A Pluralistic Approach to Human Rights in a Community of Shared Future for Mankind
July 06,2017   By:CSHRS


A Pluralistic Approach to Human Rights in a Community of Shared Future for Mankind

ZHU Ying*

Abstract: “A community of shared destiny for all mankind” has its own inherent logic, structure and development path, and a pluralistic concept of human rights is a key factor to achieve its four core goals: equality, cooperation, security and inclusiveness. A pluralistic concept of human rights and the ideal of a community of shared future for all mankind overlap on certain values and interests, as well as power and cultural attributes. It means that a pluralistic approach to human rights is indispensable to the establishment of a community of shared future for all mankind. Meanwhile, this new view of human rights embodies mutual respect and support for the inherent inevitability among different countries, shared responsibility, and pursuit of common development.

Keywords: a community of shared destiny ♦ concept of human rights ♦ pluralistic value ♦ attributes of right

Today, seeking a concentric and common solution under overlapping but different cultural values and promoting mutual understanding under existing diverse views on human rights are global issues.

The notion of “[d]o not do to others what you do not want done to yourself”, and the Confucian view of “[n]ow the man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others” are deeply rooted in Chinese traditional society. These notions have become shared values of Confucianism in East Asia and promoted a Confucian approach of “[m]aintaining harmony while respecting differences.” Such an approach is necessary for reaching a global consensus on human rights theory and practice, especially with regard to understanding the concept of human rights. The principles for the construction of a community of shared destiny for all mankind and its development path accord with the attribute of pluralism under the modern concept of human rights.

Since September 2015, President Xi Jinping elaborated on his vision for the international community to build a community of shared future for all mankind on many occasions, including at the Boao Forum for Asia and at the United Nations. Some quotes of his speeches are as follows: “China will continue to contribute to global development. We will continue to pursue common progress and the mutually beneficial strategy of opening up. We are ready to share our experience and opportunities with other countries and welcome them to join us on our voyage and sail together with us towards common development.” “We need to strive for equitable development for all. All countries should have equal rights as participants in, contributors to, and beneficiaries of global development.” “This must not be a privilege available to just one or to a small number of countries, and inaccessible to a large number of others. Countries may differ in their capacity for development and the progress they have made towards their goals. In spite of this, they have shared objectives, and should bear the common — but differentiated — levels of responsibility. It is important to improve global economic governance, increase the representation and the voice of developing countries, and give all countries equal rights to participate in the formulation of international rules.” “China will continue to participate in building world peace. We are committed to peaceful development. No matter how the international landscape may evolve and how strong we may become, China will never pursue hegemony or expansion, or seek to create spheres of influence.”

We can see that building a community of shared future for all mankind has its own inherent logic and path of development, which includes establishing partnerships in which countries treat each other as equals and show mutual understanding, creating a secure environment featuring fairness, justice, joint participation and promoting open, innovative and inclusive prospects for development that benefits all. It also includes enhancing people-to-people exchanges, promoting harmony, inclusiveness, respect for differences, and facilitating green development based on respect for the environment and the ecosystem.

In terms of the attributes of a pluralistic concept of human rights, the four key words of building a community of shared future for all mankind, which are equality, cooperation, security, and inclusiveness, constitute four important fulcrums of reinterpretation of the pluralistic view of human rights in this overall framework.

I. The Human Rights Attribute of Pluralistic Values: Equality

In modern society, the term “pluralism” has multiple meanings in moral and political theories. It may be an empirical claim that different people hold different beliefs and values. It may also be an expression of “desirability” from a normative perspective.

The question is how to deal with the chaotic situation of “war of gods” in modern society. There are conflicts between “good” and “evil” in the classical sense, and there are also conflicts among different kinds of “good” in modern society, especially those that have been conceptualized.

First of all, people admit that one “fact” is clear: There is the obvious incommensurability as well as conflicts among the new “gods” created by modern society. If we adopt a particular concept of “good” or “value” that fits the “trend” to guide our life goals for the sake of achieving unity and harmony in theory, it will eventually pose a threat to the “freedom” of modern people, regardless how lofty or sublime the intention or pretext is. This inner tension indicates another “fact”: On the one hand, the legitimacy of pluralistic values is recognized; on the other hand, the monistic claim of integrating the pluralistic values into a unitary one is firmly opposed.

At the same time, some people are also keenly aware of another dilemma, that is, sacrifices have to be made when choosing from conflicting values. People have to make rational choices, and the pluralism of values is the basic fact that modern human beings are confronted with. The unavoidable choice making is the overall situation human beings are facing. Since the aims are in conflict with one another and it is impossible for people to have everything, making choices has become a kind of necessity. Sacrificing some “values” in order to pursue other“values” has become a basic characteristic of the human survival dilemma. This is also a true portrayal of the “imperfection” of modern politics.

Therefore, the concept of universal human rights established in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights is defined in accordance with a monistic value standard, in terms of both its definition of human rights and its specific connotations. The value it fundamentally based on is the rebirth of liberalism after the war. Liberalism emphasizes equal respect for personal dignity and puts the emphasis on individual rights. On the other hand, non-Western values are holistic and duty-based, some even hierarchal identity-based. Therefore, it can be seen that the liberal values are just one type of values, using them as the sole standard for universal human rights may lead to more disputes and conflicts. Thus, the existing universal human rights may evolve into particularism under the disguise of universalism.

