HLS Library Book Talk | ‘Christian Human Rights’ by Samuel Moyn

ASLIHAN BULUT: Hello, everyone. Welcome. My name’s Aslihan Bulut, and
on behalf of the HLS library, I would like to thank you all
for coming to today’s lunch and talk of profession of
Professor Moyn’s new book, Christian Human Rights. I would like to also thank
the Dean’s Office for today’s lunch, and I encourage
you all to enjoy the refreshments while you
listen to today’s discussion. Just as a quick note,
today’s talk will be taped, so please note that if
you ask any questions at the end of the talk, they
will be part of the recording. Professor Moyn is Professor
of Law and History at Harvard University. His areas of interest
include international law, human rights, the law of
war, and legal thought in both historical and
current perspective. In intellectual
history, he has worked on a diverse range of subjects,
especially 20th century European moral and
political theory. Professor Gerald Neuman is the
J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International Foreign
and Comparative Law, and the co-director of the
Human Rights Program at HLS. From 2011 to 2014, he was a
member of the Human Rights Committee, the treaty body
that monitors compliance with the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights. Professor Charles Maier–
he’s running just a little bit late– is a Leverett Saltonstall
Professor of History at Harvard University. He’s a member of the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Council on Foreign
Relations and a Fellow of the Massachusetts
Historical Society. . And Professor Michael Ignatieff
is the Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice at
Harvard Kennedy School. He’s a Canadian writer,
teacher, and former politician. He served in the
Parliament of Canada and was leader of the
Liberal Party of Canada. Just one other
announcement. [? Coop ?] is in the corner selling
copies of the book. And Professor Moyn will sign
the copies in his office during office
hours, because he’s going to be running off to
class right after the talk. And without further
ado, I will turn it over to our esteemed panel. Thanks. SAMUEL MOYN: All right, well,
thank you all for coming, even though this session is not
about Justice Scalia’s legacy. I’d also like to thank June
Casey and the library staff for proposing this
session and organizing it. Not least, I’d like to
thank the panelists. I’ve looked up to each
of them in various ways for so many years,
but it’s also true that I suggested their
names, because I thought they would disagree
with the book and therefore make this
session more interesting. So this book,
Christian Human Rights, is actually a book of
essays, and it’s concentrated on human rights in the 1940s. That’s the era when
we get the UN Charter. This is an archival
photo of the preamble with dignity, the word dignity,
actually being written into it. And it’s of course the era
when we get the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, with its commitment to the dignity of the
person and the rights that follow from that dignity. Now in prior work
to this book, I’ve argued that we should
probably, on balance, pay less attention to
the 1940s for reasons this new Google data I’m
showing you suggests. This is a Google
product that lets us measure the comparative
salience of words, phrases, and names across time. And the striking fact is that
our ancestors in the ’40s seem to have
bypassed human rights rather than get
excited about them. They seem to have been mainly
interested in other things, but in this new book,
Christian Human Rights, I’m saying that if we are
going to dwell on the 1940s, we have to make more room for
Christianity and especially for self-consciously Christian
political projects than we have so far, rather than see
human rights as just preparation for current
political causes, and of course, legal
projects amongst them. So I don’t think it ought to
be surprising that Christianity was of great significance
in the 1940s with respect to the birth of these norms. More than 80% of the original
members of the United Nations were Christian-majority states. And that total was nearly
the same in December 1948, when the UDHR was voted through. But actually, in the book
I don’t pay much attention to that universal level
of the United Nations, because there were indeed lots
of different kinds of players there. Instead, I looked
somewhere else, mainly at the Western European
area and to some extent the transatlantic
scene, because that’s where the most powerful
states were located, and that’s where it often
mattered to politicians and citizens to find the right
kind of Christian politics in an anxious time. So the main argument
of the book is that for a great many
actors back then, human dignity and
rights were not exactly the secular, progressive idea
that we tend to think when we hear about human rights today. But I try to argue that in fact,
many proponents of human rights were religious and conservative. And more precisely,
the book tries to argue that human
rights often function to help save
religious conservatism from its far-right mistakes. And conversely,
the reformulation of conservatism in this
era helped move rights to an identifiably
center-right politics. Now to make this
admittedly counterintuitive and I hope provocative
argument, I look across the book at a number
of once-prominent individuals. These are some of
them on this slide, but I’m not going to identify
them or tell you who they were. Instead, I’m going to summarize
the approach by saying that I try to connect
human rights to the two main events in the ’40s
in the transatlantic zone, both of which I think had
prominent Christian aspects. So first, there was the
rise of Christian democracy in the form of new kinds of
