Human rights and foreign policy
The New York Times today has the story that the French foreign minister, a founder of Doctors without Borders, has shocked (shocked!) many by saying in an interview that “there is permanent contradiction between human rights and the foreign policy of a state, even in France” and that “One cannot decide the foreign policy of a country only as a function of human rights. To lead a country obviously distances one from a certain Utopianism” — in French — “angélisme.”
It reminded me that John Courtney Murray shocked many Catholics when he expressed his agreement with the question a journalist friend had asked him:
Since the day of Roger Williams and his separation of the “garden” (the Christian community) and the “wilderness” (society or “the world”), prevalent American moral theory has never found a way to bridge the chasm between the order of private life and the order of law, public policy, and institutional action, especially when the question concerns the nation-state. The private life is governed by the will of God as stated in the Scriptures. It is to bear the stamp of the Christian values canonized by the Scriptures—patience, gentleness, sacrifice, forbearance, trust, compassion, humility, forgiveness of injuries, and, supremely and inclusively, love. On the other hand, it is the plainest of historical facts that the public life of the nationstate is not governed by these values. Hardly less plain is the fact that it cannot be. What, asked my journalist friend quite sensibly, has the Sermon on the Mount got to do with foreign policy? Pacifism, for instance, may be a dictate of the individual conscience, but it cannot be a public policy. What then is the will of God for the nation-state? How and where is it to be discovered? There is no charter of political morality in the Scriptures.
Murray’ essay (chapter 12 of We Hold These Truths) includes a criticism of people whom he called “ambiguists,” of whom Reinhold Niebuhr was an example, and to whom Murray wished to contrast the clarity and firmness of a revival of natural law theory.
Thoughts on either argument?