Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Blues for Allah, pt.2

In Matej's post of May 10th, the letter to George Bush by Iranian president Ahmadinajad was quoted, along with the proposition to continue the debate on »liberalism, atheism, religion and public reason«, issues already debated here. Although Ahmadinajad's letter is hardly an appropriate reason for a debate [since a) letter was clearly just a stunt to boost pan-Arabic public opinion and b) it's hard not to agree on Ahmadinajab whatever he says], the proposed subject is important on its own.

Incited by the letter Avbelj asks, rhetorically I think, “should the world really adopt a religious discourse?” Since it seems that somewhere in this question mark a bumper sticker “Support Denmark” is hidden, I have to point to my position on the dialectic between faith and reason stated very clearly in my “Slavoj Žižek Delivers a Sermon in NY Times” post and in subsequent debate with our reader Luka Lesjak, and in some of my other posts as well.

Moving to the next point, Avbelj concludes that certainly “the greatest value we have to defend is the INDIVIDUAL and his GENUINE LIBERTY”. Once again this could sound as a debate non-starter, since it is exactly the idea of the individual’s supreme worth that is indisputable basis of our culture, expressed already by the Renaissance humanists, for whom the dignity of man was a favorite theme, most notably in the writings of Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. They of course “stood on the shoulders” of Judeo-Christian tradition grafted on Greek-Roman roots. There are very few modern thinkers who have rejected this notion of individual’s supreme worth, perhaps some late romantics, Neo-Hegelians, fascists and Marxists-Leninists. Certainly not a very pleasant crowd. But a problem of GENUINE LIBERTY is far more interesting.

Since I mentioned Ahmadinajab and Žižek I will try to discuss question of liberty by slowly moving to the infamous case of Danish cartoon controversy. The idea of freedom is itself very old, but the modern or liberal idea of freedom emerges with the notion of rights of the individual. Modern language of rights provides for precise instrument for finding and sorting out the demands of justice. But it can also very easily become a hindrance to a clear thought when the question is: What are demands of justice? What were demands of justice during the cartoon controversy? Famously Ronald Dworkin treats rights as “individuated political aims” which are not subordinate to conceptions of “aggregate collective good” or the “general interest” or “general utility”. But Dworkin himself puts limitations to this view:

"I must not overstate the point. Someone who claims that citizens have right against the government need not go so far as to say that the state is never justified in overriding that right. [A]lthough citizens have a right to free speech, the Government may override that right when protecting the right of others […]."
However, in the case of Danish cartoon controversy Dworkin took the side of cartoonists, though somewhat reluctantly. I think he was wrong.

In different approach to the problem John Finnis defines modern Human Rights documents as a way of sketching the outlines of the common good, the various aspects of individual well-being in the community. What Human Rights documents, Slovene Constitution included, really say is that each and everyone’s well-being , in each of its basic aspects must be considered and favored at all times by those responsible for coordinating the common life.

This concept of common good is of course a part of every legal order, in Slovene constitutional case law for instance it’s known as ordre public, public order. Still, one cannot say that rights are subject to the common good, for the maintenance of human rights is a fundamental component of the common good. But we can say that human rights are subject to or limited by each other, and by other aspects of common good, subsumed under conception of ordre public. In the case of Danish cartoon controversy the well-being of European Muslims in democratic community was infringed. Unjustified suppression of religious language and sentiments in public discourse is in my view one of the reasons for the general insensitivity and incompetence of European states to detect outlines of common good in this and similar cases.

Leaving aside Ahmadinajab, both an islamist and a funny guy (if you live outside his police state), the reaction of European press to the cartoon controversy was simply wrong, since by insulting Muslim citizens it infringed the common good in a democratic state and thus well-being of its citizens. The exercise of a right to free speech in this case was not a expression of GENUINE LIBERTY but of a mere free speech fundamentalism.

Or is there something else to find in Justice’s robes?


At 2:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, looking through red spectacles, everything looks red, doesn't it.

PS: Is free speech not a common good then? Or, can "common good" trump the most basic, constitutional, human rights? I don't think you have the slightest idea what "genuinly liberal" means.


At 10:05 PM, Blogger Miha Movrin said...

@ Preston: Thanks for your comment. I’m sure you know much more about “genuine liberalism” than I do, but by putting my red spectacles back on (you forgot to mention that I’m also myopic), I see the following:

“Art. 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.”

So according to Universal Declaration the specific grounds of limitation are these:

i) to secure due recognition for the rights and freedoms of others; ii) to meet the just requirements of morality in a democratic society; iii) to meet the just requirements of public order in a democratic society; iv) to meet the just requirements of the general welfare in a democratic society.

Furthermore, before any further reflection on “the most basic, constitutional, human rights,” you should take into consideration (a genuinely liberal one of course) the following forms of speech:
- Laws about patents;
- Copyright;
- Contracts in restraint of trade and protection of trade secrets and intellectual property;
- Misleading or dangerous advertisement and consumer protection generally;
- Libel;
- Slander;
- Treason;
- Conspiracy to commit any and every crime;
- Incitement to commit any and every serious crime;
- Official secrets, etc.

There is of course also a strange thing called “hate speech”…

In short: a right for free speech certainly “requires” limitation, i.e. specification, in the interest both of free speech itself and many other human goods, so too the procedure for settling limits of this and other human rights will certainly be most reasonable by a wide cultural and political debate, if only there is enough respect for discussion and compromise as ways of being reasonable in community.

And most importantly: the best results are reached with red spectacles on!


Post a Comment

<< Home