ars libertatis

* 11 December 1943

Universalism is a corruption of objectivity. Whereas objectivity is achieved from particular things, universalism claims to define particularity from an abstract notion posed arbitrarily. Instead of deducing conscience from being, it proceeds in an opposite direction. Universalism does not consist in treating things objectively but from an overarching abstraction from which a knowledge of the nature of things is supposed to follow. It represents the symmetrical opposite of the error of the metaphysics of subjectivity, which reduces the good to that which is good for me or good for us, the true to the judgment of one’s own conscience or to the personal.

Beyond Human Rights (2011), Introduction

The biological definition of man as a member of the human species is, besides, just as conventional or arbitrary as the others: it rests on the sole criterion of specific interfecundity. However, the evolution of the legislation on abortion has led one to understand that an embryo is a human being only potentially and not in act. The underlying idea is that the definition of man by biological factors alone does not suffice. One therefore tried to go beyond that, by emphasising that it is not only because they belong to another species that men are distinguished from the rest of living beings, but also and above all by an entire collection of capacities and characteristics that are typical of them. The inconvenience is that, whatever the capacity or characteristic retained, it is improbable that it is found equally present in everyone. To define, for example, membership in the human species by the self-consciousness or the capacity of positing oneself as a subject of rights, immediately poses the problem of the status of children at a young age, of senile old people and severely handicapped people.

Beyond Human Rights (2011), 2. In Search of a Foundation

To say that all men are possessors of the same rights is one thing. To say that these rights should be recognised everywhere under the form that the ideology of rights gives it is another, quite different thing. That raises, in fact, the question of knowing who has the authority of imposing this point of view, what is the nature of this authority, and what guarantees the soundness of his discourse. In other words: who decides that it should be thus and not otherwise?

Beyond Human Rights (2011), 3. Human Rights and Cultural Diversity

The basic moral notion of Chinese thought is that of the duties which one has towards others, not that of the rights that one could oppose to them, for ‘the world of duties is logically anterior to the world of rights’. […] The world of duties is, besides, more extended than that of rights. While there is a theoretical correspondence between each right and a duty, it is not true that to each obligation there corresponds a right: we can have obligations towards certain men from whom we have nothing to expect, and also towards nature and animals, which do not owe us anything.

Beyond Human Rights (2011), 3. Human Rights and Cultural Diversity

To accept cultural diversity demands a full recognition of the Other. But how to recognise the Other if his values and practices are opposed to those that one wishes to inculcate?

Beyond Human Rights (2011), 3. Human Rights and Cultural Diversity

Now, every limitation of popular sovereignty represents an attack against the very foundation of democracy. It is equivalent to an obligation made to the citizens to give up being governed by anyone except the leaders whom they have elected. It implies that the ultimate authority to which the citizens owe obedience is no longer that of their elected leaders, but that of international authorities or jurisdictions whose members, speaking, as it were, in the name of a revealed truth, do not have the least democratic legitimacy. Once the popular sovereignty is placed under certain conditions, it is a clear return to political and social heteronomy.

Beyond Human Rights (2011), 4. Beyond Human Rights: Politics, Freedom, Democracy