“Christos Yannaras” (Andreopoulos & Harper, eds.)

9781472472083From 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.

Roth, “P. C. Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”

15890Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that all human beings are “endowed with reason and conscience,” a phrase which suggests a Western, individualist worldview. In fact, as Mary Ann Glendon recounts in A World Made New, the phrase appears in the document largely at the instigation of the Chinese delegate, P.C. Chang, who wished to temper Western individualism. The original text referred only to “reason,” which Chang sought to balance by adding the Chinese word, ren, for a Confucian concept which would be roughly translated in English as “two-man mindedness”–benevolence, or empathy. The drafters apparently found it impossible to translate ren in a felicitous way and so settled on “conscience,” which has a rather different connotation. It’s interesting to think about what human rights law would look like today if Chang’s more communitarian concept had made it into the document.

This story is no doubt discussed in a forthcoming book from the University of Pennsylvania Press, P. C. Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by scholar Hans Ingvar Roth (Stockholm University). The publisher’s description follows:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of the world’s best-known and most translated documents. When it was presented to the United Nations General Assembly in December in 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the writing group, called it a new “Magna Carta for all mankind.” The passage of time has shown Roosevelt to have been largely correct in her prediction as to the declaration’s importance. No other document in the world today can claim a comparable standing in the international community.

Roosevelt and French legal expert René Cassin have often been represented as the principal authors of the UN Declaration. But in fact, it resulted from a collaborative effort involving a number of individuals in different capacities. One of the declaration’s most important authors was the vice chairman of the Human Rights Commission, Peng Chun Chang (1892-1957), a Chinese diplomat and philosopher whose contribution has been the focus of growing attention in recent years. Indeed, it is Chang who deserves the credit for the universality and religious ecumenism that are now regarded as the declaration’s defining features. Despite this, Chang’s extraordinary contribution was overlooked by historians for many years.

Peng Chun Chang was a modern-day Renaissance man—teacher, scholar, university chancellor, playwright, diplomat, and politician. A true cosmopolitan, he was deeply involved in the cultural exchange between East and West, and the dramatic events of his life left a profound mark on his intellectual and political work. P. C. Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the first biography of this extraordinary actor on the world stage, who belonged to the same generation as Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek. Drawing on previously unknown sources, it casts new light on Chang’s multifaceted life and involvement with one of modern history’s most important documents.

Rhodes, “The Debasement of Human Rights”

9781594039799_FC-310x460Several recent books, most notably Patrick Deneen’s “Why Liberalism Failed,” argue that liberalism is collapsing on itself, a victim of its own success. These arguments are resisted by classical liberals, who maintain that the problem is not liberalism, but newer, progressive corruptions. A new book from Encounter, The Debasement of Human Rights, by author Aaron Rhodes, fits into the latter camp. Rhodes sees a problem with contemporary human rights law – one of liberalism’s great achievements – but says the problem is that human rights law has departed from its natural law roots and become statist. Readers can judge for themselves. Here is the publisher’s description:

The idea of human rights began as a call for individual freedom from tyranny, yet today it is exploited to rationalize oppression and promote collectivism. How did this happen? Aaron Rhodes, recognized as “one of the leading human rights activists in the world” by the University of Chicago, reveals how an emancipatory ideal became so debased.

Rhodes identifies the fundamental flaw in the Universal Declaration of Human of Rights, the basis for many international treaties and institutions. It mixes freedom rights rooted in natural law—authentichuman rights—with “economic and social rights,” or claims to material support from governments, which are intrinsically political. As a result, the idea of human rights has lost its essential meaning and moral power.

The principles of natural rights, first articulated in antiquity, were compromised in a process of accommodation with the Soviet Union after World War II, and under the influence of progressivism in Western democracies. Geopolitical and ideological forces ripped the concept of human rights from its foundations, opening it up to abuse. Dissidents behind the Iron Curtain saw clearly the difference between freedom rights and state-granted entitlements, but the collapse of the USSR allowed demands for an expanding array of economic and social rights to gain legitimacy without the totalitarian stigma.

