Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Reality vs Orthodoxy

Minette Marrin has written a very interesting column on the issue of human rights.

She begins by suggesting that "the great post-war left-liberal ascendancy may be beginning to question its own certainties".

Her chief exhibit is David Goodhardt, a self-confessed "sensitive member of the liberal elite." Goodhardt recently abandoned left-wing orthodoxy by writing about human rights that:

People are not born with rights ... Rights are a social construct, a product of history, ideas and of institutions. You and I have rights not as human beings, but mainly because we belong to the political and national community called the United Kingdom, with its infrastructure of laws and institutions.

It's remarkable for someone from the left to declare such a thing. Usually the left trumpets the idea of abstract, universal rights. Minette Marin herself offers a good criticism of this left-wing tendency to base politics on claims of abstract rights when she writes,

This approach is incoherent ... it offers no explanation of what mysterious entity has conferred such rights or how they are to be enforced or who is to decide between conflicting rights.

There's one more worthwhile part of Minette Marin's column. She criticises the proposal that immigrants to EU countries should swear an oath of allegiance to EU laws, rather than to their nation of residence. She complains,

You almost have to pinch yourself at the folly of it. All across Europe, governments and bureaucrats and so-called community leaders have been forced, most painfully, to try to think more deeply and more critically about identity and the fragility of the ties that bind us in a shared sense of belonging and how best to strengthen them; their lazy, unexamined platitudes about immigration and celebrating diversity have been blasted, quite literally, away.

And what does Brussels come up with? A proposal that is quite astounding in its lack of the slightest understanding of feeling, sentiment, social solidarity, place, custom, ritual, symbolism or national tradition ...

This is not quite traditionalist conservatism, as it doesn't recognise ties of kinship as being one important aspect of national identity. It does, though, realistically accept the fact that questions of identity and belonging are important to individuals, can't be taken for granted and require a respect for the traditional life of a community.

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