victorious political parties, which came to dominate much
of Western Europe for decades. And then there was
the crystallization of a Cold War posture
transatlantically, whose proponents
often interpreted it as a struggle of Christian
democracy for survival. And human rights were understood
to be part of that cause. Ultimately, my proposition
in the book is pretty simple. We should connect human
rights in this era to the main events of
the era rather than view them just as a dry
run for us, especially if we locate ourselves on
the secular, progressive side of things today. We shouldn’t surgically
extract human rights from the crucible of their time
even if today, since the ’70s and especially ’90s,
we use human rights for very different purposes
in our different crucible. So along the way,
I do acknowledge that human rights in the ’40s
were a response to the past. But it’s not so
much or not really much at all the
past of Holocaust atrocity, as many like
Michael have argued. Instead, I think the
best way to think about the relation
of human rights to the past in the ’40s was
a past of conservatism that had gone badly awry
just a few years before, and now needed to
reclaim its bearings. So for that reason,
I try to show that we can’t understand
Christian politics as so important in the rhetoric
of human dignity and rights without what a lot of historians
today call a transwar approach. It looks at the post-war
but without forgetting not only the war, but the period
before the war of the ’30s, in order to understand
what actors were doing then before they experienced
the confusions of the war and embraced human dignity
and rights afterwards. And as you probably
know, sadly in the 1930s many Europeans were
choosing far-right options. And this included,
although we often forget, Christian forms of
authoritarianism. And in fact, more and more chose
that option during World War II itself. So if that’s true, the 1940s
embrace of human rights may have been a way of
processing or even forgetting past mistakes, not
mourning victims as we might like to think today. So with that 1930s background
in place, and that’s much of what the book
does is look back then, it’s easier to see human rights
as a kind of course correction by conservatives–
not for everyone. But for many, these ideas of
human rights and human dignity more specifically, are
helpfully understood as part of the creation of
a center-right politics. The far-right has been taken
off the table as an option by the war outside the Iberian
Peninsula for 30 years. And on the left, socialist and
communist politics loom large. So to make these
arguments, I actually proceed in a very
literal-minded way. First, I try to look at who was
for the idea of human dignity. Who placed it in important
legal documents, first of all national constitutions? And then I look at the
concept of the person. Both these concepts, dignity
and the so-called human person, who were consecrated in the
founding documents of the UN Charter and the
Universal Declaration and in other non-international
legal documents. I also look at different
kinds of Christians, including Catholics
and Protestants. Although I think
in the end what’s most interesting about this
era for historians of Europe is that these two
groups are starting to get along after
centuries of strife, including in new formations like
the German Christian Democratic Party. And the same people are
also inventing the notion of Judeo-Christianity too. What were the main
goals in this invention of center-right politics? Well, like us, Christian
proponents of human rights wanted to keep their own
states and proper bounds. Like us, they
understood human rights to be about the
promotion of justice. And like us, they
wanted to believe that justice involves
some crucial norms of personal freedom. But otherwise, I think the
proponents of human rights and Christian politics
were very different than many current
human rights advocates. For one things, the
Christians in my book were most interested
in order, not freedom, and in particular
fitting together personal freedom outside the
state with the moral community of churches and societies. These Christians, to
the best of my evidence, were not notably
focused on atrocity and almost never on foreign
suffering as the central issue human rights are
supposed to pick out, except sometimes the
suffering of Christians suffering under Soviet rule. These Christians also did
not found newfangled NGOs. After all, they had their
old ones called churches. And it was in the
name of those churches and the larger Christian
communities that needed shelter from the state that human rights
became important principles. Now later, everything
changed, and I want to insist on that last
element of my argument. The 1940s and ’50s were
institutional Christianity’s last golden age in its
old European homeland. Meanwhile, the secular left,
which was not mainly focused on human rights but instead
on building socialism in the 1940s, re-oriented. And so we have a
big reversal today. I believe it’s fair
to say, generalizing, that the Christian promotion
of human rights is not absent. It is not dominant anymore. Rather, human rights have
indeed become a project of the secular progressives. So why bother with
history unless you happen to be you
know professionally interested in it,
like Charlie and me? Well, my own main
reason is to learn that in spite of
what a lot of people have said about the 1940s, human
rights don’t come from on high. And human beings have
defined their core values in lots of different ways,
and in the 1940s defined human rights very
differently than we do now, which itself means that
human rights as a project were redefined in the meantime. And that of course means
