Saturday, April 25, 2009

Gairdner on natural and moral absolutes

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman
For the past 40 years, most intellectuals have embraced moral relativism -- the calamitous notion that the difference between right and wrong is merely a matter of arbitrary personal tastes and historical circumstances.
William Gairdner, the best-selling author of The War on the Family and The Trouble with Canada, has addressed this issue in his latest dissertation The Book of Absolutes: A Critique of Relativism and a Defence of Universals. In this extraordinarily wide-ranging and informative book, he presents a compelling argument for the truth that there are universal moral truths grounded in natural law that apply to all peoples, at all times, and in all cultures.
The contrary proposition -- that all moral values are relative -- is an ancient fallacy that was utterly discredited by Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. Yet it keeps recurring. Gairdner traces the reemergence of moral relativism in modern form to Franz Boas, a cultural anthropologist at Columbia University.
During the 1920s, Boas was horrified by the rise of Nazi antisemitism and the eugenics movement which was backed by intellectuals like Margaret Sanger, the "Godmother" of Planned Parenthood, who advocated birth control for "racial regeneration" as well as feminist freedom. To combat these racist ideologies, Boas propounded the theory that the key determinants of human behaviour and social diversity are cultural factors, not race or biology.
Correspondingly, Boas also insisted that no culture or civilization is any better than any other. Inspired by his teaching, Margaret Meade, Ruth Benedict and a host of other prominent cultural anthropologists set out to prove, as Gairdner observes, that "all cultures are equally good and already fully civilized; that none are morally better or worse than others."
Meade gained international renown in the 1930s with her best-selling book, Coming of Age in Samoa, in which she depicted an idyllic Polynesian community where young men and women enjoyed casual sex before marriage. The accuracy of this portrait is now a matter of hot academic debate.
Gairdner underlines a more fundamental objection: Meade might not have been so tolerant of the prevailing moral code and cultural diversity in Samoa if she had observed that society before Christian missionaries and colonial rulers had persuaded the Samoans to renounce the evils of slavery, human sacrifice and cannibalism.
In addition to cultural relativism, Gairdner describes existentialism, structuralism, post structuralism, deconstuctionism, post modernism, post-post modernism and legal positivism. Running through all these trendy intellectual fads is the perverse notion that there are no knowable and universal principles of morality.
This is a novel doctrine within Western Civilization. Prior to the 1960s, it used to be generally understood in the English-speaking countries that there is a natural law knowable by reason that is the moral basis for valid laws. Thus, Sir William Blackstone explained in his classic Commentaries on the Laws of England that "no human laws are of any validity if contrary" to the natural moral law.
Today, most lawyers and jurists subscribe to the theory of legal positivism -- the doctrine that the law is whatever the sovereign authority in a state says it is. By this reasoning, the Nuremberg jurists had no moral basis for condemning the Nazis who murdered millions of innocent people in conformity with the so-called laws of Nazi Germany.
That's preposterous. And so is the entire theory of moral relativism. Notwithstanding the pretensions of Boas and his followers, no society or culture has survived -- or could survive -- without moral constraints governing such matters as incest, adultery, lying, cheating, stealing and murder.
Typically, the transgressive proponents of moral relativism are inconsistent: While subscribing to moral relativism in theory, they would be quick to denounce in practice the immorality of a fraud artist who victimized them.
Such is the absurdity, but also the appeal, of moral relativism. As Gairdner explains, for all too many of us, moral relativism "is a very handy concept to keep in our knapsack because it helps us to dismiss all sorts of rules and absolutes for ourselves, without altogether denying the need to apply them to others."

Saturday, April 04, 2009

An authentic Canadian hero

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman
Ezra Levant, popularly known in some quarters as Ezra the Rant, has written an eloquent and powerful polemic Shakedown: How Our Government Is Undermining Democracy In The Name of Human Rights. The target of his righteous wrath is Canada's so-called Human Rights Commissions.
The very name of these commissions is misleading. They serve mainly to suppress and subvert the fundamental rights and freedoms they are supposed to safeguard and exhance.
Levant is one of the most famous victims. His troubles began in 2006, when Syed Soharwardy, the Islamist imam of a tiny mosque in Calgary, filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission (AHRCC), accusing him of inciting hatred for Muslims.
At issue was Levant's decision as publisher of The Western Standard to republish a controversial set of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad. In the letter of complaint to the Commission, Sohwardwari stated: "I am quite disturbed and mentally tortured by the cartoons." He also accused Levant of inciting "violence, hate and discrimination against me and my family."
Prior to enactment of Canada's so-called human rights codes, there would never have been any question about Levant's right in law to publish cartoons that might offend some readers. Likewise, there never would have been any legal dispute about the right of Maclean's newsmagazine to republish an extract from Mark Steyn's best-selling book America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It.
Today, anyone in Canada who says or writes anything that might offend some privileged group in human rights law could be prosecuted. Levant notes that he is "the first journalist in the free world to be grilled by a government inquisitor about the cartoons. Not even the Danish cartoonists themselves were called in to answer for what they'd done. Nor had any of the newspapers throughout Europe that had republished the cartoons.
"I had the dubious honour of being a pioneer in the burgeoning field of Western Islamo-censorship."
Canada is also the only democracy in which anyone has been prosecuted for publishing extracts of Steyn's book. That's disgraceful. Canada, formerly one of the freest nations on Earth, now has the worst record in the free world for transgressing freedom of the press.
Granted, both Levant and Maclean's have been exonerated by the HRC's and tribunals that placed them under investigation. But that's hardly reassuring. As Levant points out, "the process is the punishment." During three stressful years of battling the Canadian and Alberta HRCs, he ran up several hundred thousand dollars in legal bills.
That's typical. The defendant before a human rights tribunal gets stuck with a legal bill that would financially ruin most Canadians, while all costs of the accuser are picked up by the prosecuting HRC.
Moreover, even the best counsel can do little to protect anyone who has been wrongly accused by an HRC, because the kangaroo courts run by our human rights tribunals routinely flout the fundamental rules of evidence and judicial procedure that have evolved over centuries to protect the innocent in a regular court of law.
On the advice of counsel, most innocent victims of an HRC complaint dare not even attempt to defend themselves. Levant is different. Instead of capitulating, he has stoutly resisted the petty tyrants in the HRCs.
Early in the cartoons affair, the Alberta commission tried to shake him down, by offering to drop the case if he agreed to publish an apology in his magazine and pay several thousands dollars to Soharwardi.
Levant summarily refused. He relates: "I replied that I would fight the AHRCC and their hijackers all the way to the Supreme Court before I did that -- and even if I lost there, I'd contemplate doing jail time for contempt of court before apologizing."
Levant is a hero. All Canadians should honour him for defending their rights, and support the growing national movement that he and Steyn have ignited to persuade our federal and provincial legislators to curb, if not altogether abolish, Canada's rights-destroying HRCs.