Some people do not believe in the universal validity of human rights and democracy. They say that human rights and democracy are not meant for them, or are not meant for somebody else. They forget, however, that one cannot question, challenge or refute human rights and democracy, for the simple reason that the act of questioning, challenging or refuting implies respect for human rights and democracy.
Something that is unquestionable and irrefutable is by definition universal. Defending human rights and democracy is not the same thing as expressing an opinion, a western opinion, for example, which other cultures, states or groups can call into question. Human rights and democracy are necessary conditions for the appearance of different opinions and for debate between opinions. Hence they cannot be reduced to opinions that are not different from other opinions, or to an element in a struggle that they help to institute. They are above the level of opinion and questioning. Nobody can question human rights or democracy without, at least, implicitly accepting them.
Besides, most governments that claim the right to have a different opinion on human rights or democracy refuse to grant their subjects the same right to a different opinion – not in the least when this different opinion relates to the legitimacy of the government. This is, of course, a crude example of hypocrisy.
Another example of this kind of hypocrisy can be found in the so-called cultural defense of the violation or non-application of human rights. We are told that one cannot criticize a culture for violating certain human rights because all cultures must be treated with equal respect. Such a criticism would be a lack of respect for the culture in question and for cultural equality and diversity in general. This argument is hypocritical because the same equality that is claimed for cultures is not granted to the individuals inside the culture (for example equal rights for men and women, equal participation in the political process etc.).
It is evident that an anti-human-rights doctrine and also an anti-democratic doctrine is bound to get trapped in contradictions and paradoxes. I’m in favor of a strong link between human rights and democracy because democracy is based on a subset of human rights called political rights, and because democratic practice is so thoroughly dependent on and connected with all types of human rights that the difference is sometimes hard to see.
The anti-democrat hates the air he breathes, abhors the prerequisites of his existence, his acts and his opinions. He lives by the grace of what he hates. When we take away this detestable oxygen = as he seems to request – then he will drop dead. In fact, the anti-democrat hates himself. We witness an internal struggle of somebody who fulminates against a principle that he himself applies, against something he does, against something he is, namely someone who practices opposition, who freely expresses his opinions etc. At a theoretical level, the anti-democrat seems to preserve what he tries to destroy and only destroys his own background opinions.
Somewhat simplistically, I could say that those who want to promote human rights and democracy – and I am one of them – do not have to change the attitude of the anti-democrat. The only thing they have to do is make him conscious of what he already does.