that human rights are open to future redefinition. And we can redefine them too in
whatever way we may think best. So thank you very
much, and turn to Gerry and the other commentators. GERALD NEUMAN: Want
me to go first? SAMUEL MOYN: It
doesn’t really matter. GERALD NEUMAN: OK. Thank you. This is a really valuable
and fascinating book about the background
of the foundation of human rights in the 1940s. It calls attention
to a neglected strand in that history, the
theory of personalism, which helps account for
some of the vocabulary and phrasings used in the
early human rights instruments. It provides an important
corrective to presentism, the tendency to look back
at documents and events of the past through the lens
of our current understandings and debates. If you read the
book, then you will read the debates over
the Universal Declaration and the Covenants and
the European Convention with a different eye to
what some of the speakers really had in mind. This is a very
valuable achievement. I think, though,
that the book tells us more about how human rights
law came to be than it tells us about what human rights law is. The ideas that are
so well described here fed into a
political process. The political process
produced texts, the texts fed into more
debates over the years, and we have left some of the
questions of the 1940s behind. As an example, let me say
that the European Convention on Human Rights was definitely
drafted by Western Europeans, but the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights was drafted in the
UN more broadly with the participation
of the Soviet bloc, even if the Soviets in the
end abstained from the vote on the adoption of the
Universal Declaration. Human rights law
is not primarily an originalist
enterprise, and I don’t think a better understanding
of the intellectual climate of the 1940s will
lead human rights institutions or
advocates to change their interpretation of rights. One of the points
made in the book is how central
religious freedom was to some of the thinkers
described in the book, including some who are active
at the political level. And I agree that
religious freedom is still an important right, and I also
agree that a fundamental choice was made and implemented in
the text to protect conversion and to protect missionaries. This was divisive then, and it
continues to be divisive now. On the other hand, I don’t
think that any serious account of religious freedom
could leave room for the execution or
imprisonment of people who convert from one
religion to another. So I don’t think that the
actual history brought us to a different point than
we would have reached for different reasons
if we were going to have some genuine protection
of religious freedom. I’m less persuaded by the
argument in the fourth chapter of the book that tries to
link the history of the 1940s with the current case law of
the European Court of Human Rights, which provides
insufficient protection for the practices of
Muslim minorities. As Professor Moyn
himself says, it has turned out contrary to
the expectations of some of the thinkers
that he describes that religious freedom
has in general been underprotected by the European
Court of Human Rights. The human rights
instruments did not demand total separation
of church and state or any particular relation
between church and state, and the right to
religious practice was not drafted as
an absolute right. I think that the European
Court of Human Rights sees the variation
in religious views and anti-religious views as
a source of social conflict, and it tends to be deferential
towards states’ efforts to manage that conflict. I would put more emphasis
on the role played by the margin of
appreciation doctrine in the European Court of
Human Rights case law. And especially in the
aspect of that doctrine– that looks for a
European consensus– before it narrows the
state’s discretion. That methodology has led to the
under-protection of minority practices in religious
matters– in general– in European case law. And that has consequences
for non-Christian practices. I say this– not to justify it– I say this, having
served as a member of a different human
rights body, that does not endorse the margin
of appreciation doctrine. And that more strongly
protects minority religions. In fact– that has disagreed– finding violations on
cases that had previously been rejected by the European
Court of Human Rights. But I’m not persuaded
that the weaker protection at the European level
can be explained as a result of the history that
Professor Moyn so brilliantly illuminates in this book. Thank you. PROFESSOR MICHAEL
IGNATIEFF: I want to summarize what I learned,
because I learned a lot. European human rights’
discourse emerges as a part of a
Christian democratic, conservative restoration– directed forward at
the anti-religious, communist menace– and backwards at fascism. And the European Convention
is designed to keep Italy and Germany from backsliding. And so European human rights
has this very important support of the British
conservatives, the Adenauer CDU, and the [INAUDIBLE]
Christian Democrats. And that seems to me, a
really important contribution to our understanding of how
we got European human rights. And the roots of this are
laid in the papal encyclicals of the 1930’s, and the
Irish constitution of 1937, and then some of the
philosophical work done by Jacques Maritain. The point I would
like to draw out is that this tradition
is anti-capitalist, anti-individualist,
anti-liberal, and anti-statist. And it’s part of a much– then, going back much further– hostility to the liberal
democratic project– going back to 1789 1848–
there’s a long back-story here, of Christian conservative
reaction to liberal modernity. And I think that’s what makes
