 45th President’s Department of State was the Commission on Unalienable Rights (and its subsequent report – find it here). The commission was set up in 2019 and the final report was published in summer of 2020. Given the political turmoil and the pandemic and the election, the report was widely ignored except by those organizations who saw in it a fundamental threat at their attempts at socially engineering our democracies (and each other) using the terminology of “rights” to make their claims on us, our attentions, our affections and our money a moral issue – unchallengeable. All this makes the commission’s reports more important, and more compelling.
This report is probably the State Department’s most important contribution to the debate on fundamental rights in a generation, if not longer. It is an extraordinary work of scholarship by a group of dedicated thinkers who are able to discern with wisdom and clarity through the muck and the morass of the modern ‘human rights’ jargon and debate – by those attempting to muddy the waters to make them appear deep – into the real problem with why humanity seems to be treating itself and each other worse than ever. For not since the soviet times have there been threats to our fundamental – unalienable – rights as there are today. It seeks to answer the question, what are our fundamental – God given – rights as human beings that set us apart from the animals.
And the problem is blatantly, boldly, nakedly clear and made supremely obvious by looking no further than the membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council (allegedly the supreme guarantors of humanity’s rights agenda) — China, Cuba, Russia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and a few other less egregious offenders, USA now included. The cynicism of the United Nations and of their human rights agenda apparently knows no bounds. In the USA we are stuck in the argument between the Republicans and Democrats on whether we should be members of the council or not – the age-old argument about whether we can better improve or challenge an organization by working from the inside or throwing rocks from outside. But neither side of the debate thinks that these members should be the guardians of our rights.
So what happened? It’s complicated. Short version, the tremendous moral power of the idea of Universal Human Rights was so compelling – because it touches again something inside us which makes our hearts sing and inspires our better angels – that it could not be left un-assailed by the adversaries of human freedom. Mostly the damage happened before my lifetime, by the Soviet Union and their minions in all the United Nations councils and conventions, using the soft caress of utopianism to bend and corrupt; the hallmark of socialist or communist or fascist ideologies to push us into collectivities and thereby control us as a herd.
The issue here is something that the old cold-warrior human rights defender from assailed eastern Europe Aaron Rhodes has called “Rights Inflation”. Rhodes wrote a book about the problem, much more eloquently than I ever can explain the issue and I encourage you to read it – it’s called “The Debasement of Human Rights” and my review can be found here.
Back to the Commission’s report. Life, liberty, property – those are our rights. Everything else are goods, and important ones!! Health care or child play time or university education are not rights in the philosophical sense – they are instead negotiations within free societies of the role of the state and their contract (oh no, not Rousseau again!) with the citizens. And these things change from culture to culture, society to society, place to place – some people want socialized medicine for example, others want a market based solution; some people want to talk about culture and decide which cultures have the right to their traditions and who should pay for it, etc. And these are fine debates, to have in free societies among citizens who have an interest in advancing their own wellbeing and the health of their nations.
The problem is that adding all these things in an inflationary spiral represents a bait and switch, which was the ingenious plan of the USSR. And I’ve heard it exposed by the newest addition to global communism, in Venezuela. They repeated the same old statements as the USSR of old, statements like, “What good is it to speak our mind, if we don’t have food? What good is it to have the right to our property if we are too poor to buy anything? What good is it to have the right to our faith if we die of disease?” And it sounds compelling, which is why it is so successful – and has been over history. It is a timeless defense of the dictator who can deliver a bag of beans to a starving peasant. Until of course he can’t… or worse doesn’t want to…
The Commission’s extraordinary report was so powerful that if you google it all you get are pages and pages of denouncements by the human rights community who see their interests assaulted by a reiteration of philosophical truths inimical to their agendas. And they are not bad people, I know many of them and consider friends as lots of them and I even agree with the desired end states. A society where all children can play; where there is food for everybody; where there is free healthcare if you need it and you can find a job that gives your days under the sun meaning??? Count me in!!!!! In point of fact, I’ve been fighting for these all my life in places like Mali, Uganda, Venezuela, Congo – for people whose very diplomats keep them enslaved while gracing the cushioned seats at the United Nations, explaining why theirs is a better model than the one which the United States was built upon.
Alas, what the misguided ‘human rights’ community doesn’t realize, however, is that they are playing into the hands of those who do not want the things that we want – they are political tools of China and Bolivia and the Sudan. They have been seduced by a glowing utopia and allowed that seduction to bring them into common cause with Cuba’s totalitarian government which has robbed its people of seven generations of life.
That is why the Commission’s report was so important. And it’s now out there. I wish it had been better received; I wish it had come at a better moment when the world was more ready for thinking. I wish it had come from an administration which was perhaps more empathetic and able to make the case that what we as Americans want is to advance ideas that have results in the real world, to solve the problems of hunger and disease and tyranny which have befuddled us for so long. But nothing is perfect – and such as it is, I am glad that this State Department report was written. It makes the world a better place.