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The clash of human rights ideas between universalism and relativism

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All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.

Human rights from the prism of universalism

After the outbreak of the Second World War, maintaining and in particular, providing a universal set of rules and values of human rights were put forward as one of the basic duties. Universalist approach searches for what is methodical and systematic, tries to enforce the rules, laws, and norms on all of its members so that things can run more resourcefully. In order to promote democracy in terms of human rights should be a pivotal priority of each state. Certainly, the development of a state adequately depends on preserving, and especially the implementation of human rights in civil society. In our current world, human rights are based on two predominant approaches in accordance with regions-East and West, North and South. One of them is universalism, another is cultural relativism. The cutting edge universalism theory of human rights can be founded not only on common law, equity, response to dignity, injustice, and fairness of appreciation, but also capacities of a human being, moral agency, and self-ownership, among other peopleUniversal sets of standards, rules, and values are based on Western countries prospects. The history of universalism can be traced back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948, as a pivotal guide to mankind. As a result, The Declaration expressed a novel denotation to the word “universalism.”

The fundamental values and principles highlighting the concept of human rights are of a universal character. Thus, these values and principles referred to the concept of individual liberty and freedoms, the belief in democracy and political rights, the acknowledgment of social and economic rights. “To a large extent, universality is one of the indispensable descriptions of human rights. From this perspective, human rights are civil rights that apply to all humankind and are therefore referred to universal values and rules. All human beings are the possessor of these civil rights, independent from what they actually do, where they come from, where they reside and from their national citizenship, their community, etc. “The universality of human rights is rooted in and also manipulated by the other characteristics of human rights: human rights are categorical (every human being has these rights, they cannot be denied to anyone), democratic (also called egalitarian-every human being has the same rights), individual (human rights apply to every human being as individual and protect the latter from violations by a collective recognizing at the same time the important role of a collective for the individual, they have their own rights to provide themselves sufficiently in social community, such as freedom of living, speech and etc), fundamental (human rights protect basic and essential elements of human continuation) and indivisible (the whole catalog of human rights must be respected, they are complimentary)”.[1]

It would be necessary to emphasize that promoting democracy, providing human rights, individual liberty, national self-determination, and the other values were noted on Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen-point program. The main crux of universalism is the implementation of universal sets of norms, and values along with not only Western countries, but also Eastern, Asian and The Middle Eastern countries, where cultural relativism (mainly moral relativism) dominates and contains its moral and ethical values over people of these countries. Universal human rights are based on Western ideology. It has been argued that universalism on human rights merely referred to Western Imperialism. It put forward some challenges in accordance with the main priorities and prospects of universal human rights. Unquestionably, we apparently realize that countries who reject the universal sets of standards as a policy of Western countries, form some basic values and ethical values based on cultural relativism. Universalism and cultural relativism cannot coincide with each other in terms of diverse moral and universal values.

In our industrialized world, the universal sets of values cannot be wholly implemented to all countries, because of the fact that strong dominance of primordial cultural and ethical values and standards which bolster their places among people within civil society, at the same time reject the universalism of human rights. On the other hand, cultural relativism cannot be accepted as universal moral values for countries. According to providing human rights, universalism is a pivotal approach that has more opportunities than cultural relativism. But, in more cases, we try to percept the today’s realities of the world. In general, as we understand that providing universal human rights have to base on the basic principles and rules within international law, but cultural relativism cannot refer to the rules and norms of international law, because of having predominant cultural and traditional values and norms within its own system. Thus, a related challenge is that the inspirations of human rights do not aid to solve the most disputable issues of non-Western societies. The extreme of which is that the idea of human rights is in many cases, as opposed to the ideas and values of non-Western countries.

