Friday, August 22, 2008

Allan Bloom: Human Rights vs Multiculturalism

... Here again we live with two contradictory understandings of what counts for man. One tells us that what is important is what all men have in common; the other that what men have in common is low, while what they have from separate cultures gives them their depth and their interest. Both agree that life, liberty, and the pursuit of property, i.e., the interests of health and preservation, are what men share. The difference between them is the weight they give to being French or Chinese, Jewish or Catholic, or the rank order of these particular cultures in relation to the natural needs of the body. One is cosmopolitan, the other is particularistic. Human rights are connected with one school, respect for cultures with the other. Sometimes the United States is attacked for failing to promote human rights; sometimes for wanting to impose "the American way of life" on all people without respect for their cultures. To the extent that it does the latter, the United States does so in the name of self-evident truths that apply to the good of all men. But its critics argue that there are no such truths, that they are prejudices of American culture. On the other hand, the Ayatollah was initially supported here because he represented true Iranian culture. Now he is attacked for violating human rights. What he does in the name of Islam. His critics insist that there are universal principles that limit the rights of Islam. When the critics of the US in the name of culture, and of the Ayatollah in the name of human rights, are the same persons, which they often are, they are persons who want to eat their cake and have it, too.

Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind