The Only Path

By October 16, 2001 No Comments

Anti-Racism and Human Rights are all very nice as concepts, but neither construct is a good concept for the running of an entire society. Those who aspire to build a better world had better look at what really works – the rule of law.

The 2001 World Conference on Racism held in Durban South Africa largely proved to be what any intelligent person feared – a waste of paper that might have been better used for traffic tickets, disposable diapers or in magazines about pop idols. As a meaningful contribution to human peace and security, this conference was only marginally better than the Kellog-Briand Pact of 1928 (another waste of paper in which a number of countries including Germany, Italy and Japan renounced aggressive war).

Inviting delegates from all nations was bad enough, as seeing democratic nations being hectored about ethical behaviour by Cuba, Libya or the Sudan is bound to be educational, if nothing else. By letting in Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that were concerned about racism, xenophobia, etc, the conference threatened to prove as helpful as a disarmament gathering attended only by salesmen from weapons manufacturers. NGOs that make a living off of fighting racism are usually bound to discover lots of it around – just as ‘Anti-Racist’ politicians can smell burning crosses where none are. Anyway, the NGO’s solid ability to focus on distorted historical grievances while overlooking urgent and very real modern problems speaks much about their abilities, as did the conference’s solid condemnation of the only democratic nation in the Middle East.

One can only hope that the Durban Fiasco might put an end to professional anti-racism, although this is too much to hope for. In any event, ‘Anti-Racism’ has been hijacked and that cause seems forever discredited — although professional anti-racists will continue to leech money out of the public trough for some years into the future.

Anti-Racism as a cause has been utterly discredited and the same thing happened to that other fine old warhorse for the cause of humanity: Human Rights. The concept of ‘Human Rights’ was a good one when first described, although the Soviet Bloc did manage to clutter the notion up with extraneous “rights” in the early years of the UN.

The original set of rights was focused on the fundamental freedoms that are so often taken for granted in Western nations: freedom of speech, worship, association, etc. The Soviets also included such rights as the right to shelter, to eat, and to work … but these rights were not included out of any sense of compassion or moral superiority. Rather, the Soviets hoped that criticism of individual freedoms inside the Soviet Bloc could be deflected by pointing to violations of these extended “freedoms” in the West. There are always the hungry, the homeless and the unemployed, and in Western nations it is not difficult to find some examples (particularly if one looks for vagrants) as the deeply impoverished are always with us.

The Soviet Bloc was always rife with poverty and deprivation of the bitterest kind, but knew it could always sweep the evidence under the carpet of total censorship and would then be able to wax indignant about any suggestions of famine and want.

For example, the famines that attended Collectivization in the 1920s were seldom discussed in Soviet history – and the Famines of the 1930s (which killed millions) were always hotly denied. But the Soviet press was usually well up to speed on Southern poverty in the US. In contrast to the Soviet famines, it is worth remembering for those who still worry about hunger in Western nations that we have not known famine since the invention of the railway. Moreover, ‘normal’ housing in much of the old Soviet Bloc would pass for shameful slums in most Western nations.

In any event, Human Rights – although a useful cause at times – was weakened by the Soviets. However, the funeral for this cause came in early 2001 when the US was voted off from various international human rights committees and panels in the UN by a combination of states that included China, Cuba and the Sudan.

If totalitarians can re-write concepts of anti-racism and human rights to further their own ends, then we need to resort to another method to measure the importance and value of human life that cannot be so easily perverted. The concept we need exists, and its roots extend back for many centuries. Fundamentally, it is the stock from which “human rights” and “anti-racism” were extracted and it remains intact for contemporary use.

The concept of human rights and anti-racism all stem from the rule of law: That system by which laws are public, binding and fairly enforced. Their development has not been even or trouble-free but can be traced back to when the Tables of Roman Law were written down and placed in the market for all citizens to read. The Magna Carta led to the next growth spurt, and the continued evolution of the Parliamentary system in Great Britain and then the United States during the 18th Century advanced the cause further. While the Rule of Law is nowhere perfect (and can’t really expect to be perfected either) it’s halting and oft-interrupted progress can be easily traced through history.

The elements of the rule of law are simple: Everyone – leaders especially — is accountable and has specific duties and obligations in return for living in a functioning society. In return, they have the guarantee that they can reasonably expect to keep what they have legitimately acquired and will be relatively safe. Under the rule of law, property has value and individuals have rights.

The Rule of Law is a poison pill to totalitarians and the various Presidents for Life that infest the developing world. Public laws that cannot easily be amended or by-passed for expediency force them to compromise with or accommodate peaceful political opponents. Their own vulnerability to prosecution if they break the law is a brake to temper tantrums or corruption. As for property rights – there is no better way to guarantee development and prosperity.

The facts speak for themselves. At independence, a number of African nations were wealthier than many Asian nations. Yet property rights alone guaranteed prosperity for the often-troubled democracies of South Korea and Taiwan. Singapore’s rise to prosperity has been meteoric. But in Sub-Saharan Africa, where virtually every new nation has been subjected to a “leader for life” (usually supplanted by the next “leader” after a coup), the pace of development has been catastrophic and often regressive. To blame the woes of the people who live under these leaders on slavery and racism is fatuous. The expectation that human rights alone can solve their problems is like giving a plant without roots.

The Rule of Law is the peg on which all human rights and constructs of equality must hang. It must become the only criteria by which nations are judged or offered assistance. Anything else is a waste of paper.