Monday, April 28, 2008

"Teacher and Witness" - John F. Cullinan on Benedict's visit to the U.N.

"Benedict’s remarks to the U.N. General Assembly belong to an entirely different genre [than his other addresses during the visit]" says John F. Cullinan on Benedict's visit to the United Nations. "His purpose was to explore and develop the first principles that underlie state sovereignty and the international system as a whole." (National Review April 28, 2008):

In a nutshell, Benedict sketches a familiar natural-law argument that unexpectedly points to some novel and potentiallycontroversial conclusions.

He begins with the basic and familiar premise that state sovereignty and international order do not exist for their own sake, but rather for that of human dignity. In other words, the state exists for the person, not the other way round; and the same applies to international institutions and laws. This has been established Catholic teaching in one form or another since St. Thomas Aquinas; and it is the philosophical basis of liberal democracy and liberal internationalism.

The second step of his argument is that “natural reason shared by all nations” can discern universal principles needed to shape the political order — both national and international. The natural law is by no means a one-size-fits-all template, but rather basic moral rules of thumb, accessible to reason, that statesmen struggle to discern, approximate, and apply in varying circumstances. And these same principles, “based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in all cultures and civilization,” and therefore “valid at all times and for all peoples,” are best captured by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

It is the third step of Benedict’s argument that will provoke controversy. He maintains that that the two greatest threats to the universality of the same human rights for every personare authoritarian secular ideologies, on the one hand, and “majority religious positions of an exclusive nature,” on the other. This is a politely diplomatic but unmistakable reference to Russia and China (and their authoritarian imitators) and to some (but not all) Muslim-majority states.

In their own distinct ways, these “authoritarian” or “exclusive” regimes deny the “universality … indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights” expressed in the Universal Declaration. “Removing human rights from this context,” Benedict maintains, “would mean restricting their range and yielding to a relativistic conception, according to which the meaning and interpretation of rights could vary and their universality would be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks” (emphasis added).

(See also Pope's New Name for Sovereignty: Interview With UN Permanent Observer Archbishop Migliore Zenit News Service. April 27).