Judaism, Human Rights, and Human Values

Judaism, Human Rights, and Human Values

Judaism, Human Rights, and Human Values

Judaism, Human Rights, and Human Values

Synopsis

Following on the heels of his critically acclaimed God of Abraham (Oxford, 1996), Lenn E. Goodman here focuses on rights, their grounding in the deserts of beings, and the dignity of persons. In an incisive contemporary dialogue between reason and revelation, Goodman argues for ethical standards and public policies that respect human rights and support the preservation of all beings: animals, plants, econiches, species, habitats, and the monuments of nature and culture. Immersed in the Jewish and philosophical sources, Goodmans argument ranges from the fetus in the womb to the modern nation state, from the problems of pornography and tobacco advertising to the rights of parents and children, individuals and communities, the powerful and powerless--the most ancient and the most immediate problems of human life and moral responsibility. Guided by the probing argumentation that Goodman lays out with distinctive, often poetic clarity, the reader will emerge enlightened and prepared to respond with intelligence and commitment to the sobering moral challenges of the coming century. This is a book for anyone concerned with law, ethics, and the human prospect.

Excerpt

Rights have always been a vexed issue, a ground of public contention, and, more privately, a marketplace of compromise and exchange. Today that ground has grown soft. The market slopes toward an international bidding war whose commodities, if they are publicly discussed at all, are rarely displayed among the rhetorical wares that are the boast of politicians and the pride of statesmen. Child labor, forced prostitution, ethnic cleansing, pollution by policy, famines planned and tolerated -- even advocated -- environmental degradation, sabotage and poisoning, medically supervised torture, ritual mutilation, cult slavery, mind control, and group suicide exacerbate the ancient abuses of genocide, to close the twentieth century with horrors as ghastly as any of the past, but perpetrated on a far broader scale and with industrial efficiency.

The commodification of violence, in land mines, chemical defoliants, and agents of mass murder like Sarin gas, or in cheap consumer goods from the gulags of the Second and Third Worlds or the sweatshops of the First, has spawned a ready apologetic for all these terrors and more: Free trade, global competition, and constructive engagement (if not the lifeboat ethos) create a climate in which rights talk grows problematic. And the new slogans are abetted by one very old one, which urges, in liberal language, that we not impose our values on their ways -- that liberalism may be fine for the West but not necessarily for China, Burma, or Africa; that our troops, our boys and girls, and treasure, as politicians say when they want money to sound like something sacred, should not be inserted into age-old and endemic conflicts in Bosnia or Kurdistan (or Iraq, it was argued not too long ago), where the quarrel is not ours and the issues may be too complex for our understanding (meaning: too remote for our concern). As often happens with slogans, the subtext is far more eloquent in its silence than the spoken words. Here the subtext is the moral dichotomy of "us" and "them."

Meanwhile, at home, rights claims proliferate, as Bentham predicted they would, in a way that cheapens the rhetoric of rights to the point of worthlessness. Small wonder that Bentham sells short the entire concept. What anyone could . . .

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