this so piqued and interesting, is that human rights is not the
terminus ad quem of you know, the 1789 and 1848 project. It may be the
counter-reaction against it. And that’s kind of– Sam’s been doing these
provocations for 30 years, and god bless him for it. It certainly makes you think. But it raises an issue. And I guess that’s kind of
question one for Sam, which is, so how does this doctrine– this conservative, restorative,
reactionary doctrine– make common cause with
the other strands that go into the making of the UDHR? Because I don’t think
he’s claiming human rights as Christian human rights. Sam’s claiming Christian human
rights are extremely important, forgotten tradition in the
genesis of modern human rights. But modern human
rights is a confluence of a bunch of traditions,
that include dear old, Eleanor Roosevelt,
the four freedoms, those kind of liberal– that American strain,
Scandinavian social democracy, some of the Liberty
Party progressives. And most importantly here, I
think, the central-European, constitutional lawyers– who happen to be Jewish– Lemkin, Lauterpacht. All these guys are coming
from another tradition which is not religious, not
anti-religious, not Jewish– but the fact that
they’re Jewish turns out to be important– because
they lose all their family in the Holocaust, right? So then the question
becomes, OK, how does the Christian
human rights’ tradition fuse with these other
traditions in ’48? Maritain has the famous
answer, which is, we all know we have human rights. We just agree to disagree
about why we have them, right? So then the fusion is a kind
of, proceduralist move in which, a lot of traditions
come together in the making of the UDHR. But it’s a very
unstable alliance, because it’s basically
we agree to disagree about why we’re here. We know we need
them but we don’t agree as to why they’re here. Is it because of the
sacredness of the human person? Is it because all the
other reasons that you might believe in human rights? Is it simply a
bracketing operation– as philosophers would say–
that gets this conference? I think the book is
not clear about how the fusion and blending
of these traditions becomes possible in 1948. The second thing I would say,
relates to an uncertainty I have in the book
about what it’s saying is the Christian
analysis of fascism. I mean, there are two kinds
of analysis you could have. One of them is that fascism is
totalitarian authoritarianism. And that’s what’s wrong
with it– that is, too much state power, right? Or it could be that fascism
is exterminate-free nihilism, which is a different claim. It’s the claim that you– not really have too
much state power– but you use it to wipe out
all kinds of human beings. And you do so in a way that is– for liberals, a
catastrophe, for Christians, a sense that the
cardinal sin here is a deep, moral
neglect of what is sacred about the human person. And I’m not clear in the book
what the Christian analysis of fascism is. You said in your presentation,
what they’re doing is trying to clear up the far right– the Christian flirtation
with the far right. They’re trying to deal
with the embarrassment of Catholic collaboration
with Vichy Catholic collaboration in Slovakia. Some pretty bad stuff. But there always was, in
the Christian reaction to the Nazis, a very
early understanding. This is not just
totalitarianism– this was exterminatory. And exterminatory–
the hour of glory in the Christian tradition
in the ’30s in Germany is to protest against the
Nazi euthanasia in relation to the disabled
and other persons. Very early on, the Christians
are among the first to say, wait a minute. This isn’t just
state power– this is an exterminatory project. And the reason the question
of what they think fascism is is important is
that it’s consistent with your other book. You say, look, the
Holocaust has nothing to do with this– that’s presentism. OK, I get that. I get the fact that our– your generation’s–
understanding of the Holocaust is a product not of the ’40s but
much more of the ’60s and ’70s. It’s for my generation– I’m much older than you– it’s the Chagran et la Pitie,
it’s [INAUDIBLE] it’s Primo Levi– stuff that gets written and
published, wonderful films, wonderful stuff in
which you become aware of the horror of the
Holocaust in the ’70s and ’80s. And that’s a tremendous
driver of modern human rights consciousness– the
never again stuff. Now it’s never again,
and again, and again. Forget about it. The idea that the
Holocaust becomes structuring of human rights,
only in the ’60s and ’70s is premised on a kind of,
return of the repressed. And the premise is that it’s
all repressed in the ’40s. I’m not convinced that you get
away with that– to be blunt– in this book. Because I think that,
your guy, Richard– this historian of human rights–
he comes out of Ravensbruck. He comes out of
Ravensbruck because he’s arrested for the 1944 plot. You got to be really deaf,
dumb, and blind to come out of Ravensbruck and not
knowing what was going on at Ravensbruck next door. And you got to be semi-deaf,
dumb, and blind as a young– as a German constitutional
lawyer– any, even awareness of the world– not to be aware of what
Dachau and Buchenwald look like in 1945. And the reason you really
are deaf, dumb, blind– if you don’t see it– is that
the occupation authorities are putting up posters to show you. I mean, Verner Soler’s work
on this is quite interesting. The idea that the Germans didn’t
really know anything about this till the trials of
the ’60s I don’t think is convincing after you see
just how much there was. So then there’s a
question about method because, the method of
the book– and you’ve done it superbly
well– and I don’t want to criticize anybody who’s
an intellectual historian, who pays the serious
