The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

cul­ture or sex; on the other lies the com­mu­ni­tar­ian view that sit­u­ates rights in a ‘‘ thick’’ soup of tra­di­tional re­li­gion, ethics and cus­tom against which mem­bers of that community can make claims. And un­der­ly­ing these con­cep­tual frame­works are the ex­i­gen­cies of real life. De­spite the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights agen­cies and in­stru­men­tal­i­ties in the past few decades, it is still states that guar­an­tee the rights, and ex­act the obli­ga­tions, of their cit­i­zens — ex­em­pli­fied orig­i­nally by the US con­sti­tu­tion and the French Dec­la­ra­tion of the Rights of Man and of the Ci­ti­zen.

This is what makes the plight of the mil­lions of up­rooted and state­less across the world so des­per­ate. In the real world, the cos­mopoli­tan ideal is more nar­rowly de­fined within the bound­aries of one’s own coun­try: in lib­eral, Western, sec­u­lar coun­tries, that means the law is blind to per­sonal bi­o­graph­i­cal de­tails and also to in­di­vid­ual con­cep­tions of val­ues and the good. It is not the place of gov­ern­ment to take any reli­gious or cul­tural viewpoint: these be­long in the pri­vate sphere and within civil so­ci­ety, and the gov­ern­ment’s only role is to up­hold the in­di­vid­ual’s free­dom to be­lieve in what­ever he be­lieves in as long as he does not im­pede the free­dom of oth­ers.

When lib­eral prin­ci­ples were first de­vel­oped — most no­tably by 17th-cen­tury British philoso­phers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke — they were in­tended to calm com­mu­ni­ties that were cul­tur­ally mono­lithic but mur­der­ously sep­a­rated on re­li­gion. In to­day’s Western im­mi­grant so­ci­eties, and es­pe­cially in the wake of mon­strous 20th-cen­tury na­tion­alisms, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween na­tion­al­ism and lib­er­al­ism is un­easy. It is dif­fi­cult enough to cel­e­brate one’s own na­tion­al­ity, let alone priv­i­lege that na­tion­al­ity, and even harder to form a con­cep­tion of what it means to be of that na­tion­al­ity: that is, who be­longs and who doesn’t. If Nazism is too long gone to sum­mon as a spec­tre, its wa­tery lo­cal ver­sion, Han­son­ism, is not. Pa­tri­o­tism still seems the last refuge of scoundrels, in­voked by rab­ble-rous­ing politi­cians.

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