Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Endless Chore...

A recent remark I made to someone in email in reference to why the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights is an invalid basis for criticism of the Taipei City government's theft of the Wangs' property:
"A close reading of Article 17, Clause 2 ("No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property") will show that those DPP legislators are making a mistake to base their criticism on "human rights". The Taipei City government did not arbitrarily deprive the Wangs of their property - they did so for a reason (urban renewal) and even if you don't like that reason, it is false to say that it is "arbitrary"..."
This elicited some confusion, since it appeared that I was both (a) criticizing the DPP for making a human-rights based denunciation of the theft of the Wangs' property, and (b) criticizing the DPP for not making a rights-based denunciation of the theft of the Wangs' property. 

There is however, no contradiction.

The confusion lies in the naive assumption that the phrase "human rights" means nothing less than "rights". The problem with this is that the UDHR is self-contradictory. This list of supposed "human rights" includes positive rights, which are no more than demands for relief from the strain of life (e.g. demands for the provision of social security), in direct contradiction to a set of negative rights which articulate the major implications of the Liberal non-aggression principle. To illustrate this contradiction, consider the following...

Article 4 of the UDHR states, and I quote:
"No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms."
Of course, the West African slave trade to Europe and the United States had already been abolished long before this declaration was written in 1948, and so the reference here is to insist that the slave trade be abolished elsewhere too. Yet consider the term "servitude" - what does it mean unless a state of enforced service, against the will of he who must serve? If that is so, then the distinguishing feature is compulsion, in as much as a person is compelled (presumably under threat of violence) into performing some service for another which would not otherwise be voluntarily contracted. However, in Articles 21 through 26, this right of all individuals to be free from servitude is immediately thrown into doubt. To give but one illustration of this point, I quote from Article 26:
"Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory..."
Bearing in mind that by "education", what is referred to are the products (e.g. books) and the services (e.g. teaching) required in order to educate someone, and that such products and services presuppose labour, then it ought to be apparent that this is nothing less than a demand for servitude. Teachers must be compelled to teach whomever the State demands, even against their own will - for refusal would amount to a violation of the "right" to education. Indeed, the quoted segment explicitly calls for the use of compulsion. Now it may be objected that, should one teacher refuse to teach, another might easily enough be found to take his place and therefore no compulsion is required. Yet the parents of the children are compelled into submitting to this "right to education", as are the taxpayers at large since they are compelled to fund the teachers' salaries and retirement benefits through the forcible expropriation of a portion of their income. 

For anyone interested in politics and the question of rights, there really can be no excuse not to be aware of the contradictory nature of the UDHR and therefore of its' dubious value in exercising a defense of the rights of the downtrodden, such as the Wang family up in Taipei.

I say "dubious value"... but the scorn should be expressed in stronger terms: the Universal Declaration on Human Rights is less than worthless in that it not only fails utterly to provide a non-contradictory, principled defense of the rights of individuals, but it actually serves to advance the cause of the State against the rights of individuals by turning "rights" into nothing more than contingent privileges to be weighed against other interests in the grand, aggregate calculations of the Pragmatists exercising the presumed political authority of the State.

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