Even if there once was a possibility of universal human rights with one moral standard, the reality of different moral codes in the world would eliminate that possibility. Alasdair Macintyre says that believing in universal human rights is like believing in unicorns, which is utterly absurd.

Therefore, today we should explore the meaning of treating each view of human rights equally. As for China, it values both diversity and unity. This idea of respecting both the unifying characteristics and the differences leads to a redefinition of the basic principle of equality. It is not equality in the Western sense, but equality in the sense of “respecting others’ interests and values while pursuing one’s own and advancing the common interests of all”, as President Xi has put it. This notion of equality maintains diversity and unity at the same time.

II. The Human Rights Attribute of Pluralistic Interests: Cooperation

Hundreds of years ago, modernization started from the European Renaissance which lasted for more than 200 years. The Renaissance liberated humans from the shackles of God. European society became the first to embrace the dawn of modern civilization while pursuing interests in a market-driven process that established the priority of individual rights in each transaction. The Renaissance promoted the establishment of a market based modern world system. But this system is undoubtedly the continuation of the political and economic structure of the imperialist colonial system, which has evolved into a complex and still changing international order and led to huge development gaps across the world.

But as a matter of fact, there is a hierarchical structure at the centre and periphery of imperialism, which is further strengthened by the international division of trade and production chains. In addition to the state as the traditional main entities of power, other new entities, such as large enterprises, multinational organizations, non-governmental organizations, international media and so forth, have also emerged. The state’s “sovereign status” is being impacted by the global “new nobility”. In the era of globalization, violence-based power has not disappeared, but new powers — characterized by capital withdrawal — continue to emerge.

Although the Renaissance greatly liberated mankind, people paid a great price for their liberation. That is, since the Renaissance liberated people from the shackles of God, people have been deified and alienated. The exchanges of human civilizations have come to a critical point. Now, the human crisis calls for the inheritance and development of humanism in the sense of negation of negation. It is necessary to continue the liberation of mankind, but at the same time change people with excessively selfish egos into people who can coexist in harmony. The fact that “[t]here is only one earth for mankind and a world in which all nations live together”, as President Xi highlighted, is the bottom line for our cooperation to secure a pluralistic approach to human rights.

III. The Human Rights Attribute of Pluralistic Power: Security

As President Xi asserted in his speech at the UN offices in Geneva in January, there is no such thing as a superior or inferior civilization. Civilizations may lead to different identities and have different places of origin. However, the diversity of civilizations should not be a source of global conflict, but a driving force of human civilizations.

According to the pluralistic concept of human rights, human rights are the internal affairs of a sovereign state. A country’s perspective on human rights and its human rights system must be determined by the people of the country in accordance with their own will and efforts. In this way people from different countries can develop human rights concepts that are in line with their own cultural traditions and specific historical conditions, and promote the formation of human rights pluralism across the world. In addition, the principle of the supremacy of national sovereignty makes sure the content and scope of human rights of individuals within a country are regulated and protected by the law and other means that are guaranteed by national sovereignty. Today, the rights of an individual exist under the protection of the state. Therefore, there are no individual human rights without national sovereignty.

In the process of building a community of a shared destiny for all mankind, showing respect for the national sovereignty of all countries and discussing the realization of the individual rights of the people within the scope of a state’s sovereignty all demonstrate respect for a pluralistic view of human rights.

The modern nation-state can be regarded as a kind of “safety valve” for the protection of the basic rights of individuals, and the supreme symbol of the power of a state is sovereignty. Therefore, security, as the core interest of national sovereignty, constitutes not only the cornerstone of the pluralistic approach of human rights but also the bottom line we should remember when we build a community of a shared destiny for all mankind.

IV. The Human Rights Attribute of a Pluralistic Culture: Inclusiveness

With regard to the cultural attribute of human rights, generally speaking, the view of cultural relativism can be summarized into two aspects: First, the social cultures of each nation are equal; second, instead of simply categorizing cultures as superior or inferior and criticizing other cultures arbitrarily, we should accept cultural diversity and show respect and tolerance to different cultural phenomena, and pay more attention to the cultures of ethnic minorities and vulnerable groups.

In fact, after the collapse of the colonial system around the world, countries of Asia, and Africa, and Latin America have begun to develop their own human rights concepts. These concepts of human rights have distinctive cultural characteristics that are different from the ones of the West.

First, from the perspective of the subject of human rights, individuals always exist in a specific “culture network”, which shapes us into a single species and makes us different people. For this reason, if there are human rights, then they must be the rights of a specific group of people, such as the rights of the British, the rights of the Chinese, the rights of the people of Americas, etc. Second, from the perspective of the basic connotation of human rights, the understanding of human dignity and human values differs in different cultures. People always understand human rights, human dignity, the relationship between humans and society and the relationship between rights and obligations from the perspective of their own cultural traditions. Third, from the perspective of human rights protection, the institutional guarantee of human rights does not have an absolutely unified model because it is determined by a specific culture. Moreover, when developing or judging a standard of human rights protection, consideration should be given to values and morals beliefs from different cultures.

In general, a community of shared destiny for all mankind expresses a pluralistic view of human rights. This view is based on the respect for the inherent inevitability of different cultures in today’s world and the different choices made by countries in their human rights practices.

 (Translated by ZHANG Zhuojuan)

*ZHU Ying ( 朱颖 ), associate professor of Institute of Human Rights, Southwest University of Political Science and Law.

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