Have you ever sat there, staring at the tv, watching those brave people in Cuba or Zimbabwe, Egypt or Burma, in the Ukraine or on Tiananmen Square stand up for their most basic rights – their inalienable rights, as the american founding fathers correctly called them – asking yourself what to do, how to help them, how to show you really care?
If so, I hope you stay for a while. Because I would like this to be a place for people like you – people, who realize we are already in the midth of a human rights revolution and are looking for a way to support it, to keep it going and if possible even accelerate it.
No, the human rights revolution is not about hatred and violence. Sometimes hatred becomes an overwhelming reality, an all too human reaction that we can not and should not even try to ignore. Violence may sometimes be necessary. Some dictators, terrorists or war lords are so out of their minds they don’t mind torturing and killing obviously peaceful people. Still, in the end the fight for human rights will have to be fought and can only be won with words, not bullets. In the center of every human rights revolution, whenever, wherever, has always been and will always be the dignity of every single human being, including the enemy. As long as this struggle is fought with guns and tanks, it will be very far from over. This revolution is no revolution at all, if revolution means, that the rebell turns into the next tyrant, the promises of a better life are used for proganda purposes and everything changes, but the things that matter most.
No, the goal of this revolution is not any kind of perfectly harmonious society. It’s not about heaven on earth. It will never promise you a rose garden, because that promise it will never be able to keep. The goal of this revolution is an institutional framework, in which everyone can find his or her way to deal with all the pains of life: the heartaches, the headaches, and the need to get out of bed and go to work. In short: it is about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness! And this of course means – we should be very clear about this – that it is about liberal democracy. Only liberal democracy is able to guarantee our freedoms – and if it doesn’t, we shouldn’t even call it that way. Of course there is no political institution that can give you inner peace. Our souls can not be set free by any kind of law, however wise our politicians may be – and wise politicians are hard to find anyway. But liberal Democracy is the basic framework for human liberty. If you take it away for whatever reasons, you might as well play russian roulette with five bullets. Go ahead – but count me out!
There is no contradiction in strongly supporting liberal democracy and at the same time critizing all the existing ones. On the contrary: every democratic citizen will always be suspicious about any kind of government, even the one he voted for. Of all the important checks and balances the voice of citizens that distrust any concentration of power is by far the most important one. To keep critisizing the government is a necessary ingredient of any dynamic democracy. Dissent is the engine that drives peaceful change.
And for those people in the West, who care about human rights, there is another major reason to keep critisizing their own governments. In order to win the hearts and minds of people in developing countries, we have to live up to our own standards. It’s not enough for the West to be better. If it wants to show the way, as it so often did, it has to be much better.
How are Europeans going to convince Africans, that they care about their problems, if they don’t care about desperate immigrants drowning in the Mediterranian Sea? How are Americans going to critisize the government of Iran or Russia, as long as their own government is torturing detainees? And how are Western countries going to prove to the poor that they want to be a help, when they still haven’t cut their farm subsidies? The West’s hypocrisies are in the way of its moral leadership.
No, this revolution will never be dogmatic. It will never know all there is to know. And it will never know what is best for you. It is all about free and on-going debate, not some fixed way of looking at the world. What is good for me, might be bad for you. What has worked in my country, might not work for yours. What was appropriate under some special circumstances, might be very foolish under different ones. This world is far too complex, and people are far too different, for even the wisest and brightest to know all the answers.
This revolution is not trying to manipulate your mind by inducing powerful emotions. Of course it is driven by some very basic emotions like compassion or the desire to be free. But it will never let the mind be overwhelmed by any kind of emotion – not by negative ones like anger or self-righteousness, which can easily pervert the most positive idea, but also not by any positive ones like sympathy. Positive or seemingly positive emotions can be very misleading and destructive, too – for example, when people think of themselves as the voice of the voiceless, but those they claim to represent don’t even share their opinions.
This revolution is all about reason and science. The desire to help people, won’t help them – and quite a lot of times it even hurts them! – if the actions we take aren’t guided by logic and facts, or to be more realistic: if they aren’t guided to some relevant degree by logic and facts. Oftentimes a smile, a word or a hug are all it takes to make this world a little better place. A lot of times it definitely isn’t. People need friends and partners, love and understanding. But they also need rights – rights that need to be secured. Implementing these rights can be a complicated and long process, even if you are lucky to be ruled by people with the best of intentions. This revolution will use all the brainpower there is to get societies on the right track and to enable people to enhance their living standards.
No, this revolution is not about joining a group. It’s not a cult, but a loose association of free and very different people. It is deeply suspicious about crowds and masses, in which the individual dives into and drowns. And it is just as suspicious about great leaders guiding these crowds. Free people learn from each other. They will admire and honor great personalities. But they will always keep using their own brains, well aware that there is no such thing as a collective brain. And they will never stop making their own decisions and their own mistakes. Free people don’t need a camp or a category. They might agree with someone on this issue and with someone else on another one. They keep their minds open for new ideas, new thoughts, new experiences.