attention you do to text. You know, if it
isn’t in the text, it’s not a driver of a
thought, is what you’re saying. Show me where
dignity comes from. OK, it comes from
papal encyclicals. Show me whether the Holocaust
figures in the text. If it isn’t in the
text, I’m not buying. OK, but that’s a curiously,
error-less, library-driven, kind of academic view of how
intellectual life gets shaped. I mean, these people are living
in a world where they’re– Jews are fleeing to
Palestine and you’ve got IDPs all over the
roads, Germany is in chaos. What are they seeing
when they see this? Your claim is what
they’re seeing is simply excessive authoritarianism. I’m claiming, they
are also seeing– this was as an
exterminatory project. And precisely the power of the
Christian critique of Nazism, was that it was an assault
on the human person– on its essential dignity. And that captures–
the reason I’m going on with this is that it
captures something that the liberal
critique didn’t catch. I mean, the liberal story is– what liberals worry
about fascism– is that the Weimar
constitutionalism didn’t stop Hitler from
destroying everything. The rule of law proved
to be pathetically unequal to the task. The Christians would
go further and say, there was some deeper disease
and sickness in the human soul that would lead all these fancy,
educated people to prosecute an exterminatory project. But you’re saying, the
Christians don’t go there. And I’m saying, well,
that was precisely the power of the Christian
critique of Nazism. It’s actually stronger than– you know, I’m an old Adlai
Stevenson-Eleanor Roosevelt liberal– but my side didn’t see that– the horror. And sometimes you’re saying– I guess you’re telling
me the Christians didn’t see it either. I’m just not convinced. So those are two questions. The question is,
how do they make common cause of the
people who weren’t Christians– who built the
human rights edifice after ’48? And secondly, what was
their analysis of fascism? PROFESSOR CHARLES
MAIER: Some of what I say will overlap with Michael. This is a very challenging book. We have been engaged,
as historians– not I, personally– but Sam is
one of the major ones in the reinterpretation of
the history of human rights. Also of international law, which
we find in unlikely sources, such as the tsars– tsar of Russia is
wanting to sponsor the Geneva Conventions at
the turn of the 20th century. The thesis has been
expounded by the others’ conservative human rights. I really liked this book a lot– but I was challenged, and
I do have some questions– so I will bring up
some of what I would have liked to have seen more. I would have liked,
actually, to have seen a little more in theology. You talk about personalism,
you talk about Maritain. But what he’s doing– you’re obviously quite
aware of this, you know– is bringing out a Thomistic,
neo-scholastic project. That is, God– as
Saint Thomas said– has implanted within us reason. And in that sense, we
share in this little aspect and imperfectly in
what divinity is. And it’s a doctrine which
you can trace back– and you mentioned this to
Stoics on a secular level– but it’s clearly a
scholastic revival. And I think it deserves
a little more exposition. The Protestant side
of this, if we’re doing theology, what
was not in the book– and I was surprised at it– was
the German Protestant churches split into those who
supported the Hitler project, Nazi project,
and those who withdrew. The confessional churches,
as they were called. The theology of Karl Barth,
and the reinterpretation built around the notion of Romans– the letter to the Romans– and to what extent you submit
to authority, don’t authority. I think that doesn’t
institutionally feed in, but I do think if
we’re doing this story, we have to ask about that
contribution– as well as Ritter, who was
not a theologian. It’s clear– the Catholic
attitude in the 19th century– at the time the church was
busy condemning liberalism and the syllabus of errors– was that expressed
rather cynically by Louis Veiullot,
a Catholic apologist in the second empire– said, “we demand
liberty of conscience so we can deny it to others.” OK, I’m not going
to tax Catholics for that, because obviously
this was overtaken, and Sam’s story is a
story of that overtaking. But I guess in a
sense, here’s where I come to what Michael said. This is a book in retrieval. I mean, it’s a method– you retrieve ideas– so
you look for the ideas. And you say they’re important–
and they are important. Justice Scalia, perhaps,
retrieved ideas. But, ideas are always
there in context. Sam, of course,
understands this. He’s saying, let’s
look at the context. But he’s looking, I think,
at a partial context. And this is I guess– for
someone who is even older than Michael– I had a birthday yesterday. It was appalling. I remember some
of these contexts. Gerhard Ritter, who wrote a
major essay on Nazism in 1950– it was published, early
then in the UNESCO volume– in which he says,
essentially, Nazism is a deformation of
the French Revolution. It is the result of an
excessive democracy. So here’s a man who
is retrieving liberty of conscience, but at
the same time placing it in a context which is as
important for his readers as the doctrine itself. And I think, this is, I
guess, the contextual notion. I mean, we know we can
look at David Kertzer’s recent book on Pius XI. These are popes, deeply
[? implicated, ?] maybe helplessly so, in the
fascist project as such. Pius XII loved Germany. He was a longtime nuncio there. He did not– and his
decision has been defended, and I don’t mean to raise
it here– did not raise his voice about Jews, as such. The Christian project doesn’t– because he says, we all
have this divine spark. It is not able to target
particular victims of violations of human rights. And I think this is one
