MSZ (October 1984)
The Business about Human Rights
The cultural assets known as human rights do not grow on trees. Mother Nature has not provided infants with any physical organ according to which “all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (General Declaration on Human Rights of the UN). As the name says, this is a matter of law, which is enforced by an instance which natural scientists even discover at work in the industrious bees and ants as long they believe firmly enough that the state power originated in the forest.
The absurdity of a natural right endowed on each member of the “human family” by virtue of his birth, as a most personal consideration of him, is not to be confused with any kind of truth as to the difference between human nature and animals or plants. Instead, it involves an extremely philosophical point of view which is backed by only one thing: ever since the bourgeois state was established, state sovereignty has known and treated its subjects as citizens entitled to human rights.
A Reason to be Grateful
It is a strange “service of politics for people” which bourgeois states promise to perform in the preambles to their constitutions: living, thinking and opening one’s mouth are not a matter of course, but rights granted by the state. Even the most harmless and unavoidable signs of life only count, therefore, when the state allows – and in accordance with the guarantor. Human rights, which don’t do you any good whatsoever if you have nothing to eat, and which are anything but a promise of a profitable life, are one big presumption according to their state nature: the state power prides itself terribly on presenting the human material under it with all kinds of permission. And the paltry fact that something is allowed is presented as being much more weighty than what is allowed. The political power grants the generous permission to be a person. And showers itself with praise for this deed, so that there is one argument which no one can miss: this state power can go to work very differently when promoting the benefit of the people.
Thus, it is not difficult to make out an imperative in politicians’ insistence on their merciful consideration of human dignity. Here, where being a person is a pleasure attested by the state. The required gratitude must always be shown when the citizens’ interests and those of politics come in conflict – which is not infrequently the case. The perfectly reasonable question of what benefit the basic rights really provide, when the “quality of life” otherwise leaves much to be desired, is therefore never answered by cogent arguments proving how well these abstract objects of legal protection pay off. The catalog of human rights is a comparative report on the deeds which the politically justified representatives of diverse peoples are capable of. The fact that more or less civilized states constantly use the persecution, torture and genocide of people holding useless opinions as the means to an end – this is the only thing responsible for the high esteem in which the protection of human rights is held. The moral point claimed by the keepers of humanity originates in this comparison, which is related to a threat, and not in the pleasantness of the objectives the state wants to show consideration for.
This is why decent constitutions guarantee the “people in the center of politics” slightly more than the short list of human rights. They fix the manner in which the rights are to be observed, resulting in certain modifications, all of which make one thing clear: rights are duties! Freedom of speech, by all means – on the basis of the democratic state! And the right to live, also known as “protection and security of the state and the people living in it,” demands military service! After all, the human rights are only good for one insight: a person has his human right in the state power which has him at its disposal. The state order in which he lives is his human nature and the state keeps an eye on him to make sure this nature is observed.
It is no coincidence that the “preservation of human rights” and their “violation” become the focal point of interest – not only in speeches on state holidays, but whenever states get down in some way or other to stopping citizens from causing disturbances. Wherever a government sets itself up as the lord over the alternative of throwing people into the clink or not, letting them live or die, fine distinctions have their heyday. From the point of view of human rights, only legal sentences are all right, and not the “short trial” which some governors of freedom prefer. Such rulers are then “violating” the actual purpose of state action with their choice terrorist achievements, which Amnesty International conscientiously enumerates and reports on. Hard-boiled fans of human rights, viewing the victims of torture and deported Turks, animate the belief that state power is actually a blessing for mankind when it keeps to its rules. The politicians addressed in petitions will be moved!
The Right to Life
This “unrenounceable” right which enlightened states grant their human material – is it supposed to be good for anything? Is being “lucky” enough to stand on two legs a purpose for which it is worth being alive? Are we really supposed to be thankful for being allowed to exist as creatures in a way which is not enforced in court?
Life is not a means to live. Whether one benefits from life or not is decided on by very different criteria. In these parts, what holds is: you have no claim to exist if you do not have state recognition sealed by a passport, and if you have no money you’re out of luck altogether. The question “is my life worth living?” which is so popular in the occident in the twentieth century, by the way, does not, in its profound search for meaning, testify too much to “life” pure and simple and its quality as a lofty good. Instead, it results from the experience that “life” has been made dependent on commandments and hardships which make things difficult. The reason why people who commit suicide jump off the balcony is not that they are fed up with “life”; they are executing on themselves the accusation that a hostile world stands in the way of their wishes.
