Human rights without a rational mandate

Will Wilkinson has an amazing tl;dr abstrusity wank on the rational basis (or lack thereof) for human rights absent Christianity:

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.


5 Responses to “Human rights without a rational mandate”

  1. 1 perlhaqr
    May 29, 2012 at 06:15

    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.

    Iain M. Banks “Culture” novels, for instance. Which I like reading, and can even enjoy the econo-political philosophical basis behind, since it boils down to “functioning socialism requires magic”.

    • May 29, 2012 at 11:12

      You got me thinking about the Culture, and I’m going to quibble a bit. I read the Culture as a post-scarcity night-watchman state with ridiculously low transaction costs. It’s not socialist per se, it’s just that everything’s so cheap to make (post-scarcity) and easy to get (trivial transaction costs) that it takes maybe ten minutes of work to be set for life. There’s no great central bureaucracy allocating resources; there’s just a bunch of Ships that spend most of their time playing their own games and thumbing their metaphorical noses at gravitas.

  2. 3 TMI
    May 29, 2012 at 21:43

    A couple of key turning points in Western Civ. Luther. Descartes. Luther’s break was within the teachings of the Church, and he may be the original Tea Partier. Complaining about Catholics In Name Only.

    Descartes’ simple expression. Standing on the ontological underpinnings of Luther. Let me decide for myself whether or not a thing is true.

    I did appreciate the irony of Wilkonson’s Three Dialogues, but Dr. Johnson’s refutation was more in line with the dominant Western theme of Rationalism than the metaphysics that preceded or followed. And it is willful ignorance to not place David Hume amongst that same pantheon where we have ensconced guys like Jefferson, Madison, Adams and Burr. These were guys who were Christian. We know, because they said they were. We need no further inquiry, than their own words.

    Definitions are important. The meaning of words is important. This cannot mean that. Unless we apply the “Alladeen Rule.” (“Your are HIV Alladeen!”) And so, we turn to religious opinions.

    I’m not a Christian, since being a Christian requires one to recite the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed. I have a sister who is a Christian. I have two, other, sisters who aren’t, but may think they are. I know I am not. I do not believe that Mary was a virgin. Not that I would have believed in a swan, either. And, I’m not a believer in Christ. I know that Jesus lived, just as I know that Plato lived, that Abraham Lincoln lived. I’m a Knower in Christ. And the Pony Express.

    The political implications of Christ 300 years after His death? That one is a puzzler. Did people actually believe that if a woman floated, she was a witch, in the 17th century? Or was it the Mainstream Media of the time, advancing a meme? Did Christ need to be the offspring of a virgin? Why, exactly? Nevermind. You go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had.

    I don’t doubt that you’ve read Locke’s “Second Treatise.” Natural law arises from our relationship to our Creator. And I’m down with that. Since I have absolutely no fucking clue as to what our Creator may or may not be. I cannot bring myself to any argument or opinion of what the fuck our Creator is or isn’t. That is above my paygrade.

    And, anyone who asserts that they “know” the Lord, our God and Creator is a miserable lying shell of a man.

    If I were able to contemplate the Universe, perhaps then, I would be wiling to assert some knowledge of our Creator. Since I’m limited, and will never know or understand the Infinite, I think it’s the worst type of intellectual palsy to assert knowledge of our Creator. It’s a sideshow huckster’s trick, feeding the gullible the worst lies, for their own good, and the benefit of the huckster’s pocketbook.

    Not that that is the end result of any, some or most religious organizations. Nor, the motivation for those organizations. It’s just that, at the end of the day, the pastor or priest must intercede on our behalves, in order to save our souls. And that isn’t bad.

    What institutions exist that call for the self-examination of our souls? What institutions, today, call for us to be accountable for ourselves, and for our actions?

    So, the question isn’t, are religions necessary existence of our natural human rights? But what other institutions ask the question?

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