Looking at the Multiple Difficulties of “Universal Rights” from International Political Practice

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This article was published in Seeking Truth today.

Zhang Weiwei

Over the past few years, the West has promoted the realization of so-called “universal values” in international politics, which led to a huge debate. A number of Western countries have said that some of their own unilaterally defined values are “universal”, and peddle them through all kinds of methods, they even do not stint to resort to military force, bringing much new unrest to the world. From the angle of international political practice, the result of the Western promotion of “universal values” basically lacks anything good to discuss, it has even been disastrous. “universal values” today face many difficulties.

From procedural difficulties to conceptual difficulties

As the term implies, “universal values” should be value concepts that the majority of countries and peoples in the world can accept, but exactly with regards to this question, no consensus has been obtained in international society. Western countries’ governments and mainstream media often say that democracy, freedom and human rights are “universal values”, but people can ask one simple question: apart from democracy, freedom and human rights being “universal values” recognized in the West, which values are there in the world that can be “universal values”? For example, the absolute majority of people in the world would identify “peace” as being a “universal value”, but major Western countries, and especially the US, do not accept this. Another example, the Chinese people pay high regard to values such as “harmony”, “benevolence”, “responsibility”, “removing poverty” and other values, could these become “universal values”? If they can, the next step is how to go about this. If they cannot, what is the reason? This first involves a procedural question: with so many countries in the world, and so plural cultures and value system, which values may become “universal values”? Which values may not become “universal values”? There should at lease be a procedure for selection or rejection that everyone can accept, and every country should at least be permitted to express its own opinion. If such a big thing can only be decided by a small number of Western countries, what justice and morality worth talking about is there in this world?

In other words, for “universal values” to be “universal”, the question of “procedural legitimacy” must be resolved first: to say that a certain thing is “universal”, or to say that all countries and peoples accept it, requires that it undergoes some procedure for determination universally accepted in international society, for example the convention of an international conference to discuss or even negotiate on it, where international consensus is formed in the end, and it is determined which values belong to those enjoyed by all of mankind, and which don’t. Only in this way can “universal values” be accepted, and can it be prevented that a small number of countries starting from their own political, economic and strategic interests and needs, say that some values they defined themselves are “universal values”, forcibly push it onto the whole world afterwards, and do not even stint to resort to military force and warfare to bring huge disaster to the interests and welfare of peoples in other countries.

“universal values” face another difficulty which is the difficulty of the concept itself: Western countries say that democracy, freedom and human rights are “universal values”, but this concept seems to be unable to stand too much discussion. There is no harm in people asking: even in Western societies, where all kinds and varieties of democracy, freedom and human rights exist, which kinds of democracy, freedom and human rights are “universal values”? For example, should the US-style democracy where so much money is spent count as a “democracy” or a “moneyocracy”? The US advocates free speech and at the same time supervises and controls so much of the online discourse and communications domestically and in other countries, should the example of this free speech with US characteristics be followed globally? As for human rights, the Iraq war that the US started, was this for the sake of promoting human rights in Iraq as the US said, or did it gravely violate the human rights of the Iraqi people? I’m afraid that the absolute majority of people globally would believe this to be an illegal war that led to tens of thousands of deaths among the population, with millions becoming destitute and homeless, this should be one of the gravest incidents of violation of international law and armed violation of human rights this century.

Furthermore, within quite a few areas, such as democracy, freedom and human rights, international society has not formed a consensus. Even if there are some areas in which a basic consensus has been formed in international society, a number of Western countries have hitherto not accepted this consensus. One example in human rights is that the absolute majority of countries in the world have accepted and acceded to the “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” and the “Convention on the Rights of the Child”, but the US refuses to accede to them. In terms of concrete human rights, the Swedish social welfare has been established on the basis of high taxation, in the US, this would be believed to infringe the right of private property; the UK until today still has a national religion and it is a mandatory course in schools, in France, this would be intolerable; the French government’s monopoly powers on television stations were maintained until 1982, this would be difficult to accept in the US.

In short, whenever we make many abstract concepts appropriately concrete, we may discover that the problems become much more complicated. A number of Western countries like to use abstract concepts to dazzle people, but behind this, there often are considerations of strategic interests to benefit oneself at the expense of others. What we should be doing today, is that we make abstract concepts appropriately concrete, then ask a few whys again, and in this way, we will not be dazzled by Western words. The West propagates everywhere that democracy is a “universal value”, we can clearly respond: democracy may be a value with which a majority of people identifies, but the Western democratic system never was, is not and never will be a “universal value”. The Western democratic system is the product of the unique culture and history of Western societies, and resorts under “local knowledge”, non-Western countries and societies may draw experiences and lessons from Western democratic constructions, but if they indiscriminately imitate the Western democratic model, they will basically copy something, become disappointed, and be defeated. From the financial crisis and debt crisis that engulfs the West these days, it can be seen that the Western democratic system itself contains many flaws, that bad habits die hard, and that reform will be a heavy task over a long period ahead.

