Sunday, March 8, 2009

Why the Left Doesn't Care about Human Rights

Yukio Ngaby, author of the blog Critical Narrative, recently discussed the article "Liberals Turning Blind Eye to Human Rights" at by Michael Barone. Naby correctly disagreed with Barone that the left abandoned human rights because they are upset that Bush stole the issue from them. Furthermore, he astutely points out that the left's infatuation with human rights has long been disengenuous at best. Ngaby writes:

I believe that the left's interest in human rights has eroded because of a shift toward socialism. . . .

When one talks of the current "rape camps" in the Congo, you get the usual and bored clucking of the tongues... "tsk... tsk... so horrible," but little in actual interest or protest. Yet, when Muboto was in charge and the Congo part of now defunct Zaire, then they cared. They care little for Castro and Che's "long ago" vicious repression and "reeducation" but still call for the blood of the deceased Pinochet (himself a terrible tyrant). They continue to rehash the legacy of American slavery (toppled almost a century-and-a-half ago), but seem to care very little for the African and Southeast Asian slave trade that is happening at this very moment.

. . . .[T]he socialist left's interest in human rights is not benevolent, but has been made a part of their philosophy, part of their politics.

The Left's disregard for human rights is not surprising. Stephen R.C. Hicks, professor of philosophy at Rockford College, explains how socialists became postmodernists in his book Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault:
Postmodernism is born of the marriage of Left politics and skeptical epistemology. . . . The failure of socialism, both empirically and theoretically, brought about a crisis of faith among socialists, and postmodernism is their response. Its epistemology justifies the leap of faith necessary to continue believing in socialism, and the same epistemology justifies using language not as a vehicle for seeking truth but as a rhetorical weapon in the continuing battle against capitalism.

With the advance of postmodernism and the resulting moral relativism, the left has become obsessed with power. Questions of right and wrong have been supplanted by questions of power. Without morality all that mattters is who is in control. Those with power are automatically responsible for all that is wrong in the world, and are consequently the only ones The Left feel comfortable condemning. The powerless are mere victims, not responsible for their actions or own atrocities. Therefore, The Left won't condemn Palestinian terrorists because they are the powerless, but will condemn the Israelis because they are more powerful. They don't mind Saddam Hussein's bloody Iraq or Iran and North Korea's brutal oppression of their own people, but rant and rave about American mistreatment of terrorist prisoners.

The only people in power who escape criticism are those dedicated to the same socialist agenda, because ideology trumps postmodernist philosophy for the Socialist. Consequently, Castro, Communist China, Hugo Chavez and now Obama will escape human rights criticism no matter how powerful they are. The Left's concern with human rights violations has never been about morality, but about condemning their enemies.


  1. I think that you're largely correct. I'm not sure that the Left's obsession with power is due to post-modernism. Lenin, Trotsky, Che, all socialists who have not been universally disavowed by the Left (like Stalin), were quite preoccupied by the gaining and retaining of political power. But then the Post-Modernism that I'm personally most acquainted with are in the realms of literary theory (very political) and narrative theory (somewhat political). Philosophically, I'm pretty ignorant about stuff past Sartre and Camus.

    The direct connection between Post-Modernism and Socialism had not occured to me. That's really insightful. It opens up lots of avenues to explore the basis of socialist beliefs and then some.

    I must thank you for finding and posting about Hicks' book. I've got to go purchase a copy and read it immediately. :) It seems to deal exactly with issues that I've been wrestling with. And reading socialist texts hasn't helped me make sense of it.

    Terrific post.

  2. Hmm you might be right. Unfortunately, my philosophical background is limited as well, although I philosophy quite a bit. My limited understanding is that although predating postmodernism, Nietzsche is responsible for much of postmodernist thought. Nietzsche believed that systems of morality were used to oppress people and keep them from fulfilling their true potential. The resulting strain of postmodernist thought views systems of morality as cultural constructions by those in powermeant to enslave the populous. It seems to me, (and maybe I need to find a way to elaborate on this better) that without objective morality the only thing left that matters is power. It seems like the epitome of Machiavellian "the end justifies the means" thinking. Without morals, the achievement of power is its own justification. Does this make sense at all? It still might be that postmodernism is a contributing factor, but not the cause.

  3. I guess I'm a bit unclear in the differences between philosophical post-modernism and existentialism. I'm reasonably familiar with existentialism and I've always read that Nietzsche and Kierkegaard were forerunners to that school of thought. The lack of a universal morality in existentialism does not necessarily equate to a might makes right mentality (although it's a it's only step or two from it). The connection between Nietzsche and Post-Modernism in the literary world is something I have not heard of. That certainly doesn't mean it's not there. I mean, literary critics still seriously study Freud which in psychological circles is ancient history.

    I always equated socialism with Marx (of course) and Hegel. Hegel often gets overlooked in his influence, but Marx was an avid Hegellian and his theories are supremely informed by Hegel. There have been other Marxist philosophers since then, of course, but they generally take Marx as their gospel and only add or embelish to him.

    As I said, I should purchase Hicks' book and read more about it.

    The connetion between lack of morality and power is an interesting subject, but it's very complicated and difficult. It's very easy to just sign off on the "might makes right" ideas and not explore the long term effects of pragmatic duplicity. I always thought that was a failing in "The Prince."

  4. By "I philosophy quite a bit" I meant to say "I like philosophy quite a bit."

    I need to do some more reading on this as well. I'm not too clear on it but am very interested in it.