International Human Rights, Decolonisation and Globalisation: Becoming Human

By Shelly Wright | Go to book overview

5

Peoples of the book

Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much a higher degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.

(Jane Austen)


Cultural diversity

Since the eighteenth century the word 'culture' has gone through many changes in meaning (Eagleton 2000). At times it has been restricted to the field of aesthetics and the cultivation of the 'fine arts'. At other times it has been used as synonymous with 'civilisation'. It also has an anthropological use referring to the traditions of mainly non-European societies. I use the term in a wider sense as that range of social, economic, political, linguistic and spiritual discourses in human communities that create an organic whole within which individual human beings gain identity and connection (Williams 1983). It is much more than tradition, although 'tradition' is obviously important. It is perhaps an essentially conservative definition with roots in the thinking of Edmund Burke, Matthew Arnold and George Orwell (Lloyd and Thomas 1998:8-16). This may explain in part why human rights proponents are so reluctant to take on fully the implications of cultural diversity. Edmund Burke proposed the value of tradition or culture as protecting the organic continuity of human societies in opposition to the revolutionary Enlightenment ideals of Tom Paine and others who supported the universal validity of natural rights and freedoms for all individuals as individuals (Burke 1790; Paine 1792). For Paine and others the idea of 'culture' as social continuity and cohesion was antithetical to their vision of revolutionary change towards individual freedom. Cultural relativism is still seen by many human rights proponents as a dangerous or even barbaric impediment to the goal of universal human rights standards applicable to all (Donnelly 1989; Macklin 1999; Robertson 1999).

Despite this, or perhaps even because of it, cultural revival of formerly colonised and oppressed peoples has become the new renaissance of our time (Battiste 2000). This is an inevitable and necessary part of the process of decolonisation. But this process will take time as the expanding global economic order continues to rely on the power of nation-states to maintain political and legal

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International Human Rights, Decolonisation and Globalisation: Becoming Human
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements x
  • 1 - A Civil Religion 1
  • 2 - White Man's Rights 13
  • 3 - Witches, Slaves and Savages 36
  • 4 - Subjects, Soldiers and Citizens 62
  • 5 - Peoples of the Book 87
  • 6 - Speaking Truth to Power 112
  • 7 - Emerging Images 134
  • 8 - The Death of the Hero 160
  • 9 - Ghosts in the Machine 187
  • 10 - Becoming Human 213
  • Bibliography 227
  • Index 260
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