KNIGHT: Astride the world

Obama’s U.N. rhetoric soars high above the real world

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The idea that people are basically good and would share and live in peace if only the right system would come along is an enduring human conceit, revealed as a lie in the horrors inflicted by communism. It’s not that people don’t have admirable qualities, but no one ever had to teach a child how to misbehave.

Taming our natural bent toward vices takes a lifetime and divine intervention. In the case of people who mean to do evil, the only solution is force. Nations, which are composed of people, will break treaties the minute it is in their interest to do so.

In discussing prospects for peace in the Middle East, Mr. Obama strongly asserted America’s commitment to Israel while noting Palestinians’ desires. But he did some pipe-dreaming as well: “The deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in the other’s shoes; each side can see the world through the other’s eyes.” It would help if Hamas rewrote its charter to remove the part about eliminating Israel. It’s hard to stand in someone’s shoes while advocating their owner’s violent death.

What Mr. Obama hails as a universal longing for human rights is a fairly recent Western invention. As America’s founders explained, we deserve rights only because we are created in the image of God, and we have laws because we are not angels.

Around the world, the idea of individual human rights took root precisely where Christianity penetrated cultures. It took root at the U.N. when it adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

The declaration mirrors many rights in our Constitution but also incorporates fuzzy utopianism, such as each person’s “social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality” and the right “to enjoy the arts.” This kind of stuff creeps in when you let Eleanor Roosevelt call the shots.

Upon reflection, instead of Rodney King, it would be better to compare Mr. Obama to Jack Dawson, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character who, standing on the Titanic’s bow, declared himself “king of the world.” Massive government debt is, of course, the iceberg.

Much of Mr. Obama’s speech touched on positive developments, such as peace in Northern Ireland, the birth of South Sudan and optimism over the Arab Spring. Overall, it was an upper.

But while he is practiced speaking for the entire world, it would be nice if Mr. Obama spoke on behalf of the United States once in a while.

Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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