Human Rights and a "garden" of Human Community in the Post-Globalization Era
Eun-Jeung Lee – 2021
The majority of regimes facing criticism in the international community for their human rights violations have, at some point, turned themselves into advocates of cultural relativism. They argue that their countries have their very own, distinct culture and that human rights, too, need to be understood on the basis of that culture. Intellectuals in these countries who are critical of such regimes’ authoritarian style of government and call for the protection of human rights are branded as having lost themselves to Western-centric thinking. Arguing the universality of human rights is, to such regimes, an act of subservience to Western-centricism. In the 21st century, often labelled the post-globalization era, the gulf between cultural relativism and universalism in the conception of human rights shows no signs of closing. The discourse on human rights itself is often mobilized as an instrument for power. What I want to suggest in this article in order to bridge the gulf between cultural relativism and universalism as apparent in the discourse on human rights and, ultimately, reconcile these two concepts with each other is a reappraisal of Herder’s metaphor of human civilization as a community in the form of a “garden”. To Herder, the beauty of this garden of human community lies in the fact that the flowers of cultures growing in its midst achieve a state of mutual harmony. Just as cultivating a single flower cannot be viewed separately from the beauty of the garden as a whole, the protection of specific human rights in full awareness of their somewhat relative character and the protection of human rights in the human community as a whole as a matter of universal principle cannot, ultimately, be viewed as separate from one another. What is needed is an approach that upholds the universalist nature of human rights but also reconciles with the historic and cultural particularities of human rights.