No, this revolution is not about left vs. right. It’s about the rights of the individual. If they are being violated by the right, we have to speak up. If they are violated by the left, we will do the same, and just as loud. Every government will violate our rights, if it isn’t kept in check. And keeping the government in check is every citizens responsibility. Any bureaucracy that claims to do it for us will have to be kept in check, too. We won’t accept any excuses or exceptions when it comes to our basic freedoms.
When the right tries to tell us, that human rights are a good idea, but in real life we are dealing with dangerous terrorists or a powerful mafia, and they will take away all our freedoms, if we don’t speak the only language they understand etc., we have to point out that there are many ways to fight even the most violent enemy without violating the rule of law. Yes, our government needs enough power to enforce the law. Without the law our rights will be violated by thieves, rapists or murderers. But if government power gets out of control, the same government that wants to protect us from all these villains, will pretty soon turn into one of those thieves, rapists or murderers – and it will be the most powerful of them all! Who will protect us then?
Yes, in times of war or crisis security is of major importance and we may need some extra measures. Still, it is always dangerous – too dangerous! – to touch our core freedoms. And there simply isn’t any reason to do so. Nations don’t loose wars, because they don’t loot, torture, rape or murder innocent civilians.
Same is true, when the left tries to tell us, that political freedoms are great and wonderful, but in order to fight poverty, the government needs to control the economy, and in order to do that, it will have to take our right to produce and consume the way we wish – and that we shouldn’t worry about that, because these rights have been put in place by greedy capitalists in order to enslave the people anyway. Dozens of communist and many more other governments have proven, that every government that controls the economy, will have to control our everyday lives and will be in a position to do that. If we can’t choose our profession or education, we can’t choose our destiny. If we can’t decide how much to save or what to buy and sell, we can’t live the life we want to live anymore.
Yes, fighting poverty should be right on top of the agenda. But the best way of doing that, is to give everyone a fair chance to improve his or her living conditions. If people are allowed to enrich themselves, they will do it. The left talks so much about empowerment and emancipation. Why then do they still focus so much on aid instead of economic growth? Are they suspicious, if poor people don’t need their so called solidarity to lift themselves out of poverty?
Our basic economic freedoms are not a problem for the global fight against poverty. They are the solution. Yes, there are many more factors like education and infrastructure, and some of the basic services have to be or should be provided by governments. But in order to pay for that, these governments need to secure some basic economic rights to keep the economy running. If you don’t trust this argument, compare the countries, where economic rights are basically secure, with those, where they are not – let’s say, for example: North and South Korea, Zimbabwe and Botswana, Cuba and Chile.
We want all our freedoms, not some. There is no need to compromise between our economic and political freedoms. They usually go together – and every time they don’t, we should explain why they should. China’s economic progress is impressing. A lot of people have been lifted out of poverty. But we will have to keep pressuring the CCP to open up politically. Mali on the other hand is a very poor country, and it will have to do a lot of economic reforms. But it has recently become a liberal Democracy, one of the very few in the region. And it deserves our respect for that.
We also shouldn’t accept the culture-apology, which has become a major problem for any kind of human rights struggle. You know, what I am talking about: ‘That’s the way they are. Their culture is not compatible with liberal Democracy. We shouldn’t judge other societies by western standards’.
Yes, there is a grain of truth to that. Some cultures are full of obstacles to any kind of progress. Western ideas and institutions are foreign to them. But every culture was like that some time ago. The culturalists tell us for example, that Christianity is the spiritual basis of Western civilisation. Well, if that’s so, why is it, that it has been the spiritual basis for poverty, intolerance and cruelty for at least 17 centuries – and even until the 1970’s in the case of Catholicism? Why is it, that predominantly christian nations like Rwanda, Uganda or the Kongo are not exactly liberal democracies? And why is it, that Taiwan, India, Botswana or Indonesia get a little richer and more democratic each and every year? Yes, for some countries traditional values and authoritarian attitudes are a major problem. The same has been true for Western countries until very recently, and in some ways still is.
There are many freedom loving Buddhists, Hindus or Muslims. Not critisizing human rights abuses in their countries for cultural reasons is just another way of betraying them. Not the believe in universal human rights is eurocentric. But the believe, that human rights are only suitable for Westerners, is just that – and very much so!
From a historical perspective, this revolution is something very unique and special. People everywhere used to live in such poverty, misery and oppression, that today we have to go to the darkest corners of the planet to be reminded of our own distant and long forgotten past. The human rights revolution started only about three centuries ago – and there were times when it not only came to a standstill, but was reversed to a point, where some people feared it would be lost forever. We should never forget that, when we complain and worry about the sometimes very imperfect ways it has transformed the societies we live in. And we should never forget that parts of the world haven’t even been reached yet. We owe it to the people living there, that we figure out ways of helping them.