Before such a meager thing as sheer existence can become an “unrenounceable” value which the state protects and watches over, it must be made into this value. The natural self-evident character of merely vegetating only becomes valuable when it is protected by an instance which binds survival to the guarantee of its own sovereignty. “Life” cannot be had without the state and the social order it guarantees – which is why life counts only insofar as it proves its usefulness for this purpose. What is protected is life not as a natural fact, but as a legal object. This is no guarantee against starvation – which fate has by no means died out in the free world – but the fairly unpleasant guarantee of a monopoly on violence. This has nothing to do with an absence of violence; it is more like its omnipresence, and the calculation of an instance which reserves itself the right to decide how and whether life is allowed.
Thus, very new life risks, which a Bushman has never dreamt of, come about under the “human right to life” granted by the state. A whole profession is generously offered the prospect of living solely off their physical ruination: a pretty unnatural state, which uses up the lives and the health of workers – and does not at all violate the “right to freedom from bodily harm.” Corporal punishment is not taboo even in civilized countries: it serves the “right to life” which the state respects when it decides on its subjects’ right to live. State death squads, which make sure everyone realizes that the right to life guaranteed by the state is an obligation which sometimes may be forfeited, do not exist everywhere. States which are proud of the “domestic peace” prevailing within them promise to plan the national state of emergency. For this eventuality, they provide the police and armed forces with just about the same rights which can only arouse disgust in the case of South American gangs of murderers in the pay of the state. Even now, fatal shooting by the police is a well-established part of the legal security of civilized countries.
Every state shows its greatest esteem for life by taking precautionary measures for those cases in which life becomes worthless for people because it is being used to defend that right to life which the state constitutes for its subjects. The regard for life which state powers bind themselves to is solely good for the purposes which national politicians use their human material for. When someone declares himself to be the condition for life, he sets the conditions – for survival. The higher the goals, the more fundamentally life is involved.
The state grants the citizens its legal disposal over their whole existence, in the form of a claim. One is quite free to claim in court, for example, that the prohibition of long hair in the army violates the right to freedom from bodily harm; here too, the right to life, in this case the morale of the troops, has of course priority.
And the human right to life is at its finest in the debate politicians have launched and decided on the “right of unborn life.” The state is not willing to leave the right to a living inventory of human beings to the chance decisions its population makes when it comes to having children. In other parts of the world, birth control is appropriate for the same reason. Without the smallest conflict of conscience, the moralists of the state right to life dispute together with professional Christians from Rome about how unimportant the difference between a three-week-old foetus and a legally protected individual of an older vintage is. For such a difference is non-existent by the severe standard of “life,” which, conversely, gives reason to accuse people with a will and consciousness of having a “demands mentality” when they express a need for a good life. The abstraction of “life,” which is what is protected, is held in esteem as the basis for all kinds of services – and the condition for life consists in dutifully performing these services!
The only place where the monstrosity “human being” should be found is zoology books, and the description of the anatomical distinctive features relative to animals manages quite nicely in science without any mention of human dignity. The cultural achievement approved by the state with the “right to human dignity” is something which cannot be fulfilled in the day to day dealings of people with each other, even if they try: to respect another person by actually ignoring all the particular properties which characterize him as an individual – such a creature, called a “humans being,” is not to be found running around anywhere.
But this human being and the dignity ascribed to it is not a figment of the imagination, but a very real fact which the state power subjects men and women to. They are recognized as citizens – and they find their human nature only in this equality before the claims which the state makes on them. This does not prohibit the differences which people happen to have; the state protects their service for it, without making itself dependent upon them – and it sends them into the world of competition so they can prove their abilities and means there. This world of competition is only administered by the state, and it declares itself powerless with respect to the results of the struggle for life with fairly unsuitable means which come about for many of its citizens. Sometimes the state accuses itself of having had too little respect for “human dignity”: it has ignored the human dignity of the “socially weak,” bribed them with the blessings of the “prosperous society” and paralyzed the “personal initiative” of the welfare recipients. This deplorable state of affairs is then corrected.
Respect for human dignity is not to be confused with a promise of prosperity and a pleasant life. The value which is supposed to be inherent in every person and which the state promises to enforce the respect of, is not lost through hunger, poverty and dire need. For human dignity is not just an unrenounceable part of civilizatory progress, it is also a good which is practically impossible to lose. Even corpses which are fresh as a daisy still enjoy this value as long as they are the object of sovereign state acts; there are legal regulations for a dignified burial.