of its difficulties. There’s no capacity
in this project, as it emerged in the ’40s,
to be able to say, look, we’ve had this glaring thing. So it strikes me–
you know, resurrecting the states of Western
Europe are to be built on a Christian
democratic project. But no one bothered
to say to what extent Jews were involved in that. Ultimately they came in–
it was Judeo-Christian– is this nice merger. Sam is very generous,
and he cites my book and its interpretation. He says I overlooked– or if
you extended my analysis– second World War– you
would not be able to see the Christian input into it. And I agree with him,
and I’ve said this. Christian democracy is
really the political novum of the post-war period. And it’s tremendously
important in bringing back former quasi-fascists into a
acceptable, conservative fold. I agree with him on
the implications. I guess I would– I do find the
French preoccupation with headscarves and insignia– they justify it on the
basis of the achievements and the necessity of
the French Revolution. But it’s become dysfunctional. If you want a great read on
that, take Orhan Pamuk’s Snow. And read the dialogue–
that the Islamist comes to a secular school
principal, who he will shoot, because the secular
school principal, being a good Kemalist, does not
allow a headscarf being worn. It’s a fantastic dialogue. It’s worth reading. So my sense, again, I’d like
a little more on the theology. My sense of history is, I’m less
preoccupied with retrieval– though I think it’s important
to understand this– and more concerned about context
and overall placement of ideas. One would not know anything– and you’ll say, well,
I didn’t intend it– one would not know anything
about the record of the church. It’s ambiguous
record, let’s say, because it did stand
up about euthanasia. But that was what
they stood up for. That was where the
bishops were courageous in denouncing this project. And I’m immensely
grateful to this church. And I still think of
these guys whenever I have hesitancies about
voluntary rights of the Seattle or Washington legislation,
or the Dutch legislation. This is a large stream. And I guess I would
have liked to– I would critique the book
only on this grounds. On the other hand, I think the
service of the book is immense. It does remind us we have
to go back to sources of rights and liberties. Which many of us, in a
profoundly secular society– I was brought up in one. I even went to a campaign
lunch for Adlai Stevenson as a teenager. It’s always a
question of balance. So I’m grateful for this book. But it is part of a debate, I
think, and that’s important. And even today when we
ask about these things, I think the resolution– I think it’s a pretty easy
to speak up for headscarves. I don’t know what I think
of the evangelical intrusion into American politics today. We’re watching its effects. I don’t know what I think
of any religious intrusion into politics. Because if human rights
were not a secular project, it’s clear that some
aspects of secularism had to be encompassed within
a more general human rights agenda. SAMUEL MOYN: All right,
well, since we have time, maybe I’ll say a few
words in response to these wonderful comments. And then you’re welcome
to say your piece. So I want to entirely agree
with all the comments, but especially with
Professor Neuman’s. I’ll come back to
the headscarf cases and explain what I
argue about them later. But he’s surely right
to reject originalism, even though there’s
another panel where I think they’re probably talking
a lot about it and its merits. For professional
historians, there’s a great wariness about returning
in a crassly instrumental way to the past. And even more important–
as I think Gerry insisted– there’s no sense that
the original meaning of human rights controls
their present form and interpretation. So this is a project
that tries to go back to some forgotten
origins, but not because I think that they have
been controlling or ought to be in the future. It might help us wonder why
it is that in the ’40s– as you can see perfectly well
from this last chart that’s still up there– many of us might have been
tempted to side with socialism rather than human rights. And it might get
us to wonder why we changed our mind about that. This chart obviously doesn’t
reflect the Bernie Sanders candidacy. It’s too early for that. But otherwise,
there’s no attempt to argue an originalist
politics, just the reverse. So I come to Michael’s
very wise intervention. Certainly it’s quite
critical to think about how the
fusion was possible, especially at the
United Nations, where more perspectives and
voices were involved. And it seems to have been,
with maybe more exclusions than we would like to think,
an example of an incompletely theorized agreement
for the reasons that Jacques Maritain outlined. And surely that means that
human rights, and new words introduced into high politics,
like “human dignity,” had to be the subject of
consensus on the part of lots of different folks. Although, in the book, I try
to push back against the notion that human dignity,
in particular, was all things to all people. Because it remains quite
securely linked for a long time to constitutions in which
Christian Democrats have a hand. And that’s true
down into, I think, the South African constitution. And yet, your general
point is correct. This is a piece
of the landscape. I think, not just a
neglected piece, but maybe the most important
piece in the era. But that would have to be
argued and demonstrated. I’d like to stand my ground
about Christians and the past. Certainly, in the
’30s, Christians– both Protestants and
Catholics– developed the idea and the theory
of the totalitarian state. And it was later used
by lots of other folks. But they pioneered the
