Will Wilkinson has an amazing tl;dr abstrusity wank on the rational basis (or lack thereof) for human rights absent Christianity:
- Human rights without God: A dialogue (Big Think)
This is all in response to a blog-tiff between Julian Sanchez and Ross Douthat, which I’ve mostly ignored because Ross Douthat. You should go RTWT, because it’s great. It’s long, but worth it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
You didn’t read it, did you? Okay.
A year ago, I’d probably be banging one fist on the pulpit and waving a copy of Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty in the other hand, and for what it’s worth I really do buy about 95%-98% of Rothbard’s foundation for ethics in property rights. If I have within myself a capacity for faith, I’ve yet to find it, but I have no trouble finding the basis for my morals (which’re roughly equivalent to “human rights” as Will uses the term) in the Principle of Nonaggression. But pulpit-thumping isn’t exactly in the spirit of this particular conversation, or at least not in the spirit of Will’s rumination thereupon.
What I’m thinking — and don’t ask me to cite my sources; this is reckless speculation and synthesis — is that human rights as everyone involved use the term and Christianity as at least Douthat uses the term have evolved in parallel with other institutions that enable, support, and derive from a culture of mutual trust and trade like the one that has developed into the modern West. No appeals to Aristotle, St. Francis, or American exceptionalism necessary — cultures with institutions that promote cooperation, trust, and euvoluntary exchange tend to pwn those that don’t. If the Rise of China as the Next Great Superpower comes to pass, it won’t be the way the Sinophobes think: It’ll be due either to the evolution of solid commercial institutions in China, the devolution of the Anglosphere into internecine skirmishing over ever-broader Wars On Nouns (and possibly a Boomer-related debt crisis), or both.
Institutions matter. Euvoluntary exchange matters. The rest, as they say, is commentary. You can’t have human rights without commerce — well, you probably can in a sci-fi novel, but I don’t see it happening in the real world. The debate over whether Nordic-style market socialism/neoliberalism works better than Anglosphere-style snarky-quotes “free market” corporatism is a great way to keep policy wonks off the streets but ultimately irrelevant; they’re just two different ways to get to (more or less) the same functioning institutions. There are other ways to get there too. The point is getting there.