In the case of the universality of human rights, there are some challengeable situations along with the implementation and perception of human rights. Since the publication of Pollis and Schwab’s Human Rights: Cultural and Ideological Perspectives in 1979, human rights universalists and cultural relativists have collided in regard to legality and applicability of human rights outside the West within civil society. In their confrontational lead essay, “Human Rights: as Western Construct with Limited Applicability,” the authors argued that “the Western political philosophy upon which the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are based provides only one specific elucidation of human rights, and that this Western notion may not be successfully applied to non-Western areas” due to ideological and cultural differences.[2]

Apart from these, it can be comprehended that Universality of human rights refers to Western cultures, in particular, traditional and moral characters, which can not be implemented to non-Western countries because of having their own cultural and ethical rules and norms. The implementation of universal human rights from the Western perspective to relativist non-Western countries cannot achieve any kind of success in terms of providing human rights sufficiently, because of the fact, universal human rights merely concern on the Western-cultural sets of norms. Thus, in the case of non-Western countries, cultural relativism and universalism can collide with each other in for a range of reasons, for instance, considering moral and ethical standards, attitudes toward human rights, implementation of these rights and etc.

The approach of cultural relativism

Relativism is characterized as a set of views about the connection between morals and culture or humanity. Apart from universalism, cultural relativism is based on morals, ethics, and customs of each human society and differs from one another. Thus, what is the crux of cultural relativism within civil society? Cultural relativism is the vision that all beliefs, traditions, and morals are in respect to the person inside of his own social setting. As such, “right” and “wrong” are society particular; what is viewed as good in one society may be viewed as morally wrong in another, and, since no worldwide standards of morals and ethical behaviors exist, nobody has the privilege to judge another society’s traditions. Moreover, we can not judge someone, or person with his or her cultural values, in particular ethics and morals in society.

Cultural relativism is an aphoristic standard created by Franz Boas and advanced by his successors of human sciences in the 1940s. It was blended with moral relativism during the Meetings of the Commission of Human Rights of the United Countries in setting up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1946-1948.  Thusly, the scholastic marvel of cultural relativism grew synchronously with the conception and development of the universal human rights lawful administration. Actually, discussion, cultural relativism within the order of humanities is a heuristic device reflecting the rule that an individual human’s convictions bode well as far as his own particular society, while moral relativism imitates the rule that all societies and all worth frameworks, while unmistakable, are just as substantial.

In 1887, Franz Boas first ascribed this principle as “… civilization is not something complete but is relative, and our thoughts and conceptions are true only so far as our civilization goes”, whereby, he formed an adage of anthropological research.[3]

According to some analysts, cultural relativism sees nothing naturally wrong with any cultural appearance. As a consequence, the primordial Mayan practices of self-mutilation and human sacrifice are neither good nor bad; they are simply cultural distinguishing, analogous to the American custom of shooting fireworks on the Fourth of July. Human sacrifice and fireworks -both are merely diverse products of separate socialization. Cultural relativism engenders in each human society differently.[4] Cultural relativity is an irrefutable fact that ethical rules and social institutions produce astounding cultural and historical variability. Cultural relativism is an authoritative opinion that holds that (at any rate some) such contrasts are absolved from legitimate criticism by outsiders, a precept that is firmly bolstered by ideas of mutual independence and self-determination.

Moral judgments, notwithstanding, would appear to be basically widespread, as proposed by Kant’s definite imperative as well as by the common sense difference in the middle of the principled and self-intrigued activity.  The perception of human rights in the modern world from the prism of both universalism and cultural relativism is entirely complicated. At the same time, they showed their assumptions and ideas with a radical approach. In this case, two extreme positions can be considered in each called radical universalism and radical cultural relativism. Radical cultural relativism holds the opinion that culture is the sole wellspring of the legitimacy of ethical rights and rules. Radical universalism emphasized that culture is unimportant to the legitimacy of moral rights and principles, which are universally lawful and valid.      

