Saturday, December 15, 2007

Civil Rights vs Human Rights

Dr Sam C. Holliday, director of the Armiger Cromwell Center, a valued and regular guest author in these pages, in present article is sharing with us the distinction between human rights and civil rights, the sort of confusion in terms and definitions that is all too common in Postmodernity.


Transnationals often claim that words and actions on human rights do not match. On this they are correct. However, this mixed message is not the problem. The problem is the concept of human rights. With a fundamentally flawed concept, it was inevitable that politicians will proclaim human rights as a pillar of their foreign policy while giving priority to other interests.

Those who place emphasis on moral principles think governments must promote a moral world order in which international law is supreme. For many years they have attempted to advance their agenda of universal human rights. In 1945 this issue was debated at length in San Francisco during the writing of the multilateral treaty — which some incorrectly consider a constitution — which became the Charter for the United Nations. The advocates of universal human rights lost that debate, and the Charter included no clear authority to guarantee universal rights; instead verbal decorations, and lofty objectives of promoting human rights, were included to appease the transnationals.

But the transnationals continued to push their agenda. On 10 December 1948 the General Assembly adopted a Universal Declaration Of Human Rights. The transnationals wanted this declaration to be accepted, and enforced, as international law, but again they lost. It only became a “guideline” which sovereign states could use to determine their own civil rights - not the corner stone of world government which the transnationals desired.

In 1953 the transnationals were successful in getting the European Convention on Human Rights to establish international machinery to provide governance in matters of rights for individuals in certain European countries. In practice, however, civil rights have continued to prevail and the march to universal human rights has been slow. Yet the transnationals have never lacked vigor or skill in pushing their agenda.

Postmodernists blindly accept the concept of human rights, without awareness of its flawed nature. It sounds good, it feels good, political leaders and pundits support it rhetorically; therefore, it must be valid. Yet it cannot be defended historically, philosophically, or logically.

Historically rights have been gained through custom and tradition, status, accomplishment, or force. Only in the last 300 years, through acceptance of social contracts, have rights for all citizens of a state even been considered. Under a social contract, between citizens and their government, rights and responsibilities are specified by a constitution, or through laws determined by some legislative body. Then these rights are adjudicated by some legal system. But these are civil rights, and they are by no means universal.

Universal rights for all humans would require a world government with legislative and judicial authority. Perhaps this is the desire and dream of postmodernists; however, it is not what we have. Until that Nirvana is achieved it can be expected that governments will rhetorically advocate human rights while other interests will determine their actions.

Protestations that governments send mixed messages regarding human rights fail to address the problem. The problem is not a deficiency in policy; it is a deficiency in the concept of human rights. It would be better to forget human rights and concentrate on improving civil rights wherever they are deemed deficient.

Sam C. Holliday is a graduate of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, a former director of Stability Studies at the Army War College, and a retired Army Colonel. He earned a Master's in Public Affairs from the University of Pittsburgh and a doctorate in International
Relations from the University of South Carolina. Currently he is Director of
The Armiger Cromwell Center, a small nonprofit Internet clearinghouse for thinking "outside of the box of conventional wisdom." By means of its online essays, the ACC seeks more effective foreign policies to achieve stability through equilibrium.
Earlier by Dr Sam Holliday in Politeia:

- "Effectively Communicating Jihad: a spade is a spade"
- "The Fable of the Knife"
- "The Fable of the Water Buffalo and the Sparrow"
- "The Corruption of Patriotism"

Copyright © 2007 Armiger Cromwell Center, 3750 Peachtree Road, NE, Suite 374, Atlanta, GA 30319-1322 Permission is granted to forward this essay to friends or colleagues, on a fair use basis. For reprint permission contact Armiger Cromwell Center.


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