Door: Peter Pappenheim

The founding articles from the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS are:

  • Art.1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
  • Art.21:
    (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
    (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
    (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedure.

There is something fundamentally wrong with them. Not with the principles themselves. What is wrong is what they are hiding from view by the words that are put in bold characters.

People are born without any notion of freedom, dignity and rights, without reason and conscience, and certainly not equal. They can develop such notions and enjoy these rights in their development from baby to adult, but there is no law of nature that they will. On the contrary, all these attributes will not materialize without a constant effort of the society in which they grow up. The wording suggests a ‘natural’ paradise and in any case natural rights, a notion that is incompatible with our whole culture and civilization and is rejected by most philosophers of law. As explained in Democratic Principle, justice is a human creation developed to replace social instincts that have become inadequate in a being capable of reason, reflective thinking and imagination (Democratic principle). Rights are always created and enforced by men. If some men have, in this process, authority over others, this creates two classes of individuals and the consequent rights therefore cannot be universal. In a democracy, nobody and no principle have any authority over others except by an – always revocable – delegation obtained in a procedure against which nobody can have a legitimate objection. The rights established in such a procedure thus can be in that sense universal. But democracy is not a right; it is an objective that must be earned.

The will of the people is a romantic notion which has been discarded by political science, and correctly so because it is an abstraction and by that very fact does not have an observer independent existence. Only the wills of individuals exist. And these are never the same for all individuals. It obfuscates the major problem of society: how to aggregate these individual wills and how to safeguard the rights of all kinds of minorities, namely all those who were not in favor of a decision which is supported by the majority. What if these decisions gained their support through blatant demagoguery? Recent history is full of examples of undemocratic objectives and totalitarian regimes that, at times with some justification, claim to execute the will of the people. The only ‘will of the people’ that is not a prelude to a totalitarian society is the democratic principle.

The universal declaration can be summed up as “Everybody has the right to democracy”.

As explained in Democratic-principle, democracy is a voluntary association of people wanting to liven in a healthy society which respects their right to their own opinions, beliefs and interests, a condition which requires that in terms of decision making all are considered as equals (subjective equality). They will have to accept all decisions that meet that principle or the principles which can be deduced from it, or which are taken in a procedure that has been established under such decisions. A basic principle not acknowledged in the Declaration is that with each right comes a duty. Universal rights imply universal responsibility of all those who are able to shoulder it to ensure that the conditions necessary to meet these rights are fulfilled. There are three of them.

1) If a person is dying from want and has the opprtunity to postpone death by committing a crime, it is both unrealistic and immoral to expect him to resist that temptation. For the same reason we cannot expect her to accept the current social order if, in the midst of plenty, it does not allow her any hope of sharing at least a little bit in that wealth. Democracy is based on the willingness to accept it as a fundamental social ordering principle, which then must include at least these two provisions. That implies the obligation of those who attempt to impose it on other countries to ensure that their government can meet the conditions for democracy. Specifically, democrats should invest time and effort, which means money, in the development of a model for transition to democracy with a reasonable chance to avoid chaos, which requires a clear, unequivocal, operational and shared concept of democracy. Present social philosophy has not yet provided one and has no project under way to do so, which is the prime cause of the present weakness of democracy. Such a conception would expose a third condition, namely a minimal level of education and morality of its citizens. It would also show that democracy not only defines the does and don’ts of the government but also imposes a code of conduct on the opposition. Finally, those who want to propagate democracy must convince the countries concerned that the democratic form of government will work. The most convincing argument is an example. It takes a very particular turn of mind to consider that our present democracies can serve as such, considering that all three of the above conditions were met a century ago.

2) With a reasonable population growth, a long history of business acumen and political weight, China today is well poised to achieve the subsistence income for all on its own steam.  It is not a democracy, but it also is not a personal dictatorship or a terrorist state. Rather than constantly blaming them for not yet meeting our standards of democracy, we should encourage its (intellectual) leaders to develop a transition plan from autocracy to some form of democracy and provide all possible help. Other countries, especially in Africa, are not so fortunate. If we really want democracy, then the responsibility for a subsistence income and the conditions required to make it permanent by enabling all citizens to earn it on their own, rest on the shoulders of the rich countries. By careful choice of the beneficiaries we can attempt on a case by case basis to develop those conditions for democracy which will promote economic development and ensure the viability of democracy once the minimum level of economic development required to achieve the above conditions has been achieved. Until then, we should acknowledge the problems of running a under-developed country and try to develop realistic and effective policies designed to prevent single-party systems from degenerating into totalitarian and personal tyranny.

The Declaration is a political document, an attempt by the representatives of western democracies to promote the ideals (and usually the interests) of their own constituencies to the rest of the world without acknowledging the obligations which would follow from creating the conditions necessary for the realization of democracy elsewhere. The representatives at the UN do not represent an abstract entity like humanity. They represent the citizens of their country and their job is to promote international coexistence and cooperation without jeopardizing the interests of their constituency. Who then represents humanity? By definition that cannot be an organization like the UN whose staffing represents particular interest. That is not intended to belittle the Declaration or the UN. They were the best we could do under the circumstances and certainly an improvement over the previous situation. Its problems must however be addressed. That task must be fulfilled by those who are in a position to do so because they have the necessary professional endowments and freedom from particular pressures, interests and prejudices, and the will to come to an agreement. That excludes politicians. And it is not another  charity. It is about efficient but – as yet not necessarily democratic – governance, empowerment of women, enabling the development of local economies etc.. Who volunteers?