The international community and civil society groups now see human rights as being defined by legislation, not by transcendent principles. Freedoms are traded off for the promise of economic benefits, and the notion of collective rights is used to justify restrictions on basic liberties.

We all have a stake in human rights, and few serious observers would deny that the concept has lost clarity. But no one before has provided such a comprehensive analysis of the problem as Rhodes does here, joining philosophy and history with insights from his own extensive work in the field.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Sikkink, “Evidence for Hope”

k11100I’ve written elsewhere, and on this blog, too, about the need to be modest about the international human rights project. Widespread agreement on vague generalities like “human dignity” obscures deep disagreement about the specific content of human rights. Notwithstanding pretensions of universality, much contemporary human rights discourse assumes Western norms that do not obtain everywhere; people who expect a thick global commitment are likely to be disappointed. Much better to limit one’s goals to ending serious, catastrophic human rights violations like genocide–which, as recent events in the Mideast show, is itself very difficult to achieve. At least that’s how it seems to me.

A new book from Harvard Professor Kathryn Sikkink, Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century (Princeton), argues that pessimism like mine is unwarranted. Readers can judge for themselves. Here’s a description from the publisher’s website:

A history of the successes of the human rights movement and a case for why human rights work

Evidence for Hope makes the case that, yes, human rights work. Critics may counter that the movement is in serious jeopardy or even a questionable byproduct of Western imperialism. They point out that Guantánamo is still open, the Arab Spring protests have been crushed, and governments are cracking down on NGOs everywhere. But respected human rights expert Kathryn Sikkink draws on decades of research and fieldwork to provide a rigorous rebuttal to pessimistic doubts about human rights laws and institutions. She demonstrates that change comes slowly and as the result of struggle, but in the long term, human rights movements have been vastly effective.

Attacks on the human rights movement’s credibility are based on the faulty premise that human rights ideas emerged in North America and Europe and were imposed on developing southern nations. Starting in the 1940s, Latin American leaders and activists were actually early advocates for the international protection of human rights. Sikkink shows that activists and scholars disagree about the efficacy of human rights because they use different yardsticks to measure progress. Comparing the present to the past, she shows that genocide and violence against civilians have declined over time, while access to healthcare and education has increased dramatically. Cognitive and news biases contribute to pervasive cynicism, but Sikkink’s investigation into past and current trends indicates that human rights is not in its twilight. Instead, this is a period of vibrant activism that has made impressive improvements in human well-being.

Exploring the strategies that have led to real humanitarian gains since the middle of the twentieth century, Evidence for Hope looks at how these essential advances can be supported and sustained for decades to come.

 

Orgad, “The Cultural Defense of Nations”

9780198806912Nationalism is currently resurging in the West. Nationalism explains the Brexit vote in 2016, the rise of anti-European political parties in Europe, and the Trump phenomenon in the US. For the most part, the academy refuses to treat nationalism as at all legitimate, assuming that it is simply a mask for much darker, illiberal forces — which it sometimes is, of course. A new book from Oxford University Press, The Cultural Defense of Nations: A Liberal Theory of Majority Rights, by Liav Orgad (WZB Berlin Social Science Center), takes nationalism seriously and offers a defense of it from within the liberal tradition. Looks interesting. Here’s the description from the Oxford website:

Never in human history has so much attention been paid to human movement. Global migration yields demographic shifts of historical significance, profoundly shaking up world politics as has been seen in the refugee crisis, the Brexit referendum, and the 2016 US election.

The Cultural Defense of Nations addresses one of the greatest challenges facing liberalism today: is a liberal state justified in restricting immigration and access to citizenship in order to protect its majority culture? Liberal theorists and human rights advocates recognize the rights of minorities to maintain their unique cultural identity, but assume that majorities have neither a need for similar rights nor a moral ground for defending them. The majority culture, so the argument goes, “can take care of itself.” However, with more than 250 million immigrants worldwide, majority groups increasingly seek to protect what they consider to be their national identity. In recent years, liberal democracies have introduced proactive immigration and citizenship policies that are designed to defend the majority culture.