Furthermore, the main arms of the cultural relativism are typified as strong and weak cultural relativism. How were they considered under the rules of human society? –  Strong cultural relativism refers to culture as a vital source of the legitimacy of ethical rights, in particular, morality and rules. The standards of Universal human rights, however, serve in conjunction with ensuring on potential excesses of relativism. At its utmost extreme, just short of radical relativism, strong cultural relativism would recognize a few basic rights with virtual universal requests, but allow such a wide range of variation for most rights that two entirely reasonable sets might overlap only somewhat. Weak cultural relativism also cites that culture may be an imperative well of the legitimacy of an ethical right and rules.  Universality is at first assumed, however, the relativity of human instinct, groups, and rights serve as to verify on potential abundances of universalism. In some cases, weak cultural relativism would perceive an extensive arrangement of by all appearances universal human rights, but permit intermittent and entirely constrained neighborhood varieties and special cases. [5]

Hence, the cultural impacts on human civilization are unalienable, regarding the fact in civil societies had been formed by the effects of various types of moral and ethical powers, in particular, primordial traditions belonged to each human being. Thus, in today’s world, the realities of East and West, North and South are irrefutable. Moreover, there can be slight uncertainty that there are important, structurally determined cultural and in many cases, moral distinctions for example, between the basic “personality and natures “of men and particularly, women in modern western and traditional Islamic or Muslim societies. Thus, human nature formed the basic personality of each human being within his or her civil community.    Relativism centers on the thoughts of moral self-sufficiency and public self-determination.   Regarding cultural relativism, it also establishes the internal and external effects of morality.

The main features of internal evaluations were given by your own society, but the external evaluation focus would seem universal judgments that can be affected by western or other foreign societies. Furthermore, moral judgment by their society is normal and universal for its human nature. Because of the fact that he or she belongs to this civil society which is based on its cultural and moral characteristics and for this reason, moral judgments given by his or her own society center on their genesis and historically specific contingent.  

Pre-colonial African village, Native American tribes, and traditional Islamic or Muslim social community focus on the native morality of cultural relativism. Universal human rights are strange to their community, the reason why, they merely concern on their native traditional values, because of the fact that the communal self-determination, in particular, moral self-sufficiency engenders cultural and social variability of human nature within their own community.[6] Long-established traditional cultures of Africans for example, usually were powerfully constitutional, with compulsory major restrictions on civil society. These kinds of central limitations also deprived them of the main universal and identified norms and values of the contemporary world. Thus, it can lead to strong despotism and violence in this community.    According to cultural relativism, it can be essential to mention some Asian, the Middle Eastern and Latin American countries through considering their own conventional values and morality within the system of human rights.

Regarding Pakistan, the main reference in its National Report is contained in the schooling procedures underlined by the government, in which it proclaims that the “new National Educational modules has tried endeavours to incorporate standards, in particular values of human rights, maintaining assorted qualities and distinction  alongside universal human rights that In the case of Pakistan, CEDAW was unequivocally worried about not only pervasive patriarchal positions and attitudes but  deep-seated conventional and cultural stereotypes related to the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family, in the place of work and in civil society.[7]

In accordance with cultural values and traditions, in Iraq, young ladies are often deprived of education after 12 to 15 years in provincial areas; however, the country’s educational ministry still remains muted and latent with respect to the procedures of schooling to be taken to set up the compulsory law of education. Apart from this, the “violence against women and girls continues to be one of the critical problems in this region. Women in these areas are undergone some kinds of violence by armed forces, Iraqi policies, and militias. On the other hand, the extensive functionality of the death punishment, torment, and inhuman behaviors and standards are widely practiced in Iraqi prisons, therefore, the severe influences of the myriad breaches of the rules of war by Iraq armed forces, groups, and policies have lingered in civil society for a long time.[8] Thus, in the case of Iraq’s cultural values and morality, it can never be justified in terms of gender equality, because this country only validates itself to engender violence and antagonist actions toward its society, in particular women. Why? – Is the maintenance of human rights composed of these types of behaviors? In this region, promoting antagonist manners and behaviors toward society, rather than upholding universal sets of values and standards of human rights can not give meaningful benefits to this country.

In addition, it should be emphasized that at the same time, Israel articulated its anxieties regarding, severe methods of capital punishment, discrimination, violence, in particular, forced marriages methodically engaged against women and girls.

