America was founded on that simple premise. The Declaration of Independence’s conviction in the equality of men, individual rights, and governments gaining their authority from the consent of the governed was based on “self-evident” truths.
These truths are “self-evident” to Americans in the way that they’re not self-evident to the average Afghan, Pakistani, Iraqi, Russian, South African or Chinese citizen. They have their own truths that are equally “self-evident” to them based on their own worldview and culture.
The Taliban, like the vast majority of Muslims, assert that believers in Allah are superior to infidels, that men must have supreme authority over women, and leaders over people.
This hierarchical model governs a lot more of the world than anything we’ve come up with.
And even in America there are voices that favor tearing up the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and reverting to a hierarchical model. From the Marxists on the Left to the Neo-Reactionaries on the Right, there are those who would turn back the clock to feudalism with enlightened philosopher-kings imposing an “ideal society” on the inferior class of men.
When we say that something is self-evident, it flows naturally from our values and our beliefs.
Consider the two radically different worldviews inherent in Benjamin Franklin writing that, “the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards” is “a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy” and the Ayatollah Khomeini proclaiming “Allah did not create man so that he could have fun” and thus there “is no fun in Islam.”
Both Franklin and Khomeini were expressing a worldview that was self-evident to them.
“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” came from people who believed that God loves us and wants us to enjoy life. Beheadings, butchery, and the burka came from Islamists who believe that Allah does not like us very much and that we deserve to be miserable. …
Our efforts to directly export our ideals have failed miserably. Whether it’s trying to explain the Founding Fathers to the Iraqis or funding Women’s Studies in Afghanistan, few were influenced, and many were confused, irritated, or moderately amused by our efforts.
Constructing “governments-in-a-box” in Iraq and Afghanistan was never going to fit their culture. Exporting human rights by explaining our self-evident belief in individual rights didn’t work in cultures that don’t think that people are primarily individuals with agency, but members of a group whose rights come from their role in a rigid hierarchy of ethnicity, gender or race.
Our own political and cultural elites have adopted that worldview, making them particularly unfit to spread human rights or individual freedom abroad even as they eliminate them at home.
How can Biden, who decided to pick a black woman as his vice president, before deciding which individual was going to fill that role, credibly tell the Afghans or Iraqis that they shouldn’t pick their leaders based on their gender, tribe, ethnicity, or Sunni and Shiite status? …
Our democracy export business is based on a series of intellectual errors dating back to the two world wars which we had defined as fighting for democracy and against tyranny in Europe.
Ever since then our intellectual and cultural elites have stuck to the conviction that the entire world works much like Europe. Every country, whether it’s in Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, is in the midst of a struggle between liberal democrats and reactionary authoritarians. All we have to do is overthrow their Hitler or Mussolini, and a liberal democracy will emerge from the ashes. …
The problem with exporting our “self-evident” ideas is that they’re based on the belief in a loving and merciful God, on the value of individual life, and the genius of individual innovation. Most of the world’s cultures are not only not individualistic, many, like the People’s Republic of China or the Muslim world, are actively anti-individualistic and believe morality comes from hierarchy.
Is morality individual or is it collective? Is the role of government to free people to make moral choices or to force them to make the right choice? Where you come down on the answer to that issue is going to determine the sort of society and government you want and will fight for.
If you’re a member of the Taliban, of the Chinese Communist Party, a believer in critical race theory or the neo-reactionary ideology, odds are you will come down on the collective side. And on the side of tyranny.
Is life basically good or bad? Are most people bad or good? Does God love us or hate us?
You can’t just casually export our underlying assumptions behind human rights to cultures that answer these questions in very different ways.
All of us, in a more tribal America, have experienced the frustration of mutually incomprehensible conversations with our fellow Americans that appear to be about issues, mask mandates, Black Lives Matter, or abortion, but that are actually about culture and values. …
America can and should export human rights. But the best way to do it is by example. …
These days the loudest voices stating that America is evil, and that everything we had was gained through colonialism and slavery, are coming from our own political and cultural elites. Why would anyone admire or imitate us when we loudly announce that we’re liars and thieves? …
After a century of ideological cold wars, countering Communism and then Islamism, we have a lot of military interventions under our belt, but have gotten no better at making arguments for our way of life to our own people.
While we were trying to convince Africans that Marxism wasn’t for them, our Ivy League institutions adopted it. And while we tried to talk the Afghans and Iraqis out of Islamic theocracy, our own cities, institutions, and governments filled up with Islamists. …
The fundamental lesson of our founding is that we can’t defend our rights without also defending our culture. The self-evident truths on which our freedoms were founded are no longer all that self-evident on a college campus, let alone in Islamist enclaves like Dearborn or Little Mogadishu. If we want to save our rights, we’ll have to defeat the Taliban at home.
Well said. Read it all.