This book shifts the focus from the prevailing discussion of cultural minority rights, for the first time directly addressing the cultural rights of majorities and, for the first time, addressed the cultural rights of majorities. It proposes a new approach by which liberal democracies can welcome immigrants without fundamentally changing their cultural heritage, forsaking their liberal traditions, or slipping into extreme nationalism.

Disregarding the topic of cultural majority rights is not only theoretically wrong, but also politically unwise. With forms of “majority nationalism” rising and the growing popularity of extreme right-wing parties in the West, the time has come to liberally address contemporary challenges.

Sangiovanni, “Humanity without Dignity”

Human dignity is the fundamental principle of international human rights law. Dignity has also begun to make inroads into American constitutional law. And yet, no one has yet come up with a definition of dignity that commands a consensus. This lack of agreement causes increasing problems for human rights law, especially with regard to issues like religious liberty and same-sex marriage.

Andrea Sangiovanni, a Reader in Philosophy at King’s College London, has written a new book, Humanity without Dignity: Moral Equality, Respect, and Human Rights (Harvard) that argues against grounding human rights in human dignity. Instead, Sangiovanni argues, human rights can be justified on the grounds of avoiding cruelty. I’m not sure how well a non-cruelty principle would work as a justification for human rights, myself. Most people believe there is a duty not to be cruel to animals; but that would not entail “animal rights,” it seems to me. Anyway, here is the description of the book, from the Harvard website:

9780674049215-lgName any valued human trait—intelligence, wit, charm, grace, strength—and you will find an inexhaustible variety and complexity in its expression among individuals. Yet we insist that such diversity does not provide grounds for differential treatment at the most basic level. Whatever merit, blame, praise, love, or hate we receive as beings with a particular past and a particular constitution, we are always and everywhere due equal respect merely as persons.

But why? Most who attempt to answer this question appeal to the idea that all human beings possess an intrinsic dignity and worth—grounded in our capacities, for example, to reason, reflect, or love—that raises us up in the order of nature. Andrea Sangiovanni rejects this predominant view and offers a radical alternative.

To understand our commitment to basic equality, Humanity without Dignity argues that we must begin with a consideration not of equality but of inequality. Rather than search for a chimerical value-bestowing capacity possessed to an equal extent by each one of us, we ought to ask: Why and when is it wrong to treat others as inferior? Sangiovanni comes to the conclusion that our commitment to moral equality is best explained by a rejection of cruelty rather than a celebration of rational capacity. He traces the impact of this fundamental shift for our understanding of human rights and the norms of anti-discrimination that underlie it.

 

Waldron, “One Another’s Equals”

Arguably, the most important value in human rights law in the West today is equality. (Dignity is a close contender). Equality, however, is a comparative concept; one must first decide whether things are like one another before one can decide whether they must receive equal treatment. So, one what basis can we say that persons are alike, such that the law should treat them equally? The imago Dei is one obvious answer; the human capacity for reason is another. NYU law professor Jeremy Waldron discusses these sources and others in a new book from Harvard University Press, One Another’s Equals: The Basis of Human Equality. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

9780674659766-lgAn enduring theme of Western philosophy is that we are all one another’s equals. Yet the principle of basic equality is woefully under-explored in modern moral and political philosophy. In a major new work, Jeremy Waldron attempts to remedy that shortfall with a subtle and multifaceted account of the basis for the West’s commitment to human equality.

What does it mean to say we are all one another’s equals? Is this supposed to distinguish humans from other animals? What is human equality based on? Is it a religious idea, or a matter of human rights? Is there some essential feature that all human beings have in common? Waldron argues that there is no single characteristic that serves as the basis of equality. He says the case for moral equality rests on four capacities that all humans have the potential to possess in some degree: reason, autonomy, moral agency, and the ability to love. But how should we regard the differences that people display on these various dimensions? And what are we to say about those who suffer from profound disability—people whose claim to humanity seems to outstrip any particular capacities they have along these lines?