When it comes to Latin American countries, it can be useful to focus on the traditional manners and roots of Cuba. According to this country, the UN Compilation gives data to form autonomous human rights institutions and associations and boost contributions to the international system. Cuba experiences torture, discrimination, prison circumstances, arbitrary detentions, domestic violence, the conditions of prostitution and other forms of violence against women. In the instance of Cuba, the UN promotes basically substantial reforms on human rights. According to this situation, in 2006, “Cuba tried to mention its motivation in order to support cultural rights and the respect for cultural diversity and the promotion of peace for the satisfaction of all human rights.

However, Cuba stands in the same position in order to maintain conventional rights and international-third generation values and standards in human rights issues.”[9] Hence, basic cultural differences cannot justify the universal values and standards of human rights. In most cases, cultural relativism leads to the conditions of despotism and antagonism, in Asian, the Middle Eastern and some parts of Latin American countries, through these methods, it can not maintain human rights within society. If cultural relativism merely focuses on strong authentic moral and ethical basis rather than supporting the alternative methods of providing human rights universally, these types of roots can lead to colossal gaps between Eastern and Western societies in the contemporary world order. Eventually, we tend to realize that reciprocal respect and understanding between people can cause the inclusive implementation of human rights from both universalism and relativism perspective in civil society. Through reaching to reconciliation processes of the two main approaches of human rights, our civil society can create relative universal sets of values and behaviors by taking into account both relativism and universalism.

We try to comprehend that many Eastern and Asian countries will not justify the strong universal basis and sets of human rights in future life expectancy. Regarding the fact that their community, in particular, each human being depends on the authentic self-governing rules, traditional set of values and basis. Transmitting from these kinds of values into the burly standards of human rights can be arduous for them that how can they behaved under the rules of these common standards. Universalism is not about everything for them, but at the same time, if universal sets of values can be implemented in some Eastern and Asian countries, firstly, their social communities have to eager to alter their customary ethical and moral natures into the central standards of human rights take on universal nature of human rights.

[1] Universality of Human Rights,  Dr. Peter Kirchschlaeger, Co-Director of the Centre of Human Rights Education, University of Teacher Education of Central Switzerland – Lucerne, http://www.theewc.org/uploads/files/Universality%20of%20Human%20Rights%20by%20Peter%20Kirchschlaeger2.pdf

[2] Michael Goodhart*, Human Rights Quarterly 25 (2003) 935–964 © 2003 by The Johns Hopkins University Press Origins and Universality in the Human Rights Debates: Cultural Essentialism and the Challenge of Globalization, pp 4-5, http://hmb.utoronto.ca/HMB303H/weekly_supp/week-02/Goodhart_Cultural_Essentialism.pdf.

[3] Franz Boas 1887 “Museums of Ethnology and their classification” Science 9: 589

[4] http://www.gotquestions.org/cultural-relativism.html , what is cultural relativism?

[5] Cultural Relativism and Universal Human Rights Author(s): Jack Donnelly Source: Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Nov., 1984), pp. 400-419 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/762182.

[6] Cultural Relativism and Universal Human Rights Author(s): Jack Donnelly Source: Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Nov., 1984), pp. 406-414 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/762182.

[7] http://www.univie.ac.at/bimtor/dateien/pakistan_upr_2008_info.pdf, Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review Second session Geneva, A/HRC/WG.6/2/PAK/1 of 14 April 2008, Para. 74.

[8] A/HRC/WG.6/7/IRQ/3 1, http://www.univie.ac.at/bimtor/dateien/iraq_upr_2010_summary.pdf,  Human Rights Council, Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review Seventh session Geneva, 8-19 February 2010;

[9] A/HRC/WG.6/4/CUB/1 4 November 2008, http://www.univie.ac.at/bimtor/dateien/cuba_upr_2008_report.pdf  Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review Fourth session, Geneva, 2-13 February 2009.

