Unification News for July and August 1998

The Family, Human Rights and Global Peace: Complementary Objectives or on a Collision Course?

by Dr. Nicholas N. Kittrie-NYC

Ask men and women anywhere, old and young, in the streets, at the work places, and at their homes. And by an overwhelming chorus, they will agree: "Families are good," "Human rights are good," and "Global peace is good." Yes, the world responds almost unanimously, all three institutions are good.

Our international convocation brings together representatives from nearly half the worldís countries to celebrate and reaffirm the fundamental role of the family in human society and culture. We are gathered here also in a year which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, advanced in 1948 by a U.N. Committee chaired by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. Finally, we are assembled at a time in which global peace is far from being attained, where ethnic violence continues in Europe and Africa, and weapons of mass warfare are being tested out on the Indian subcontinent. It is in light of these conflicting realities that we must face an increasingly complex question: are the invigoration of the family, the promotion of human rights and the attainment of global peace complementary tasks? And if not, how can we strike the most creative and productive balance between the three?

The family institution is undergoing at present a dramatic transition and indeed finds itself in a state of siege throughout the world. Divorce rates have dramatically increased everywhere, reaching a United States height of some 130 divorces per 1,000 married persons in 1990, compared with a mere 35 divorces in 1965. The rate of Washington DCís out-of-wedlock teenage births in proportion to all teenage births grew from 13.5% in 1940 to 75.9% in 1994. [Washington Post, Jan. 28, 1997, A13] Overall, in this capital of the free world, some 67.8% of all infants were born to unwed mothers. And the percentage of children growing up in families made up of two adults, of distinct gender, with a parent present at home, has declined to less than 31%. [Vigi Wagner (ed.), The Family in America: Opposing Viewpoints (San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1992), pp. 17-24]

These are the current realities, despite the fact that both ancient and contemporary writings and scholars agree that the family is "the natural and fundamental group unit in society," [ICPR, 2391] and as early a scripture as the Book of Genesis, immediately following its account of Eveís creation from Adamís rib, unequivocally advocates the institution of marital union. "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh." [Gen. 2:24]

Some two millennia later, in 1948, the U.N.ís Universal Declaration of Human Rights similarly reaffirmed that "men and women...have the right to marry and to found a family" and that the "family...is entitled to protection by society and the state." [UDHR, 16(1)&(3)] The subsequent and much heralded U.N. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), reiterate the same high principles regarding marriage and the family.

It is surprising, therefore, that despite these Biblical and modern international guarantees for both marriage and the family, the Constitution of the United States and its various amendments make not a single direct reference to these "natural" and "fundamental" institutions. Only in dispersed judicial decisions and in the opinions of the United States Supreme Court does one find the assertion that marriage represents "a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights" and that the marital bedrooms are "sacred precincts" [Justice William O. Douglas writing for the majority in Griswold v. Connecticut 381 U.S. 479, at 485-86].

The complaint is often heard, indeed, that existing United States laws accord few benefits and advantages to the family unit, with the Internal Revenue Code often even penalizing couples filing joint family tax returns. An America lacking in the development of domestic support for the family institution, could not be expected therefore to place much emphasis upon family values in its foreign policy. The vigorous exporting of Planned Parenthood has been one (frequently criticized) exception.

The history, as well as modern foundations, of the human rights movement (whether economic, social and cultural, or civil and political) display a dramatically different pattern. In antiquity both legal and moral emphasis was placed on human duties rather than human rights. Examining the Biblical ten commandments as typical of the ancient approach, one readily discerns that duties and obligation to divinity, to the community, to the family and to oneís parents predominated over attention to individual entitlements.

It was primarily the American Declaration of Independence (in 1776), accompanied by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (in 1787 and 1791) and followed shortly thereafter by the French Revolution (in 1789) and Franceís Declaration of the Rights of Man, which turned that countryís former "subjects" into "citizens" and transformed the ancien regimeís emphasis upon duties into a celebration of rights. The French revolutionaries perceived modern society not as an autocratic entity but as a commonwealth growing out of a "social contract" between those governing and those being governed. This contract implied a mutuality of individual and state rights as well as duties. The U.S. Declaration of Independenceís earlier articulation of manís inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was an even more revolutionary step. The Declaration borrowed from the earlier philosophical and religious foundations of natural law to endow a new and secular society with the justification for overthrowing an abusive and alien established government. The Declaration endowed popular revolutions with jurisprudential legitimacy.

