14 September 2006

Human rights

While blithering about human rights in the previous post, I meant to mention Dave Kopel's piece yesterday as a case in point. Since I went on so long it's probably good that I forgot.

Kopel quotes a United Nations report saying that protection of human rights requires that governments "keep small arms out of the hands of persons who are likely to misuse them"

Equally, the US has traditionally seen it as a human right to be free to obtain firearms, as recognised in its constitution.

Neither approach is obviously stupid - one can make a reasonable case either way. But they are totally in conflict; they cannot possibly both be universal human rights. Thus, the outcome of any attempt to "establish" human rights universally could only be conflict between the two visions - a conflict that need not occur if countries recognise each others' sovereignty.

I don't mean to espouse any kind of moral relativism - one society's vision of human rights need not be as good as another's. In fact on this issue, unlike the gambling one, I agree with the Septics. But to say "my way is right and everyone must follow it" is to say "I must be world ruler". I say "my way is better than your way", but you're free to do it wrong as long as direct effects on me are kept to a minimum.

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