Waldron, who has worked on the nature of equality for many years, confronts these questions and others fully and unflinchingly. Based on the Gifford Lectures that he delivered at the University of Edinburgh in 2015, One Another’s Equals takes Waldron’s thinking further and deeper than ever before.

Tugendhat, “Liberty Intact”

As readers of this blog know, the Center is in the midst of a three-year research project, the Tradition Project, which examines the continuing relevance of tradition–the received wisdom of the past–for law, politics, and culture. At our first meeting last fall, we focused on tradition in law and, specifically, the traditionalism of the common law method. A new book by Sir Michael Tugendhat, a Judge of the High Court of England and Wales, Liberty Intact: Human Rights in English Law (Oxford) argues that contemporary human rights law derives from English common law antecedents. Several participants in the Tradition Project would no doubt agree. Here’s a description from the Oxford website:

9780198790990 (1)What are the connections between conceptions of rights found in English law and those found in bills of rights around the World? How has English Common Law influenced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948 and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) 1950? These questions and more are answered in Michael Tugendhat’s historical account of human rights from the eighteenth century to present day.

Focusing specifically on the first modern declarations of the rights of mankind- the ‘Virginian Declaration of Rights’, 1776, the French ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen’, 1789, and the ‘United States Bill of Rights’, 1791- the book recognises that the human rights documented in these declarations of the eighteenth century were already enshrined in English common law, many originating from English law and politics of the fifteenth century. The influence of English Common Law , taken largely from Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, can also be realised in the British revolutions of 1642 and 1688; the American and French Revolutions of 1776 and 1789 respectively; and through them, on the UDHR and ECHR. Moreover, Tugendhat argues that British law, in all but a few instances, either meets or exceeds human rights standards, and thus demonstrates that human rights law is British law and not a recent invention imported from abroad.

Structured in three sections, this volume (I) provides a brief history of human rights; (II) examines the rights found in the American and French declarations and demonstrates their ancestry with English law; and (III) discusses the functions of rights and how they have been, and are, put to use.

“Patriarch Kirill in His Own Words” (Hatfield, ed.)

In recent years, the Russian Orthodox Church has taken the lead in asserting an Orthodox approach to human rights, one that focuses on the moral value of tradition and which differs in significant respects from the secular human rights model. In close coordination with the Russian government, the Church, and especially its leader, Patriarch Kirill, has promoted its vision of human rights in international fora, including the UN’s Human Rights Council, often to the consternation of Western human rights advocates.

It’s imperative for students of human rights law to understand the Church’s model and its appeal to tradition–an appeal that differs in significant ways from Western understandings of tradition. In fact, next month in Trento, the Center will co-host a conference on the different meanings of tradition in American and Russian thought; more on this to come. Meanwhile, here’s a new book from the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press on Kirill’s thought, Patriarch Kirill in His Own Words, edited by the seminary’s president, Chad Hatfield. The description is from the publisher’s website:

KirillProfiles8__77148.1479225081.300.300Patriarch Kirill shepherds the largest flock in the Orthodox world in a time of great transition and growth. In the past century Russia experienced the greatest persecution of Christians in history. But the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” and in the years following the fall of the Soviet Union the Church in Russia has been reborn and has grown beyond all expectation.

This unprecedented renewal continues under Patriarch Kirill’s pastoral guidance. In this book we encounter the patriarch’s vision for the Church’s mission and public life, including her relationship with the state. We also find the penetrating words of a spiritual father who offers counsel on how we can fight the passions and acquire the virtues, who gives guidance on how we can find our way in the midst of modern temptations, confusions, and distractions. At the very center of Patriarch Kirill’s vision we encounter Christ, who wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2.4).

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