Ms. Nargiz Hajiyeva is an independent researcher from Azerbaijan. She is an honored graduate student of Vytautas Magnus University and Institute D'etudes de Politique de Grenoble, Sciences PO. She got a Bachelor degree with the distinction diploma at Baku State University from International Relations and Diplomacy programme. Her main research fields concern on international security and foreign policy issues, energy security, cultural and political history, global political economy and international public law. She worked as an independent researcher at Corvinus University of Budapest, Cold War History Research Center. She is a successful participator of International Student Essay Contest, Stimson Institute, titled “how to prevent the proliferation of the world's most dangerous weapons”, held by Harvard University, Harvard Kennedy School and an honored alumnus of European Academy of Diplomacy in Warsaw Poland. Between 2014 and 2015, she worked as a Chief Adviser and First Responsible Chairman in International and Legal Affairs at the Executive Power of Ganja. At that time, she was defined to the position of Chief Economist at the Heydar Aliyev Center. In 2017, Ms. Hajiyeva has worked as an independent diplomatic researcher at International Relations Institute of Prague under the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Czech Republic. Currently, she is pursuing her doctoral studies in Political Sciences and International Relations programme in Istanbul, Turkey.

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International Law

Human Rights violation in Palestine: A serious concern

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Palestinians had long been victim of brutal Israeli assailant forces. The innocent Palestinians civilians and children are not only victim of discrimination but are maltreated, battered and are forced to displace from their ancestral land.  As a matter of fact these Israeli were the people who came to settle in Palestine under the Balfour declaration which announce the support for establishing national home for Jewish people in Palestine.  Hence according to Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics initially under the British mandate Israel occupied 6.2% land in Palestine but now they control 27,000 m3 land which accounts for 85% of historical Palestinian land. Recent 11 days destruction was another episode of human rights violations as in the violence nearly 243 people were killed in Gaza including more than 100 women and children. During this deadly conflict Israeli brutal forces even flounced the Al Aqsa masjid and even shelled worshippers resultantly several were wounded as tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades were used by callous Israeli police. Besides these coercive actions the Israel even launched air strikes causing demolition of residential buildings. According to BBC news even on 16 May Sunday the airstrike hit busy street in Gaza as result causing numbers of deaths and three buildings to collapse. In addition to all this viciousness the Israeli forces even demolished media buildings of Al Jazeera and Associated Press (AP) which also housed residential apartments and they were warned only an hour before air raids.

All this barbarity makes ones ponder where human rights are and where are human rights regimes? This makes one ponder if same insanity was being done otherwise or in any other region of world will still UN had been aphonic and voiceless. Is UN champion of peace and justice is playing its role and performing its responsibility faithfully? This makes us realize that these regimes and international organizations would not play their effective and just role and would not even grant basic human rights unless they themselves are strong and economically robust. This is high time that we should contemplate how as an individual, state and regional level Muslims should play their role before it too late as the Turkish president uttered “if Jerusalem falls today, Israel could run over Mecca, Medina, Istanbul and Islamabad.” The divided Muslim world should understand they will tumbledown and dilapidate if they do not join hands together.

OIC which is the second largest international organization after UN comprising of 57 states which only offer rhetorical statements without taking any pragmatic measures should work to eliminate its structural flaws. Efforts should be done in order to restructure OIC and strengthen its role if OIC wants to play an effective role in international arena, combat the oncoming challenges and secure its stance in front of international community. One of its inadequacies is that it possesses limited number of staff as compare to similar world organizations in international arena and even the qualifications of many members are below required standards. The OIC even lack the proper means to implement its resolutions as even though OIC has announce the economic boycott of Israel according to 1981 OIC resolution  even then certain states possess economic ties with Israel. Hence this discloses that even the Muslims states are not even on one page due to their personal motives. We have to make one thing clear in our mind we would not be able to counter the challenges posed by western world and resolve the deadly violent Palestine Israel conflict lest we stand together and put an end to personal political and economic interest.

