Friday, August 7, 2009

Be Wary of Relativism

After being introduced as a “global citizen” at the Delhi University last month, Secretary of State Clinton went on to make this peculiar remark:

“We are in this together. We may have profound differences, but I am often reminded that as we learn more from science about the human genome, we recognize that we are 99.9 percent the same. As you look at our DNA, you don’t see religion or race; you see humanity. And no place represents that future more profoundly than this great country.”

Certainly, her comments could be framed in a benign manner, as a poignant reflection pointing out the commonalities between people of every corner of the earth. But in the context of her role as Secretary of State, this statement reveals a dangerously naïve approach to international relations, rooted in the misguided doctrine of relativism that seems to have become a cornerstone of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.

Relativism asserts that no idea or principle is of greater value than any other, no moral code more justifiable than another. Essentially, it promotes the concept that our differences are insignificant, mere semantics, as it were. Relativism apologists back up their beliefs by pointing to our shared experiences as humans, or as Clinton put it, the fact that we are genetically “99.9 percent the same.” This worldview that we are all the same and our differences are “relative” runs counter to the uniqueness of each human individual, a fundamental component of the liberal democracies philosophical underpinnings.

Allusions to this impractical worldview have been a reoccurring theme of the current administration’s first few months in power. Clinton’s recent address to the Council on Foreign Relations ran rampant with relativism and was described as a “see-no-evil-hear-no-evil speech,” in which she seemed to indicate the U.S. was simply a mere member of the global community, as opposed to the lone international hegemon it currently is.

An adherence to relativism can also explain the Administration’s apparent disdain for championing freedom and human-rights abroad.. Obama’s foreign policy has all but abandoned promoting democracy, and the president himself has suggested that democratic processes are “mere form.” Clinton, when asked, about the vast ideological differences between the United States and communist Cuba, stated, “Let’s put ideology aside; that is so yesterday.”

However, despite Mrs. Clinton’s suggestions to the contrary, the world is made up of parties who believe ideological differences are highly relevant, and who reject her assertion that “we are in this together.” The vast disparity between American values and those of Islamic extremists, for example, will not be mitigated by acknowledging that we are made of the same stuff. Some of our differences are certainly bridgeable, but down-playing those that are while ignoring those that aren’t in favor of a “global community” worldview does the U.S. no favors. Any call for global solidarity needs to be grounded in the shared value of certain ideas and principles, not merely the sequence of our DNA.

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