And nevertheless this cheap human right can be violated: politicians need only fail to observe the regulations they themselves issued for dealing with the population to be accused of violating human dignity, a proper relationship between state and citizens, by the face of human rights according to the citizen’s motto of faith that “arbitrariness and law are opposites which rule each other out.” Human dignity is presented to people by the state, and that is why the quality of human dignity depends on the quality of the state that guarantees it. In other parts of the world, it either fails to come about or is always trampled on because illegal regimes are in power there which oppose the more precise regulations of human dignity: freedom and equality.
Freedom and Equality
This is what makes life worth living in a democratic constitutional state. Not because of any prosperous life which necessarily comes about through these rights – every democratic politician warns and protects his population against such a misunderstanding, especially when the population doesn’t even have such expectations. No constitutional state can pass the practical test of the agreeableness of freedom and equality; it does not answer it by resigning from power, either, but by getting rid of some manners of governing which have become impractical. That is certainly a reason to regard life in a freedom-loving constitutional state as a piece of luck in world history – that this state has quite different ways of going to work when people no longer appreciate its services in providing freedom and equality!
But as long as its citizens continue to provide the services for which the democratic constitutional state treats them freely and equally, such a state cannot be accused of being negligent in such affairs. By upholding the equality of such natural resources as capital and wage labor, it guarantees a profitable coexistence of economic forces which promotes its economy even though – and because – the resulting benefit is distributed most one-sidedly. Why should it become guilty of negligence when it cements the different means, such as labor power and private property, which people have put in their cradles, as their usefulness functions for a major antagonism on which the success of the nation depends? It is easy for the state to do what is pretty impossible for a person – to recognize the great variety of people by declaring the differences between them to be irrelevant. The state subjects them all to the same standard of usefulness, by which they must prove themselves in the world of competition which it guarantees. This of course creates quite new differences as to the degree of usefulness of the human material so equally respected by the state: human rights fans are very mistaken when they think that this is a violation of the principle of equality of human nature: nature has never seen any such kind of equality.
Because of equality, a decent state must, and wants to, take the resulting differences into consideration as such – and no government team will be deprived of the task of constantly “improving” the principle of equality. On the other hand, there is the “natural” dignity of woman to be protected, when she is bound to her services for the family as the basic unit of the nation; on the other hand, equal treatment of women requires that she not be limited to it: she is allowed to make herself useful in the job world, in the factory and even in the armed forces. The duties to be performed give rise to the rights that everyone is entitled to, and the differences made permanent in this way fill legal equality with life. The fact that a strike violates the equality of capital and labor gives cause for certain laws; the fact that the funds for a compensation program were previously given priority over other demands in the case of a bankruptcy is now cause for re-examination of the law: is this not an unjustified “preferment” over banks and other bankruptcy sharks, a privilege enjoyed by those who are being pushed into unemployment?
The equality which the state sees to is intended for the citizen and thus for the demands resulting from the service for the good of the nation as regulated by the state. For enlightened democrats with government jobs, race, sex and faith do not play any part, initially; they do not rule over people and their petty peculiarities, but over the violently secured legal order, over money, private property and labor – in order to make something out of these means; for this purpose, however, even the “natural” differences then deserve some consideration.
No one needs despair over the hard nut that a democratic state apparatus uses all its power to guarantee its members their personal liberty. The constitutional rights people are offered – the right to found a family, to education, to a free choice of profession, to free movement, to a free choice of where to live and protection of property – produce their marvelous effects by steering the unbridled will of the individuals into the proper track. The state promise of freedom is, in its essence, one big commandment by which the state binds the freedom of action of its citizens to its will, forcing them to comply with the actions the state has organized.
It is understandable that the lawmakers are acquainted with certain abuses leading to a loss of these human rights which were conceded. Every constitutional right requires, by its nature, more detailed legal explanations, allowing the liberties in such a way as to limit them to the measure necessary for “preserving legal security.” The free will recognized in this manner is then allowed to have its fling, by constantly checking the usefulness of its liberty: on the “labor market,” when faced with high rent, school, the divorce laws and the coins of which social wealth is made.
