Here is an interesting-looking book from Princeton University Press that critiques the concept of universal human rights: Rights as Weapons: Instruments of Conflict, Tools of Power, by political scientist Clifford Bob of Duquesne University. (Full disclosure: Professor Bob was a participant in a conference our Tradition Project co-sponsored in June 2017, on the differing conceptions of tradition in American and Russian politics, at the Bruno Kessler Foundation in Trento, Italy). Here’s the description of the book from the Princeton website:
Rights are usually viewed as defensive concepts representing mankind’s highest aspirations to protect the vulnerable and uplift the downtrodden. But since the Enlightenment, political combatants have also used rights belligerently, to batter despised communities, demolish existing institutions, and smash opposing ideas. Delving into a range of historical and contemporary conflicts from all areas of the globe, Rights as Weapons focuses on the underexamined ways in which the powerful wield rights as aggressive weapons against the weak.
Clifford Bob looks at how political forces use rights as rallying cries: naturalizing novel claims as rights inherent in humanity, absolutizing them as trumps over rival interests or community concerns, universalizing them as transcultural and transhistorical, and depoliticizing them as concepts beyond debate. He shows how powerful proponents employ rights as camouflage to cover ulterior motives, as crowbars to break rival coalitions, as blockades to suppress subordinate groups, as spears to puncture discrete policies, and as dynamite to explode whole societies. And he demonstrates how the targets of rights campaigns repulse such assaults, using their own rights-like weapons: denying the abuses they are accused of, constructing rival rights to protect themselves, portraying themselves as victims rather than violators, and repudiating authoritative decisions against them. This sophisticated framework is applied to a diverse range of examples, including nineteenth-century voting rights movements; the American civil rights movement; nationalist, populist, and religious movements in today’s Europe; and internationalized conflicts related to Palestinian self-determination, animal rights, gay rights, and transgender rights.
Comparing key episodes in the deployment of rights, Rights as Weapons opens new perspectives on an idea that is central to legal and political conflicts.
Here’s a report on last month’s meeting of the Tradition Project in Rome, on “The Value of Tradition in the Global Context.” Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito of the Supreme Court of the United States delivered the keynote address:
As a highlight of this year’s Tradition Project session, Justice Alito spoke about the relationship between international and national law in the context of human rights. “The conflict between global human rights norms and local legal traditions has become acute over the past decade,” says Professor Mark L. Movsesian, who directs the Center for Law and Religion and co-directs the Project with Professor Marc O. DeGirolami. “Justice Alito’s keynote addressed a timely topic in a substantive way. We were so honored to have him with us.”
After Justice Alito’s remarks, the Project convened a panel of respondents that included Giuseppe Dalla Torre, president of the Vatican City Tribunal; Ugo De Siervo, president emeritus of the Italian Constitutional Court; Chantal Delsol of the Academie des Sciences Morales et Politiques; and Andrés Ollero of the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal.
The session also included four invitation-only workshops on “Understandings of Tradition in the Global Context”; “Local Traditions and Global Government”; “Liberalism, Populism, and Nationalism”; and “Tradition and Human Rights.” Participants prepared short reflection papers on the various topics. “There was a lot to discuss in the workshops, and there will be a lot to keep elaborating and deepening in the near future,” says LUMSA Professor Monica Lugato, one of the Tradition Project session organizers. “It was a challenging and rewarding academic meeting.”
Thanks to our partners at LUMSA and at Villanova for co-sponsoring the Rome meeting. Watch this space for news about future Tradition Project events!
In this episode, Center Director Mark Movsesian and Associate Director Marc DeGirolami discuss the upcoming meeting of the Center’s Tradition Project, set for Rome on December 12-13. This session, “The Value of Tradition in the Global Context,” features a keynote address by Justice Samuel Alito, a response panel of European jurists, and a series of workshops with scholars from both sides of the Atlantic. Mark and Marc discuss the relationship among tradition, liberalism, nationalism, and populism in today’s world and address recent works by Yascha Mounk, Mark Lilla, Patrick Deneen, and Yoram Hazony, as well as, on its 25 anniversary, Samuel Huntington’s famous essay on the clash of civilizations.
Last year, we were honored to host Sir Roger Scruton as the keynoter for the second session of our Tradition Project, on culture and citizenship, here in New York. (You can view the video on the sidebar to the right, or on our Videos page). This fall, Sir Roger published a book on the subject of culture for Encounter Books, Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged. Looks very worthwhile. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
What is culture? Why should we preserve it, and how? In this book renowned philosopher Roger Scruton defends Western culture against its internal critics and external enemies, and argues that rumours of its death are seriously exaggerated. He shows our culture to be a continuing source of moral knowledge, and rebuts the fashionable sarcasm which sees it as nothing more than the useless legacy of ‘dead white European males’. He is robust in defence of traditional architecture and figurative painting, critical of the fashionable relativists and urgent in his plea for our civilization, which more than ever stands in need of the self-knowledge and self-confidence that are the gift of serious culture.
We’re delighted to announce we’ll hold the third session of the Tradition Project, “The Value of Tradition in the Global Context,” next week in Rome. This session will feature a public address, on December 12, by Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., of the Supreme Court of the United States., and four private workshops on the conference themes. The event is hosted by our partners at LUMSA Università and is co-sponsored by Villanova’s Eleanor H. McCullen Center for Law, Religion and Public Policy. Details are available here, Programma12-13dicembre2018. Forum readers in Rome, stop by and say hello on December 12!