Practical difficulties: colour revolutions from “hope” to “despair”

If we say that the procedural and conceptual difficulties of “universal values” often involve what Western counties say in international relations, then the practical difficulties of “universal values” involve what Western countries do in international relations and the consequences emerging from these acts.

Under the name of promoting “universal values”, major Western countries have successively promoted colour revolutions in the three former Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, which led to regime change in these countries. Looking at the situation from the eruption of the “colour revolutions” until today, these countries have undergone political turmoil and sustained economic decline, the living standards of the common people have basically not risen. The “colour revolutions” in these countries have rapidly faded,

In 2003, the so-called “rose revolution” erupted in Georgia. The US President at the time, Bush, said that the pro-US President Saakashvili who had taken power was a “hero of democracy”, he visited Georgia, and praised it for being a “beacon of democracy” in the Eurasian region. But the lives of the majority of the Georgian population did not change because of the “colour revolution”, and at present, 27% of the population lives under the poverty line.

In 2004, Western-sponsored polls challenged the official statistics of the elections in Ukraine, which triggered the so-called “orange revolution”, this was acclaimed by the Western world. But good times don’t last long. Because of currency inflation, economic hardship and an increase in corruption, Yanokovych, who had been toppled at that time, made a comeback and won the presidential elections of 2010, this cannot but be said to be a mockery. The attitude of mainstream popular opinion in Ukraine towards the colour revolution has transformed from “hope” into “despair”: a poll by the American Pew Centre in 2009 indicated that among the Ukrainian population, only 30% support “democracy”, which is a full 42 percentage points lower than in 1991. Until today, Ukraine remains deeply bogged down in political and economic crisis, incessant internal strife and thriving corruption, the living standards of the common people have not risen, and regional contradictions have intensified.

In 2005, the so-called “tulip revolution” erupted in Kyrgyzstan, which brought elation to US political circles and media, and was seen as the victory of “democracy and freedom”. But what the “revolution” brought was sustained and incessant social turmoil, political forces representing different regions in the South and the North have sunk into internal strive. After the revolution broke out, the development of the national affairs of Kyrgyzstan and Western expectations were fare from unanimous, the new government’s relations with Russia seemed to be even more friendly than their relations with the West. Before five years had passed, another revolution erupted, President Bakiyev was toppled, and armed clashes ensured. This turmoil has brought a huge negative influence on Kyrgyz politics, economy and society that continue to the present.

In short, the result of the “colour revolutions” can be described in four words: from “hope” to “despair”> This is not only the personal experience of the majority of people in these countries, it is even the sentiment of many Western governments and personalities who promoted the “colour revolutions”, they feel deep despair about the fading of the “colour revolutions”.

Practical difficulties: from the “Arab Spring” to the “Arab Winter”

Starting in late 2010, a series of anti-government movements appealing for “democracy” occurred in the Arab countries in West Asia and North Africa, spreading to Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Egypt and other such countries, many regimes were toppled. This wave of regime changed was called “Arab Spring” by Western media, they cheered that “a new Middle-East will be born”. But after only two years of time, the “Arab Spring” has become the “Arab Winter”: after the civil war in Libya, the various tribes maintain armies and defy central orders, and the entire country has become mired in a state of loss of control; the Tunisian economy has been gravely harmed, domestic secularized and Islamicist forces continue to struggle; they have undergone tribal wars, religious wars (between Sunnis and Shias), wars between the government army and “base” organizations, and it is not impossible that a war for Southern independence may break out.

As a regional power in the Middle East, Egypt’s experience of continuous ups and downs has attracted attention. In the beginning of 2011, a wave of anti-government demonstration brought the President Mubarak, who had been in power for a long time, to step down. In the 2012 elections, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi took power, but the tension between secular and Muslim factions had not reduced because of the elections, quite the opposite, contradictions between both side aggravated incessantly, and neither side was willing to compromise. The sustained turmoil that regime change brought has gravely harmed Egypt’s economy, not only has capital fled, enterprises closed and industrial production seriously slipped, commodity prices are flying up and the crime rate is skyrocketing. In July 2013, the military deposed the democratically elected President Morsi, leading to new chaos and turmoil, the struggle between secular and Muslim factions is growing in intensity, large-scale and bloody clashes have erupted, and the future brooks no optimism.