worry that, in modern times, the secular state has the
propensity to get out of hand. And we should maybe
make more connections than people had done between
the fascist version of that and the communist version. I think that is, by
far, the controlling idea within Christian circles. It would be inaccurate to
say that no Christians cared about victimhood, too. Very rare is it, sadly,
to find Christians who care about Jewish victimhood. That’s to say, the main
victimhood we now remember. I should say that two of the
characters so far mentioned did. Jacques Maritain was
married to a racial Jew, and had to flee here
for that reason, and said some very
early penetrating things about the importance
of the Holocaust. And if we’re going
to be fair, Gerhard Ritter, the German historian
who’s been mentioned– this is a Lutheran, now– attended Edmund Husserl’s
funeral in 1938. Which was an act of
great courage, actually, in the context of the time. His Jewish– again,
racially Jewish– colleague who had been shunned
by others at the university. But even for him, let alone
most other Christians, the death of the Jews
was sadly not central. And an excellent
example of this, if we’re interested
in euthanasia, is Bishop Clemens
von Galen, who was by far the leading critic in
Germany, on religious grounds, of the euthanasia program. And again, gave very
courageous sermons about it in the late ’30s. But was himself a quite
bitter anti-Semite, and didn’t extend his worries
about what the Nazi state was doing to the disabled
to what it was doing, and did, to the Jews. More generally, we just can’t
find that much evidence. And it’s not a matter of text. But it’s a matter of
inferring from silence. We might be tempted
to say, generously, that when Christians refer to
the suffering of the period they meant, or meant to include,
the Holocaust in particular. But it’s just as plausible– I think more plausible–
to think that they’re evading that set of events. And more generally, I
think, when we look back, it’s staggering. But we find that people
were deaf, dumb, and blind. And the moral reality that
we’ve since taught ourselves and others, simply, was delayed. An excellent example of this
would be the Christian Democrat Francois De Menthon, who
gives the opening address at the Nuremberg
trials, and is accorded the prosecution of crimes
against humanity charge, and does not mention the
Jews in his opening address. And of course, the Nuremberg
slighted their fate all the way through. I agree with what
Charlie said as well. I’ll just mention that
this book has already been through the wringer. If you look online, there are
many more bitter critics of it than these three have
turned out to be. And that’s
interesting, of course. I would say the main
criticism is that it maybe gets short shrift– not so
much to Protestants, who are very compromised,
much more so in Germany than Catholics– as
to Anglo-American Protestants, who had their own
promotion of human rights. John Foster Dulles, who is one
of the white men on the slide, led the way in that regard. And maybe we could
generate a richer picture of Christian human rights by
looking at those Protestants. It’s still these people who
brought the world into the Cold War and Christianized it. So I think that’s
quite important. Maybe I’ll close with a
comment about the headscarves. It’s surely true that
the most of the blame, if we’re apportioning it for
the outcome of these cases, falls on secularist
regimes that have enacted the laws in France,
first of all, and Turkey, if you want to
extend the verdict there. And it’s also surely
right, as Gerry says, that it’s the margin
of appreciation doctrine that explains doctrinally why
the European Court is willing not to protect the right at
stake to manifest a religion. What I try to argue is
something much more minimal. That, in a lot of
the court’s language, it sounds like it’s
saying that Muslims are a threat to democracy in
approximately the same way as communists had been. And according to this
famous, militant democracy– first of the German
Constitutional Court and later the European Court– it’s justifiable not
to protect rights when it is necessary to
preserve a democratic minimum. And so that’s that
very narrow case that’s made in my last chapter. And it suggests that there
are some legacies, not dominant legacies, but
some in these cases today, that deserve to allow
us to connect that ancient past and our present. So thank you very much. I don’t know who’s
in charge here. Should we proceed to any– PRESENTER: Like to entertain
a few questions from– SAMUEL MOYN: It’s up
to you, absolutely, and for all of these experts. HENRY STEINER: Thank
you, Sam, as usual. Very, as was said, provocative. Just two brief
points, which anyon may want to respond to or not. First is, your dour last
chapter, dour, exaggerates the [INAUDIBLE] I would say. But not forecasting, but
definitively pronouncing near annihilation
of human rights is a powerful force
given to rhetoric, deception– all of the
very accurate observations that you make. It seems to me that,
maybe your entire book– I haven’t read all of
it that carefully– leaves out economic
and social rights. Which, in a sense– despite their impotence in
inducing action or policies in many states– I think, in a concrete
way, speak much more universally and over time
to the human condition than [INAUDIBLE]
civil and political. After all, we all need clothing. Isaiah told us to feed the
starving and clothe the naked. He didn’t say, also you should
have single-member districts which elect every four years,
and so on, and so forth. So much of civil
and political seems to be associated with the
development of democracy. I view the entire covenant
as the appendages to a notion of political democracy.
