Human Rights as Idolatry: Asian Values

Posted: September 5, 2012 in pOstEd WeEkLY

 Ignatieff refers to the great economic success of Asia on more than one occasion; his examples are of Malaysia who experienced economic success of the 1980-1990s and Singapore. He goes on to state that:

 “An ‘Asian model’ puts community and family ahead of individual rights and order ahead of democracy and individual freedom.”

 Ignatieff explains, in regards to the previous statement, that the Asian model is not a reality. He says that there is not a single Asian model; that individual states (Singapore, Malaysia) have developed and “modernized in different ways.” Specifically, in their differing politics and freedom within the market. The point I found to be most staggering—while the majority of the Asian Values section by Ignatieff was agreeable—was that Asian authoritarians claim supremacy over Western models [of individualism].

 I very much agree with Ignatieff’s statement that “defending individual agency does not necessarily entail adopting Western ways of life.” He goes on to say:

 “Believing in your right not to be tortured or abused need not mean adopting Western dress, speaking Western languages, or approving of the Western way of life. To seek human rights protection is not to change your civilization; it is merely to avail yourself of the protections of ‘negative liberty’.”

 The main point I really took away from the reading was that Asian authoritarians claim supremacy over Western models. What happens, for example among the women in the Philippines, when their community and family are already generationally shrouded by prostitution? It is then culturally inappropriate to remove oneself from the sphere of sex-worker as it would be a shift from the ‘Asian model’ to a ‘western model’ of individualistic motive.

Obviously, I am biased as I am a Westernized woman [being of western culture], in college, living outside of my parent’s household, and work for a University—being that I cannot think non-individualistically or as a part of the community instead of only thinking myself a part of the whole with individual motives. In my mind, though possibly ethnocentric, it seems that individualism is necessary for the whole. If women (children and men) in the flesh-trade continue to be only part of their community [and family] then generation after generation will be subjected to a way of life that involves poverty, STDs, violence, and often early death.


I suppose a question that I will need to conquer in the next blog or a separate blog will be: what is the state doing to intervene in such a vicious and repetitive cycle that is ultimately creating a decline in the well-being and health of the whole?

Ignatieff, Michael. 2000 “Human Rights as Idolatry” The Tanner Lectures in Human Values. Princeton. pp 320-349


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s