When it comes to repressive ideologies, there are candidates aplenty: the nationalistic statism of China and Russia; the personalistic autocracies of the Castros, Kims, Hugo Chavez and Robert Mugabe; and even the extremist Islamic societies of Iran and Saudi Arabia.
As diverse as these ideologies seem to be, the models for relating man to society can be reduced to two. One contends that man possesses inalienable human rights by virtue of being human - life, free expression, assembly, association, worship, the fruits of one’s labors and the presumption of innocence. The other contends that human rights are subordinate to the party, state or leader and that rights can be bestowed or withheld depending on circumstances and interests.
History has demonstrated that human liberty is always imperiled and that without constant vigilance, societies will succumb to the entropy of disordered self-indulgence or a tyrannical regime. At America’s inception, the origin of these human rights was clearly enunciated even if they were sometimes violated in practice - especially in the institution of slavery. The founders understood that a purely humanistic justification for inviolable human rights is logically flawed, because if public opinion or the interests of the state change, these rights can be abridged. It was only in ascribing the origin of these rights to a higher authority that they were given an objective grounding, a grounding that isn’t subject to public opinion or the caprice of the state, the party or the individual.
It is plainly evident that there is no such grounding in statism or the personalistic autocracies. Whenever an individual challenges or confronts these states or dictators, he or she is silenced or squashed. In explicitly Islamic societies, human rights are abridged by the expediency of defining “classes”: true believers and the rest who have lesser rights.
This subordination of human rights to the interests of parties, states and individuals is what Mr. Liu is dissenting from. It is impossible for most of us to comprehend what he and similar prisoners of conscience experience. Their voices and tribulations keep a bright light on the inviolable rights of man and give us fortitude when we are tempted to accommodate these anti-human ideologies for financial gain or political expediency. Despite the human flaws they share with all mankind, they are the world’s heroes.
THOMAS M. DORAN
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