which cannot exist without the realization most
of the rights there– and indeed in two
clauses, as we know– specifically requires
participatory form, electoral form of democracy. So the question is, do
economic and social rights seriously survive
today and escape the statements [INAUDIBLE]
of the last chapter? After all, as long as
Pope Francis lives, economic and social
rights are not dead. And the tradition goes far
back, as was pointed out, in encyclicals and
other documents over several centuries. So that’s one thing. And the other is, briefly, this
notion of maybe in the post– pure speculation– the post-war world, in the
time of Universal Declaration, maybe this was also a period
of the affirmation of democracy after all the other
types have been shown to be evil [INAUDIBLE]
and the Soviet Union was not [INAUDIBLE] and
before it went onto prove it more dramatically. So these weren’t the appendages
to, but you had to have this. I’m curious to know if a
universal or united declaration of Christian human rights,
written in the mid-1940s, totally independently of
the UN or all this stuff– just what it
included and what it did not about the
kind of rights that had developed around some
conception of individualism and our participatory democracy. SAMUEL MOYN: So
Professor Steiner’s my former human rights teacher. So I owe him all the
deference in the world. I want to say there’s a
rhetorical experimental epilogue in the
book in which I try to compare Christianity
and human rights as world historical movements. There’s no intent to say
that human rights are dead or anything like that. I think there is an interesting
question about whether we’re at the beginnings of
the movement’s ascent or whether it’s
facing real limits that we can’t anticipate it
overcoming any time soon. But neither with
respect to human rights in general, nor with respect
to economic and social rights, am I a critic. It’s quite interesting that,
as a result of the Cold War, the Western European
zone lopped off the second half of the
Universal Declaration until it developed another
document a bit later. But to me it’s quite important
that Christian Democrats were welfarist. Where they ruled, they
created their own kinds of welfare state. And many of the
welfare states that have come to exist
in Western Europe are due not to
Social Democrats, as in Britain and the
Nordic countries, but Christian Democrats. And so it may be a peculiarity
of some aspects of American Christianity that has
led to the demotion of those economic
and social rights, notably as a result
of the Cold War. We find, as you know,
lots of enthusiasm for economic and social rights
in and during World War II. But figures like Dulles– who not only turn on
economic and social rights, but on the whole project
of human rights– have to be important
in explaining why, for Americans, economic
and social rights became radioactive. It’s an interesting
fact that, relative to his conservative
predecessors, Pope Francis, it’s been shown, puts much less
emphasis on rights in general. And so when he promotes
the cause of the poor, or wants us to care about
environmental degradation, it’s not within a
rights framework. Your second question, I
think, I’ll just leave. Lots of people
have been Democrats into the 20th century. Including the far right, alas,
but certainly the far left. So it seems as if we’d have
to say that it was widely understood that the Universal
Declaration implicated a specifically liberal
form of democracy. And fortunately, I think we
have a conference about that later in May. So we’ll revisit that topic. GERALD NEUMAN: Can I just
say one thing, I mean, which you bring up in your book. You cite Marco Durante. In many ways, the
European Declaration is an effort by
conservatives, in part, to forestall the agenda
of economic rights. They don’t like it. And so they put
political rights ahead. So it’s very ambiguous. And I do think we use– this is where we
really need to– what is a right. And how it’s going
to be defined. Because there’s no consensus,
I don’t think, on much of this. And Francis, yes, the church– the whole notion of
charity as an alternative to rights or equality, I
think, has to be borne in mind. SAMUEL MOYN: OK, sure. Aziz, yeah. AUDIENCE: So the
question I had was– I was wondering if you could
talk a little bit about, not just the disjunctures,
but what might be the continuities
between this 1940s moment with Christian human
rights and the 1970s moment that we think of as
liberal human rights. And in particular, I was
struck with the last thing that you said in
response to the panel. Which is, the arguments
about militant democracy that take place in Germany
during this period. And the ways in
which an argument from Christian human
rights is being employed to critique forms of dissent
that had previously existed on both the right and left. And to present arguments
about whether you would say democratic
involvement in the economy as akin in various ways to
the politics of fascism. And so I’m curious about
how this shaping, of what amounts to a Cold War
state during this period, ends up having implications
for the kinds of arguments that are made in the ’70s. And the types both
rights claimed– maybe this is a continuation
of socioeconomic rights point– but also the terrain of
acceptable discourse. So how’s this rights
language informing what becomes possible as a set
of arguments 30 years later? So maybe there is a
continuity in some way. SAMUEL MOYN: Because
of my looming class, I’m going to dodge this one. But it’s a fantastic question. And I think the book is,
sadly, focused on human rights. But what it would like
to have been about– or what I would like
it to have been about– is the formation of
Cold War liberalism. Which has some antecedents,
is very nervous about democracy, that goes
back to Charlie’s points. And has had a significant
revival after 9/11 in various ways and
in various forms. And so what would
be quite interesting is to take this, a
book about human rights as a stepping stone,
to a broader history of a certain political stance. Which is about minimal
politics appeals to human sinfulness as a warning
about a democratic disaster, and especially
redistributive disaster, and a set of fears about enemies
internal and external, that, obviously, remain alive and
well in the popular [INAUDIBLE] including in the current
presidential campaign. Thank you very much. I really appreciate your coming. [APPLAUSE]


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