Secondly we should we should cogitate what role we can play as an individual because little drops of water make the mighty ocean. One of the best ways to counter the Israel is that each and every individual in Pakistan should boycott the Israeli products because these products generate the revenue and capital for the Israel. We should keep one thing in mind there are dozens of Israeli products in Pakistan and these are manufactured in Pakistan which means that the Pakistani labor is employed in industries while manufacturing these items and if we boycott the products it means that our labor will get unemployed resultantly creating consequences for Pakistan economy. This means that we should generate long term solution if we want to play an effective role. We should create awareness in our industrialist that we should try to launch our own products as a result create an alternative for each and every foreign product which is being sold in Pakistan. Suppose if there is any carbonated drink they should try launch same product with their unique formula against that product but their should be no compromise on taste and quality because consumers will always go for better quality hence when we will have alternative for each and every manufactured product  we can shift then shift our labor to the company which is making Pakistani product and when that Pakistani product will be launch that means the generated profit will totally belong to Pakistan and as a result give boost to our economy.

Lastly each and every individual should raise their voice against the inhumane acts of Israeli forces in Palestine and this will be only possible by making effective use of social media platforms. As the platform like YouTube, twitter, Facebook act as megaphone and allow propagating message to large audience hence we should make this human right issue as a trend because Palestinian lives matter. We should create awareness in our people they should keep on writing via blog or article writing and speak on this issue in any practical way because making this issue as an international trend would be one of the ways to put pressure on international community because the airstrikes by assailant Israel Defence forces are even still being carried out after ceasefire.

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International Law

Carl Schmitt for the XXI Century

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For decades, the scholars of international relations have confused the term “New World order” in the social, political, or economic spheres. Even today, few scholars confuse the term with the information age, internet, universalism, globalization, and  American imperialism. Unlike the complex categorization of the New World Order, the concept of the Old World Order was purely a juridical phenomenon. However, from standpoint of modernity, the term New World order is a purely ideological and political phenomenon, which embodies various displays such as liberal democracy, financial capitalism, and technological imperialism.

In his Magnus Opus “The concept of the Political”, Carl Schmitt lauded a harsh criticism on liberal ideology and favored competitive decisionism over it. This is why according to Schmitt’s critics; the whole text in “The concept of the political” is filled with authoritarian overtones. Nonetheless, the fact cannot be denied that it was the radical political philosophy of Carl Schmitt that paved the way for the conservative revolution in Europe. Even today, his writings are being regarded as one of the major contributions to the field of political philosophy from the 20th century.

Throughout his major works such as “Nomos of the earth”, “the Crisis of Parliamentary democracy”, “The concept of the Political” and “Dictatorship”, Carl Schmitt frequently employs unadorned terms such as ‘actual’, ‘concrete’, ‘real’, and ‘specific’ to apprize his political ideas. However, he advances most of the core political ideas by using the metaphysical framework. For instance, in the broader political domain, Carl Schmitt anticipated the existential dimension of the ‘actual politics’ in the world today.

On the contrary, in his famous work “The Concept of the Political” readers most encounter the interplay between the abstract and ideal and, the concrete and real aspects of politics. Perhaps, understanding of Schmitt’s discursive distinctions is necessary when it comes to the deconstruction of the liberal promoted intellectual discourse. However, the point should be kept in mind that for Schmitt the concept of the political does not necessarily refer to any concrete subject matter such as “state” or “sovereignty”. In this respect, his concept of the political simply refers to the friend-enemy dialectics or distinction. To be more precise, the categorization of the term “Political” defines the degree of intensity of an association and dissociation.

In addition, the famous friend-enemy dialectics is also the central theme of his famous book “The Concept of the Political”. Likewise, the famous friend-enemy distinction in Schmitt’s famous work has both concrete and existential meaning. Here, the word “enemy” refers to the fight against ‘human totality”, which depends upon the circumstances. In this respect, throughout his work, one of the major focuses of Carl Schmitt was on the subject of  “real Politics”. According to Schmitt, friend, enemy, and battle have real meaning. This is why, throughout his several works; Carl Schmitt remained much concerned with the theory of state and sovereignty. As Schmitt writes;

I do not say the general theory of the state; for the category, the general theory of the state…is a typical concern of the liberal nineteenth century. This category arises from the normative effort to dissolve the concrete state and the concrete Volk in generalities (general education, general theory of the law, and finally general theory of the knowledge; and in this way to destroy their political order”.[1]

