In a future post, I will describe a notion of national identity dependent upon cultural antecedents. However, to do so I need to define a difference between universal and national rights. In a critique of the alt-right, Cathy Young quotes Steve Pinker on the subject of political equality:
Political equality is a commitment to universal human rights, and to policies that treat people as individuals rather than as representatives of groups; it is not an empirical claim that people are indistinguishable. Many commentators seem unwilling to grasp these points.
However, if we are going to discuss the preservation of a national culture as a part of national preservation itself, I think we need to distinguish between universal and national rights. Cathy Young is skewing the terms of the debate because any number of rights might be considered universal, when this is not in fact true. For example, the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights declares this right that is not recognized by American courts (see welfare reform case law):
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
So, I would say that universal rights are more limited and consist of a very small set of rights:
- The right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life or property.
- The right to impartial treatment under the laws of their nation.
- The right not to be tortured.
There might be a few others, but all of the other rights in the UN Declaration are not universal, because they are not universally acknowledged across all cultures.
This is not to say that there are not other rights. What of freedom of speech, or religion, you might ask. Are these not universal rights? My answer is no, they are American rights, and to some extent the rights of Englishmen. The rights of Americans derive in no small part from the founders interpretation of the rights of Englishmen. The failure of the Crown to respect the colonists rights as Englishmen was the key justification for the American Revolution. However, these rights were expanded and codified into the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments to the Constitution.
So when Cathy Young attempts to the limit the terms of debate to a commitment to "universal rights" she is so altering the terms of the debate about nationhood as to make it meaningless. We say, with regards to the issue of national culture, if one wishes to be afforded the same national rights on offer as everyone else, then one has to accept membership in our nation. One's failure to accept membership in the American Nation, uttering G** D*** America as Obama's Reverend Wright famously did, is to also reject the expectation of fair treatment from other citizens as a fellow American. This is the crux of the alt-right challenge to the national conversation. To participate in the life of this American culture, one must identify as an American. If one identifies primarily as an "other," Black or Mexican for example, but not really as American, perhaps because one believes that to do so is to identity with a White nation, then one forfeits credibility and participation in the national debate.
Our national identity traces back to an Anglo-centric culture that improved upon and built upon the rights of Englishmen. It has also imported some other aspects of European culture as well. Most of the peoples who have emigrated to America have joined that vision and added that vision of our national culture. This national culture values freedom, self-sufficiency, rule of law, and individual responsibility. It uses the English language and the language of Christianity because they best convey the national culture. In order to be afforded the right to be treated as an individual requires submission to the national values and treatment of others as individuals.
The conclusion is clear. Speak our language and share our culture because this is our land. We are under no obligation to accept those who do not. Further, we are under no obligation to accept immigrants from lands where our values are not respected. We will judge who is fit to enter America based on the historical commitment and ability of their country of origin to join our culture. This is our assertion of our national rights. Finally, we do not accept that the native born should cut themselves off from the mainstream of American culture that would afford them opportunities for success.