While growing healthily in its few selected liberal countries of origin, mostly in Western Europe and North America, the young human rights movement did not gain much international recognition until after World War I. Only with the dismantling of the decaying Czarist Russian, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires did the League of Nations insist upon the introduction of a new body of international human rights to protect minority communities in newly created sovereign nations-such as Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania.

But this creation of communal human rights in the post-World War I era was not accompanied by effective enforcement mechanisms. Ethnic and regional tensions, inflamed by the expansionist policies of Nazism and Fascism, brought about a second world conflagration. Only the loss of many scores of millions of human lives in Europe and Asia (atheist, Christian, Confucian, Jewish and Shinto) gave rise to the new and modern wave of human rights advocacy and activism. It is significant-in light of both former and present communal holocausts-that the current body of human rights places its primary and heaviest emphasis upon safeguarding individuals rather than distinct communities. It is this brand of human rights, fiercely emphasizing individualism and individual autonomy that the United States has increasingly witnessed domestically and has exported diligently abroad. Much less determination and success have been evidenced with regard to protecting massive communal rights abuses in places like Cambodia, Indonesia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

This is where the world community stands at the present time with regard to both family and human rights issues. The family institution is being shaken by economic mobility and social alienation. The family, once an efficiently integrated economic unit and a primary socialization and social services deliverer, has become devastated by raging no-fault divorce, the one-parent home, the two employed-parents household, and a growing number of latch-key children. The values dispersed by the increasingly global mass media further reinforce these existing realities.

In the more traditional communities throughout the world, religious fundamentalism and archaic social practices continue to hold on to, or even to reintroduce, the old ways of family life. These include total control by male heads of the household, arranged marriages between underage children, discrimination against girl infants, involuntary circumcision of pre-adolescent females, and the social ostracism of divorcees and widows.

While the contemporary family continues to be buffeted between the extremes of unstable modernity and archaic traditionalism, we have all been witnessing the expending of much more energy and militancy in the pursuit of human rights than in the reformation and rejuvenation of the family, an institution not long ago proclaimed as "the natural and fundamental unit in society." The current and militant emphasis on individual rights (of children, women, the disabled, the poor, the uneducated), the growing claims for increased gender entitlements, and vigorous demands for the recognition of unconventional lifestyles, have exposed what has remained of the so-called "traditional family" to ever-greater pressures. No wonder, therefore, that the Western-driven human rights movement, which would restrict marriage to "men and women of full age," which condemns arranged familial matrimony, and would grant both partners "equal rights," is met with less than full enthusiasm in some parts of the world. Yet, at the same time, the international human rights instrumentsí continuing emphasis on the marriage of "men" and "women" fails to meet the more militant demands of the advocates of alternative lifestyles.

As we face these escalating "family" and "human rights" confrontations throughout the world, we cannot avoid asking whether growing human rights and family stability are compatible with each other. We are compelled, furthermore, to consider the impact of the changes in both of these social institutions upon the broader communal well-being and global peace.

It has been repeatedly asserted that the family has historically served as the foundation of civilization [Carle Zimmerman, Family and Civilization, 1947]. It was supposedly within the familial setting that one was to learn also to curb the excesses of oneís ego and to settle conflicts through non-violent means. Human rights, likewise, have been viewed as critical tools for attaining greater individual as well as communal justice. And without justice, many of us have believed, peace cannot prosper.

Let me, therefore, put two ultimate questions before us: has the decline in the socializing role of the family served to increase the violence amongst us? and has the growing emphasis on human rights acted to further reduce our commitments to communal cooperation and thereby adversely affect communal peace? It is the objective of this convocation to address these questions from historical as well as modern perspectives, from distinct cultural views and from multicultural approaches.

This chair will not presume to foretell the outcome of this convocationís efforts. But it must be abundantly clear to all of us that neither the family institution nor the human rights movement can flourish by emphasizing rights while ignoring responsibilities. No social institution can hope for a just and continuous existence which does not couple entitlements with duties.

Dr. Kittrie is Chairman, The Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for Justice & Peace and Chairman, WCSF í98.

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