To sum up, the countries involved in the “colour revolutions” and the “Arab Spring” have all experienced political chaos, social turmoil and economic hardship. Furthermore, this sort of process from “hope” to “despair” could have been expected. First, the Western “universal values” model is fundamentally unable to resolve the profound issues of these countries; it can not resolve the ethnic contradictions, regional contradictions and economic difficulties of ex-Soviet countries, neither can it resolve the population explosion, poverty and economic structural issues in the Arab world. Promoting the “universal values” model instead has caused these countries to become bogged down in turmoil, to divide already divided societies even more, and make the various problems that they face more broad, more complex and more protracted.

Second, countries are organisms that include the three levels of politics, economics and society, “universal values” bring on political reforms that can, at the most, only touch upon some changes in this organism’s political area, and makes changes in the other two areas difficult to realize, this is also why the “universal values” model promoted by the West in all places in the world,  in the end “fails to acclimatize in the new environment”, and one defeat follows another.

Third, international political practice demonstrates that, in a country that is economically considerably backwards, if governments cannot concentrate a consensus in society for economic development and improving the people’s livelihood, and promote political reform on this basis that conforms to the conditions of the nation and the country, but the hopes to resolve all problems are placed on so-called “universal values” and “democratization”, their success rate will be zero. This sort of unilateral political change can only bring people to harbour unrealistic expectations, and the government will never be able to satisfy these expectations, the result being that hope turns into despair, and this despair is hugely destructive, consequently, society gets bogged down in turmoil, the economy marches towards hardship, and the entire country may match towards dissolution, so that in the end, it can only rely on large Western countries to pick up the pieces. This probably will be the original intent of these Western counties, and they may continue to support a faction or oppose a faction under the name of “universal values” to ensure that these countries remain bogged down in sustained internal strive, so that in the end, the entire country can only become their tributary, and can never rise again.

Fortunately, today’s China has explored its own path to success. We can confidently look at the various kinds of problems and difficulties brought on by the so-called “universal values”, this will help us to even more firmly march our own path to success, and at the same time, we can pray for the blessing of those countries and peoples that have become bogged down in turmoil because of their superstition in “universal values”, wholeheartedly look forward to their learning lessons and engaging in bold exploration after experiencing grave setbacks, and in the end, find a development path that conforms to their own national conditions, and realize the flourishing of the country and the happiness of the people.

(The author is a Guest Professor at Fudan University and the Director of the Shanghai Academy of Social Science Chinese Studies Research Institute)

