At that moment in time these 48 countries were known as: Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, USA, Uruguay, Venezuela.
Another 10 members of the UN at that time either abstained (Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Ukraine, Yugoslavia) or were absent (Honduras and Yeman).
Things have changed since then. Now there are, of course, many more, 192 members as of this year, 2006. Furthermore, of the 48 original signers of the Declaration how many of these have a government today that is at all a continuation, and not the result of a rejection and replacement of an earlier government? The United States and the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, Belgium, Costa Rica, Denmark, maybe France, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. In short the liberal, Western democracies. Pretty much Europe and America.
The nations of South America, Africa, Asia, the states of the former Soviet Union, all those countries that now make up the largest part of the current UN membership, were not for the most part signers of the Declaration.
Now what was the Declaration that the 48 countries, were signing onto in support in 1948? (How many of the 192, would vote in favor of the Declaration today?) There were thirty articles in the Declaration which you can read here.
If you read all 30 Articles, you will immediately realize that there is not a single country in the world today that tries to govern in accordance with the Declaration, neither in fact nor in spirit. The Declaration represents a Utopia that if anything is receding even further into the distance.
What do I mean by that? Take just one Article, Article 26, which says:
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Of how many nations might such things be said today? Not even the United States, could say, for example, that “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit,” or that “education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality,” or finally that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”
One wonders who wrote the Declaration, since it obviously could not have been the nations who signed on. A Google search quickly gives us the answer, John Humphrey, a Canadian and employee of the UN, was the principal author.
One wonders what the signers of the Declaration were thinking when they signed it. One wonders if they even read it. A Google search doesn’t give us an answer to this querstion, showing that Google too has its limits.
In today’s NYTimes Michael Kinsley reviews “a shelf of books” (see below) that raise “various alarms about the condition of American democracy.” The condition is not good according to these books. “Cheating” by those on the Left and the Right is what is wrong and in Kinsley’s view “the worst form of cheating in American democracy today is intellectual dishonesty.” Now doesn’t “intellectual dishonesty” mean not telling the truth? Truth telling is certainly absent from our political life. The question that Kinsley doesn’t answer, nor, I suspect, is the answer anywhere on Google, is, has there ever been a society when not telling the truth was not the rule?
Perhaps our biggest mistake is that we go on pretending. Pretending, for example, that we are respecting the Rights as set down in the Declaration. Nowhere do we hear political leaders telling us how things really are, for only then could we, might we, go on to make things better. Who has the courage to admit that these Rights cannot now be honored because it would mean that too many of those now favored would lose favors to those many more who are now unfavored?
For example, take Article 23, that concerns work, “Everyone has the right to work,…”, and Article 25 that concerns remuneration, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,…, and Article 29, the individual in the community, “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible, and Everyone in the exercise of his rights and freedoms shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.”
John Humphrey’s mistake was not to have said that his Declaration was the result of a communication with a Higher Being. For then the Declaration might have become a text for us to live by. But it didn’t happen and now the Declaration is forgotten, and instead we have fanatics turning to other texts, the Bible and the Koran in particular, and waving them before us as they proceed to destroy both people and property, the very things that the Declaration set out to protect.
For more background to all this discussion, go to the article by James Traub, in the New York Times: Ban Ki-moon vs. the Bad Guys
Michael Kinsley’s “shelf of books.”
TAKE THIS JOB AND SHIP IT
How Corporate Greed and Brain-Dead Politics Are Selling Out America.
By Byron L. Dorgan.
STATE OF EMERGENCY
The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America.
By Patrick J. Buchanan.
IS DEMOCRACY POSSIBLE HERE?
Principles for a New Political Debate.
By Ronald Dworkin.
DOES AMERICAN DEMOCRACY STILL WORK?
By Alan Wolfe.
THE BROKEN BRANCH
How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track.
By Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein.
How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America.
LOSING OUR DEMOCRACY
How Bush, the Far Right and Big Business Are Betraying Americans for Power and Profit.
By Mark Green.
OUR UNDEMOCRATIC CONSTITUTION
Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (and How We the People Can Correct It).
By Sanford Levinson.
The New Politics of Voter Suppression.
By Spencer Overton.
WAS THE 2004 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION STOLEN?
Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count.
By Steven F. Freeman and Joel Bleifuss.