Mobilizing Useful Idiots Around the World to Take Up the Cause

Quote of the Day for Wednesday, January 5th, 2011:

Stephen Kinzer, writing in The Guardian on December 31, on the professional Human Rights movement’s loss of direction since its emergence some 40 years ago or so:

The actions of human rights do-gooders is craziest in Darfur, where they show themselves not only dangerously naive but also unwilling to learn lessons from their past misjudgments. By their well-intentioned activism, they have given murderous rebel militias – not only in Darfur but around the world – the idea that even if they have no hope of military victory, they can mobilise useful idiots around the world to take up their cause, and thereby win in the court of public opinion what they cannot win on the battlefield.

This is an interesting article, and one that is commendable at the very least for its ability to infuriate both America-hating lefties, and pro-Western gunboat diplomatists of either military or cultural ilk.

Although Kinzer treads dangerously close to broadly condemning human rights interventions as inherently neo-imperialist, he makes some great points about the narcissism (my term, not his) of the human rights movement, and the extent to which its self-important nobility can be – and are – played as tools by some of the world’s worst characters.

I’m not sure if the movement has changed as much as Kinzer thinks it has, or if he has simply outgrown it. I asked myself the same question several years ago, when the shiny “Save Darfur” posters started appearing on the lawns of the guilt-ridden wealthy in the snazzy suburbs I spend my days in, and I knew instinctively that I could no more trust the hand-wringing advocates for “justice” in that conflict than I could trust the hand-wringing advocates for sillier and sillier global warming solutions in humanity’s last great battle for land to live upon!

This is not to say that there aren’t real problems in the world, which call for solidarity, and even military intervention. But identifying problems, and understanding problems well enough to construct useful treatments, are very distinct matters. Kinzer identifies the problem as a deficient definition of human rights, and suggests a hierarchy of rights to clarify priorities. I don’t disagree on either count, but would place the root of that deficiency in a widespread refusal to recognize the origins of human rights in our Creator God.

Human rights are a Western construct? Well, yes and no. They are a product of Western civilization, because they are practical outgrowths of the Judeo/Christian theology that forms the foundation of Western civilization. Stripped of their roots – that is, stripped of their true meaning – they surely can become fodder for fools, as well as anything else can.