Freedom of Speech and the Right to Vote
Thus, people find their way home to their state in daily life, and the civilian’s human nature is fulfilled when the many duties are performed so very voluntarily. The happy feeling about this mature cultural achievement often gets a damper put on it, of course. Along with the cheap consolation of condemning oneself as a loser, some dissatisfaction arises about the politicians, who always do exactly the wrong thing, are incompetent and line their own pockets, about money bags, parasites, unemployed dodgers and foreigners, who are responsible for one not getting what one is entitled to. The politicians of other nations make “our” lives difficult with their egoism. In order that such insights do not wither away in one’s kitchen or between the regulars in the bar, there is such a thing as public opinion and the state-protected freedom of speech. The state just thought of everything, in its human-right goodness: even such an inevitable activity as thinking is allowed. Of course, it must be an opinion when it is uttered: a view which takes the liberty of immediately admitting it is not meant seriously, claiming it is equal to, and just as valid as, any other opinion, no matter how contrary. It is best when one immediately announces the lack of practical consequences by proudly insisting that one has one’s own opinion, and readily denounces anyone else’s thought as being “mere” opinion. Here too politicians are masters of the art of declaring criticism to be irrelevant. Whoever does not dissociate himself from his interests with every thought violates the manners of opinion, which the custodians of free speech provide with a foundation, so that there is some order in the chaos. The citizen’s humble opinion must be positive, in any case; he is expected to think about how to improve the institutions his criticism is directed against.
The protection of the freedom of speech means the duty to agree basically with the actions of the state, which makes itself the condition for people being able to open their mouths at all. Otherwise, it is a case of violence, and the mere opinion is then no protection against criminal prosecution. When politicians’ actions meet with discontent in view of the severity people notice, the opposite applies: we politicians are of course also allowed to have our opinions. Presidents point out to critics of the armaments program the almost unbelievable fact that the armed forces are only protecting the brawlers’ freedom of speech – which of course means “Attention! Shut up!”
The right to vote provides the citizens with a further field in which they can activate their consent to the state power, quite apart from the fairly one-sided hot and cold baths forced on them by a state’s economy and armaments programs. In elections, the state does not put its existence or the measures it considers necessary up for vote; if someone does not agree with what politicians are up to with their freedom of action, he must think up something better to do than going to vote. What is decided by elections, instead, is which party gets to hold the responsible leading positions of the nation. The newly elected government is thus legitimate: everything it does is based on the people’s vote. The harmless Xs afterwards turn into a complete catalog of the citizens’ wishes for all necessities which politicians are then seeing to.
What Makes Human Rights So Valuable
Only one thing is necessary for being able to consider all these human rights valuable: the nationalism of a citizen, who regards the legally binding dependency of his existence on the state as the granting of one welcome possibility after another. Then he even regards the state as a means for living which he cannot do without, by any means.
This democratic maturity comes about in all developed countries, no matter how differently the state sovereign takes care of the harmonious cooperation of the state power’s freedom of action and civil liberties. Human rights even come about in the socialism in the Eastern bloc: the legal subject to whom the state binds itself and its citizens there is the “socialist person” – whereby the guarantee of this human nature of course involves some variations on the customs in these parts. But no Soviet person is deprived of the feeble pleasure of being allowed to work, vote and speak his mind. The decision to regard this as an intolerable violation of human rights, which must be eliminated by a whole NATO according to Western freedom fighters in leading state positions, is a decision which relates to the human material of the USSR only insofar as this state is denied its right to exist. For this purpose the domestic people are made use of, far beyond the arrangement of their daily habits of living. This opens up whole new vistas of human rights, which a normal person in his limited circumstances could hardly dream of. There is the right to a homeland, which in West Germany does not stop at the “unnatural” border on the East. Those who are lucky enough to be able to live in freedom are expected to make considerable sacrifices to ensure the human right to peace, but in freedom. The Evil Empire cannot be tolerated from the point of view of human rights, so that progress in human liberties is basically taken care of by the arms budgets of the Western states. After all, the “human rights weapon” is not all that useful. The appropriate means for satisfying people’s hunger for human dignity in the Eastern bloc are the missiles which are to clean the Russian soil not only of a few people but also of an illegal regime.
The only problem is that the custodian of human rights does not take care of the matter itself when it comes to this fine consequence of these rights. Unfortunately, the “humans” must defend it if they want to continue having their rights. And if they do not want to, they have immediately forfeited their rights, even before a Russian can trample on them. But people are used to this in view of their experiences with human dignity in democratic daily life.