As a matter of the fact, for Schmitt, the real politics ends up in battle, as he says, “The normal proves nothing, but the exception proves everything”. Here, Schmitt uses the concept of “exceptionality” to overcome the pragmatism of Liberalism. Although, in his later writings, Carl Schmitt attempted to dissociate the concept of “Political” from the controlling and the limiting spheres but he deliberately failed. One of the major reasons behind Schmitt’s isolation of the concept of the political is that he wanted to limit the categorization of friend-enemy distinction. Another major purpose of Schmitt was to purify the concept of the “Political” was by dissociating it from the subject-object duality. According to Schmitt, the concept of the political was not a subject matter and has no limit at all. Perhaps, this is why Schmitt advocated looking beyond the ordinary conception and definition of politics in textbooks.

For Schmitt, it was Liberalism, which introduced the absolutist conception of politics by destroying its actual meaning. In this respect, he developed his very idea of the “Political” against the backdrop of the “human totality” (Gesamtheit Von Menschen). Today’s Europe should remember the bloody revolutionary year of 1848 because the so-called economic prosperity, technological progress, and the self-assured positivism of the last century have come together to produce long and deep amnesia. Nonetheless, the fact cannot be denied that the revolutionary events of1848 had brought deep anxiety and fear for the ordinary Europeans. For instance, the famous sentence from the year 1848 reads;

For this reason, fear grabs hold of the genius at a different time than it does normal people. the latter recognizes the danger at the time of danger; up to that, they are not secure, and if the danger has passed, then they are secure. The genius is the strongest precisely at the time of danger”.

Unfortunately, it was the intellectual predicament at the European stage in the year 1848 that caused revolutionary anxiety and distress among ordinary Europeans. Today, ordinary Europeans face similar situations in the social, political, and ideological spheres. The growing anxieties of the European public consciousness cannot be grasped without taking into account Carl Schmitt’s critique of liberal democracy. A century and a half ago, by embracing liberal democracy under the auspices of free-market capitalism, the Europeans played a pivotal role in the self-destruction of the European spirit.

The vicious technological drive under liberal capitalism led the European civilization towards crony centralism, industrialism, mechanization, and above all singularity. Today, neoliberal capitalism has transformed the world into a consumer-hyped mechanized factory in which humanity appears as the by-product of its own artificial creation. The unstructured mechanization of humanity in the last century has brought human civilization to technological crossroads. Hence, the technological drive under liberal democratic capitalism is presenting a huge threat to human civilizational identity.


[1] Wolin, Richard, Carl Schmitt, Political Existentialism, and the Total State, Theory and Society, volume no. 19, no. 4, 1990 (pp. 389-416). Schmitt deemed the friend-enemy dialectics as the cornerstone of his critique on liberalism and universalism.

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International Law

Democratic Backsliding: A Framework for Understanding and Combatting it

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Democracy is suffering setbacks around the world. Over the past decade, the number of liberal democracies has shrunk from 41 to 32. Today, 34 percent of the global population lives in 25 countries moving in the direction of autocracy. By contrast, only 16 countries are undergoing a process of democratization, representing just 4 percent of the global population. Reflecting these troubling trends, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, during her confirmation hearing, highlighted democratic backsliding – along with climate change, conflict and state collapse, and COVID-19 – as among the “four interconnected and gargantuan challenges” that will guide the Biden Administration’s development priorities.

However, defining “democratic backsliding” is far from straightforward. Practitioners and policymakers too often refer to “democratic backsliding” broadly, but there is a high degree of variation in how backsliding manifests in different contexts. This imprecise approach is problematic because it can lead to an inaccurate analysis of events in a country and thereby inappropriate or ineffective solutions.

To prevent or mitigate democratic backsliding, policymakers need a definition of the concept that captures its multi-dimensional nature. It must include the actors responsible for the democratic erosion, the groups imperiled by it, as well as the allies who can help reverse the worst effects of backsliding. 