Congratulations to Center Board Member Judge Richard Sullivan! Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Rich to a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. For people keeping track, Rich is the second participant in our Center’s Tradition Project to be named to the federal appeals court. The other is Stephanos Bibas, now on the Third Circuit. We like to think our record speaks for itself.
Forum readers in the New York area should try to attend a fantastic-looking event here next month. Our friend at the University Bookman, Gerald Russello, is co-sponsoring a discussion between Patrick Deneen and Phillip Muñoz (both Notre Dame) on “The Crisis of Liberalism.” Patrick, Gerald, and Philip are all participants in our Tradition Project, and Phillip, whose work was the subject of a symposium here on the Forum last year, will also present a paper in our law-and-religion colloquium later in November. But we like to spread the wealth around. Details about the event, to take place on November 6, can be found at the link.
From Routledge, here is a collection of essays on the work of Christos Yannaras, one of the most important Orthodox Christian theologians working today: Christos Yannaras: Philosophy, Theology, Culture. In the Orthodox world, Yannaras is known for his skepticism about much contemporary human-rights discourse, which, he believes, is too heavily influenced by Western individualism. His work is therefore a challenge to easy assumptions about the universality of international human rights–a topic we will address at our Tradition Project meeting later this year in Rome.
The Routledge collection is edited by Andreas Andreopoulous (University of Winchester, UK) and Demetrios Harper (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki). The publisher’s description follows:
Christos Yannaras is one of the most significant Orthodox theologians of recent times. The work of Yannaras is virtually synonymous with a turn or renaissance of Orthodox philosophy and theology, initially within Greece, but as the present volume confirms, well beyond it. His work engages not only with issues of philosophy and theology, but also takes in wider questions of culture and politics.
With contributions from established and new scholars, the book is divided into three sections, which correspond to the main directions that Christos Yannaras has followed – philosophy, theology, and culture – and reflects on the ways in which Yannaras has engaged and influenced thought across these fields, in addition to themes including ecclesiology, tradition, identity, and ethics.
This volume facilitates the dialogue between the thought of Yannaras, which is expressed locally yet is relevant globally, and Western Christian thinkers. It will be of great interest to scholars of Orthodox and Eastern Christian theology and philosophy, as well as theology more widely.
Sir Roger Scruton delivered the keynote address at our second Tradition Project meeting in New York, in 2017. You can see the video of his address over on the sidebar and on our Videos page. Princeton University Press has just released the paperback edition of Sir Roger’s latest work, On Human Nature, a naturalistic argument for the uniqueness of human nature. Humans are unique, on this view, not because we bear the image of God, but because we have the unique capacity for self-reflection. Whether Scruton avoids Christian metaphysics because he does not believe, or because he thinks his work will be more accessible to contemporary readers without them, I don’t know. Sir Roger’s work is always interesting and worthwhile, though, and this looks to be no exception. The publisher’s description follows:
In this short book, acclaimed writer and philosopher Roger Scruton presents an original and radical defense of human uniqueness. Confronting the views of evolutionary psychologists, utilitarian moralists, and philosophical materialists such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, Scruton argues that human beings cannot be understood simply as biological objects. We are not only human animals; we are also persons, in essential relation with other persons, and bound to them by obligations and rights. Our world is a shared world, exhibiting freedom, value, and accountability, and to understand it we must address other people face to face and I to I.
Scruton develops and defends his account of human nature by ranging widely across intellectual history, from Plato and Averroës to Darwin and Wittgenstein. The book begins with Kant’s suggestion that we are distinguished by our ability to say “I”—by our sense of ourselves as the centers of self-conscious reflection. This fact is manifested in our emotions, interests, and relations. It is the foundation of the moral sense, as well as of the aesthetic and religious conceptions through which we shape the human world and endow it with meaning. And it lies outside the scope of modern materialist philosophy, even though it is a natural and not a supernatural fact. Ultimately, Scruton offers a new way of understanding how self-consciousness affects the question of how we should live.
The result is a rich view of human nature that challenges some of today’s most fashionable ideas about our species.
To start off our book posts this week, here is a forthcoming volume from Edward Elgar that looks great, the Research Handbook on Law and Religion, edited by our friend, Rex Adhar (University of Otago, New Zealand). The list of contributors, including our sometime guest bloggers, Michael Helfand and Steve Smith, and Tradition Project participants Perry Dane and Hans-Martien ten Napel (also Steve, wearing a different hat!), is quite impressive, indeed. The volume addresses law and religion from a comparative perspective, which is always helpful. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
Offering an interdisciplinary, international and philosophical perspective, this comprehensive Research Handbook explores both perennial and recent legal issues that concern the modern state and its interaction with religious communities and individuals.
Providing in-depth, original analysis the book includes studies of a wide array of nation states, such as India and Turkey, which each have their own complex issues centered on law, religion and the interactions between the two. Longstanding issues of religious liberty are explored such as the right of conscientious objection, religious confession privilege and the wearing of religious apparel. The contested meanings of the secular state and religious neutrality are revisited from different perspectives and the reality of the international human rights protections for religious freedom are analysed.
Timely and astute, this discerning Research Handbook will be a valuable resource for both academics and researchers interested in the many topics surrounding law and religion. Lawyers and practitioners will also appreciate the clarity with which the rights of religious liberty, and the challenges in making these compatible with state law, are presented.