从国际政治实践看“普世价值”的多重困境
这些年,西方在国际政治中推动实现所谓的“普世价值”,引起巨大争议。西方一些国家把自己单方面界定的某些价值说成是“普世”的,并通过种种手段进行推销,甚至不惜诉诸武力,造成了世界上许多新的动荡。从国际政治实践来看,西方推动“普世价值”的结果基本上乏善可陈,甚至是灾难性的。“普世价值”今天已面临多重困境。
从程序困境到理念困境
“普世价值”,顾名思义,应该是世界上多数国家和人民都可以接受的价值观念,但恰恰在这个问题上,国际社会从未取得过共识。西方国家政府和主流媒体经常说,民主、自由、人权是“普世价值”,但人们可以问一个简单的问题:除了民主、自由、人权是西方认定的“普世价值”外,世界上还有什么价值可以是“普世价值”呢?比如,世界上大多数人大概都认同“和平”应该是“普世价值”,但西方主要国家特别是美国不接受。再比如,中国人高度重视的“和谐”、“仁爱”、“责任”、“消除贫困”等价值,能不能成为“普世价值”?如能,下一步该怎么做?如不能,那是什么原因呢?这里首先涉及一个程序问题:世界上有这么多国家,有如此多元的文化和价值体系,哪些价值可以成为“普世价值”?哪些价值不可以成为“普世价值”?总该有一个大家都能接受的取舍筛选的程序,总该让各国都发表一下自己的看法。如果这么大的事只能由少数西方国家说了算,那这个世界哪里还有正义和公道可言?
换言之,“普世价值”要“普世”,首先要解决“程序合法性”问题:把某种东西说成是“普世”的,说成是所有国家和人民都应该接受的,那就应该通过国际社会普遍接受的某种程序来加以确立,比如召开国际会议来进行讨论乃至谈判,最终形成国际共识,确定哪些价值属于全人类共享的,哪些不属于。唯有这样,“普世价值”才能令人信服,才能防止少数国家出于自己的政治、经济和战略利益需要,把自己界定的一些价值说成是“普世价值”,然后向全世界强行推销,甚至不惜诉诸武力和战争手段,造成对他国人民利益与福祉的巨大损害。
“普世价值”面临的另一个困境是这个理念本身的困境:西方国家说民主、自由、人权是“普世价值”,但这个理念似乎经不起太多的推敲。人们不妨设问:即使在西方社会,也存在各种各样的民主、自由和人权,究竟什么样的民主、自由、人权才是“普世价值”呢?比方说,花这么多钱的美式民主应该算“民主”还是“钱主”呢?主张言论自由的美国同时监控那么多本国和其他国家公民的网上言论和通信,这种美国特色的言论自由是全世界应该效仿的吗?至于人权,美国发动的伊拉克战争是如美国所说为了推动伊拉克人权呢,还是严重侵犯了伊拉克人民的人权呢?恐怕世界上大多数人都会认为一场导致十多万平民丧生、数百万人流离失所的非法战争,应该是本世纪违反国际法、武力侵犯人权的最严重事件之一。
此外,在民主、自由、人权等不少领域内,国际社会还未形成共识。即使在国际社会已经形成基本共识的一些领域内,西方一些国家迄今还不接受这些共识。以人权为例,世界上绝大多数国家都接受并参加了《经济、社会及文化权利国际公约》和《儿童权利公约》,但美国拒不加入。从具体的人权来看,瑞典的社会福利建立在高税收基础之上,这在美国会被认为损害了私有财产权;英国至今还有国教,而且是学校的必修课,这在法国是无法容忍的;法国政府对电视台的垄断权一直持续到1982年,这在美国则是难以接受的。
总之,一旦我们把许多抽象的概念适度具体化,就会发现问题要复杂得多。一些西方国家喜欢用抽象的概念忽悠人,背后往往是损人利己的战略利益考量。我们今天该做的事情,就是把抽象的概念适度具体化,然后再问几个为什么,这样就不会被西方话语忽悠了。西方到处宣扬民主是“普世价值”,我们可以明确回应:民主可以是多数人认同的价值,但西方民主制度过去不是、现在不是、将来也不可能是“普世价值”。西方民主制度是西方社会独特文化和历史的产物,属于“地方性知识”,非西方国家和社会可以汲取西方民主建设的经验和教训,但如果照搬西方民主模式,那基本上是照搬一个,失望一个、失败一个。从今天席卷西方的金融危机和债务危机看,西方民主制度本身存在大量缺陷,甚至积重难返,其改革任重道远。
实践困境:颜色革命从“希望”到“失望”
如果说“普世价值”的程序困境和理念困境更多涉及西方在国际关系中说了什么,那么,“普世价值”的实践困境涉及的是西方在国际关系中做了什么以及这些行为所产生的后果。
以推动“普世价值”的名义,西方主要国家先后在格鲁吉亚、乌克兰、吉尔吉斯斯坦这三个前苏联加盟共和国推动了“颜色革命”,导致这些国家政权更迭。从“颜色革命”爆发至今的情况来看,这些国家都经历了政治上的动荡、经济上的持续衰退,百姓的生活水平基本没有提高。这些国家“颜色革命”已迅速褪色。
2003年格鲁吉亚爆发了所谓的“玫瑰革命”。时任美国总统小布什称上台的亲美总统萨卡什维利为“民主英雄”,并造访格鲁吉亚,赞誉它为欧亚地区“民主明灯”。但格鲁吉亚多数百姓的生活没有因为“颜色革命”而改善,目前27%人口生活在贫困线以下。