To address this gap, the International Republican Institute developed a conceptual framework to help practitioners and policymakers more precisely define and analyze how democratic backsliding (or “closing democratic space”) is transpiring and then devise foreign assistance programs to combat it.  Shifting away from broad generalizations that a country is moving forward or backward vis-à-vis democracy—which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to derive specific solutions—the framework breaks closing democratic space into six distinct, and sometimes interrelated, subsectors or “spaces.”

Political/Electoral: Encompasses the arena for political competition and the ability of citizens to hold their government accountable through elections. Examples of closing political or electoral space range from fraudulent election processes and the arrest or harassment of political leaders to burdensome administrative barriers to political party registration or campaigning.

Economic: Refers to the relationship between a country’s economic market structure, including access and regulation, and political competition. Examples of closing economic space include selective or politically motivated audits or distribution of government licenses, contracts, or tax benefits.

Civic/Associational: Describes the space where citizens meet to discuss and/or advocate for issues, needs, and priorities outside the purview of the government. Examples of closing civic or associational space include harassment or co-optation of civic actors or civil society organizations and administrative barriers designed to hamper civil society organizations’ goals including limiting or making it arduous to access resources.

Informational: Captures the venues that afford citizens the opportunity to learn about government performance or hold elected leaders to account, including the media environment and the digital realm. h. Examples of closing informational space consist of laws criminalizing online speech or activity, restrictions on accessing the internet or applications, censorship (including self-censorship), and editorial pressure or harassment of journalists.  

Individual: Encapsulates the space where individuals, including public intellectuals, academics, artists, and cultural leaders– including those traditionally marginalized based on religious, ethnicity, language, or sexual orientation–can exercise basic freedoms related to speech, property, movement, and equality under the law. Common tactics of closing individual space include formal and informal restrictions on basic rights to assemble, protest, or otherwise exercise free speech; censorship, surveillance, or harassment of cultural figures or those critical of government actions; and scapegoating or harassing identity groups.

Governing: Comprises the role of state institutions, at all levels, within political processes. Typical instances of closing the governing space include partisan control of government entities such as courts, election commissions, security services, regulatory bodies; informal control of such governing bodies through nepotism or patronage networks; and legal changes that weaken the balance of powers in favor of the executive branch.

Examining democratic backsliding through this framework forces practitioners and policymakers to more precisely identify how and where democratic space is closing and who is affected. This enhanced understanding enables officials to craft more targeted interventions.

For example, analysts were quick to note Myanmar’s swift about-face toward autocracy.  This might be true, but how does this high-level generalization help craft an effective policy and foreign aid response, beyond emphasizing a need to target funds on strengthening democracy to reverse the trend? In short, it does not.  If practitioners and policymakers had dissected Myanmar’s backsliding using the six-part framework, it would have highlighted specific opportunities for intervention.  This systematic analysis reveals the regime has closed civic space, via forbidding large gatherings, as well as the information space, by outlawing online exchanges and unsanctioned news, even suspending most television broadcasts.  One could easily populate the other four spaces with recent examples, as well. 

Immediately, we see how this exercise leads to more targeted interventions—support to keep news outlets operating, for example, via software the government cannot hack—that, collectively, can help slow backsliding.  Using the framework also compels practitioners and policymakers to consider where there might be spillover—closing in one space that might bleed into another space—and what should be done to mitigate further closing.

Finally, using this framework to examine the strength of Myanmar’s democratic institutions and norms prior to the February coup d’etat may have revealed shortcomings that, if addressed, could have slowed or lessened the impact of the sudden democratic decline. For example, the high-profile arrest of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in December 2017 was a significant signal that Myanmar’s information space was closing. Laws or actions to increase protections for journalists and media outlets, could have strengthened the media environment prior to the coup, making it more difficult for the military to close the information space.

A more precise diagnosis of the problem of democratic backsliding is the first step in crafting more effective and efficient solutions. This framework provides practitioners and policymakers a practical way to more thoroughly examine closing space situations and design holistic policies and interventions that address both the immediate challenge and longer-term issue of maintaining and growing democratic gains globally.

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