Some people don’t believe in the universal validity of human rights and democracy. They say that human rights and democracy aren’t meant for them, or aren’t meant for somebody else. They forget, however, that you can’t 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 isn’t 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 can’t be reduced to opinions that aren’t 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 you can’t 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’s evident that an anti-human-rights doctrine and also an anti-democratic doctrine—I am 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—is bound to get trapped in contradictions and paradoxes.
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—don’t 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. Of course, if it were as simple as that there would in fact be no threats to human rights or democracy because every threat would be an application of the principles of human rights and democracy. However, there are real and serious threats and that is why we have to change the attitudes of the anti-democrats. In the real world, contrary to the world of theory, it’s simply not true that the anti-democrat promotes democracy and human rights by struggling against them, even if democracy and human rights constitute the empire of struggle. There is no doubt that democracy and human rights can be destroyed, except perhaps in theory.
To put it in another way, democracy and human rights do not accept heretics or apostates, for the simple reason that they are the prerequisites for the existence of heretics and apostates. Democracy and human rights become a new dogma. It’s impossible to be against them. Every objection is a confirmation, because an objection (an objection in general, not only the objections against democracy and human rights) implies the acceptance of democracy and human rights.
Silencing my opponents in this way may seem to be undemocratic and a proof of inconsistency on my part. However, this one exception to the rule of general acceptance of heresy and plurality is necessary. A democracy is a society of conflicting views, but this means that attacking democracy is in principle impossible. This would be a struggle undermining its own foundation. There is a forced consensus on democracy and the rights it protects. Forced of course by logic and not by violence or physical force. The democratic values and rights and the universality of these values and rights are by definition a common frame and a common world, whether you accept this or not. You necessarily live in this world, both by accepting and rejecting democracy and human rights.
If all this were true and sufficient, I could end right here. However, that would indeed be inconsistent. Nowadays few people will be convinced by a dogma and least of all those freethinking people we need in a democracy. I still have to give reasons why we need democracy and human rights and why we need them at all times and in all places. I’m working on this here.