Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Commonplace: Judt on collective vs individual rights

THE ATTRACTION of the notion that the ethical resides in the individual is that it reduces it to a decision-making process or a set of evaluations of interest, or whatever it might be, that cannot be collectivized and therefore imposed.

But it can lead to another problem, the magnifying upwards of ethical categories from individuals to collectives. We think that we understand quite clearly what we mean when we say that liberty is a universal human value, that the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of choice inhere in individual people. But I think, ever since the nineteenth century, we have moved rather too easily from one man's freedom to speak of collective freedoms, as though these were the same kind of things.

But once you start talking about liberating a people, or bringing liberty as an abstraction, very different things begin to happen. One of the problems with Western political thought since the Enlightenment has been this movement back and forth between Kantian ethical evaluations and abstract political categories.
—Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Thinking the Twentieth Century, p. 291

1 comment:

louann said...

Happy Birthday! I follow you by one week --
since working with people in Rwanda, Central America and most recently Haiti, I much more fully understand the complexity of meaning when discussing freedom in any form, and the difficulty and perhaps deception of a "collective" vision.
I lost a very important friend two weeks ago who would have loved to have the discussion with you about the quote you offer. I'm glad you continue to think about such things.