2004年,西方主导的民调挑战了乌克兰大选的官方统计,引发了所谓的“橙色革命”,引来西方世界一片欢呼。但好景不长。由于通货膨胀,经济凋敝,腐败激增,当年被推翻的亚努科维奇卷土重来,赢得2010年总统大选,这不能不说是一种讽刺。乌克兰主流民意对颜色革命的态度也从“希望”转为“失望”:2009年美国皮尤中心民调表明,乌克兰人中仅有30%支持“民主”,比1991年时低了整整42个百分点。乌克兰至今还深陷政治、经济危机之中,内斗不断,腐败丛生,百姓生活水平没有提高,地区矛盾加剧。
2005年,吉尔吉斯斯坦爆发了所谓的“郁金香革命”,令美国政界和媒体欢欣鼓舞,被视作“民主和自由”的胜利。但“革命”带来的是持续不断的社会动荡,代表南、北不同地区的政治势力陷入内斗。革命爆发后,吉国事态发展与西方的预期不太一致,新政府与俄罗斯的关系似乎比与西方的关系更为融洽。五年不到,又一场革命爆发,总统巴基耶夫被推翻,并引发武装冲突。这些动荡对吉国政治、经济和社会的巨大负面影响持续至今。
总之,“颜色革命”的结果可以用六个字来概括:从“希望”到“失望”。这不仅是这些国家多数民众的亲身感受,甚至也是许多推动“颜色革命”的西方政府和人士的感受,他们对“颜色革命”褪色如此之快深感失望。
实践困境:从“阿拉伯之春”到“阿拉伯之冬”
2010年底开始,西亚北非阿拉伯国家发生一系列以“民主”为号召的反政府运动,波及突尼斯、利比亚、也门、埃及等国,多国政权被推翻。这场政权更迭潮被西方媒体称为“阿拉伯之春”,它们高呼“一个新中东即将诞生”。但仅仅过去两年多时间,“阿拉伯之春”已变成“阿拉伯之冬”:利比亚内战后,各部落拥兵自重,整个国家陷入了失控状态;突尼斯经济受到重创,国内世俗化和伊斯兰化势力持续斗争;也门经历了部落间战争、教派间(逊尼派和什叶派)战争、政府军与“基地”组织的战争,不排除还可能爆发南部独立战争。
作为中东地区大国,埃及跌宕起伏的经历更引人注目。2011年初反政府示威浪潮使长期执政的穆巴拉克总统下台。2012年大选,穆斯林兄弟会穆尔西上台,但世俗派与伊斯兰派的争执没有因举行选举而减少,恰恰相反,两大派矛盾不断加剧,双方均不愿意妥协。政权更迭带来的持续动荡,重创埃及经济,不仅资本外逃,企业关闭,工业生产严重下滑,而且物价飞涨,犯罪率飙升。2013年7月,军队废黜了民选的穆尔西总统,导致新的混乱和动荡,世俗派和伊斯兰派斗争愈演愈烈,爆发大规模流血冲突,前景不容乐观。
综上所述,“颜色革命”和“阿拉伯之春”波及的国家,都经历了政治混乱、社会动荡、经济凋敝。其实,这种从“希望”到“失望”的过程是可以预期的。首先,西方“普世价值”模式根本解决不了这些国家的深层次问题:既解决不了前苏联国家的民族矛盾、地区矛盾和经济困境,也解决不了阿拉伯世界的人口爆炸、贫穷和经济结构问题。推动“普世价值”模式反而使这些国家陷入动荡,使原本就分裂的社会更加分裂,使它们面临的各种问题扩大化、复杂化和持久化。
其次,国家是一个包含了政治、经济和社会三个层面的有机体,“普世价值”导向的政治变革,最多只能触及这个有机体政治层面的某些变革,另外两个层面的改变则难以实现,这也是为什么西方在世界各地推行的“普世价值”模式,最终都“水土不服”,一个接一个失败。
第三,国际政治实践表明:在一个经济相对落后的国家,政府如果不能凝聚全社会发展经济、改善民生的共识,并在此基础之上推动符合民情国情的政治变革,而是把解决一切问题的希望都寄托于所谓“普世价值”和“民主化”,则其成功的概率为零。这种单向度的政治变革只会使民众产生不切实际的期望,而政府永远满足不了这些期望,结果期望转变成失望,而且是具有巨大破坏力的失望,从而使社会陷入动荡,经济走向凋敝,甚至整个国家都可能走向解体,最后只能靠西方大国来收拾残局。这大概也是这些西方国家本来的意图,而且它们会继续以支持“普世价值”为名,拉一派,打一派,使这些国家陷入持续的内斗,最终整个国家只能成为它们的附庸,永世不得翻身。
好在今天的中国已经探索出自己的成功之路。我们可以自信地审视所谓的“普世价值”带来的各种问题和困境,这将有助于我们更加坚定地走自己的成功之路,同时我们也为那些因迷信“普世价值”而陷入动荡的国家和人民祈福,衷心期待他们在经历了严重挫折之后,汲取教训,大胆探索,最终找到符合自己民情国情的发展道路,实现国家繁荣和人民幸福。
(作者:复旦大学特聘教授、上海社科院中国学研究所所长)

One thought on “Looking at the Multiple Difficulties of “Universal Rights” from International Political Practice

    […] China Copyright and Media has published a full translation of the Seeking Truth article discussed above, as well as another article from the Party journal attacking the promotion of “so-called ‘universal&…. […]

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