Guy Haarscher


I try to analyze the rhetoric that is being used in contemporary debates concerning the defense of the values of liberal democracy. My main point is the following: nowadays, human rights and liberal democracy constitute, as it were, the fundamental values of the political sphere. But, as we know, people very often only pay lip service to these political values. Schematically speaking, there are two opposed ways of trying to evade the constraints of human rights and the values of liberal democracy. I shall call the first one the "frontal attack": the "enemy" explicitly defends values that are radically at odds with liberal-democratic principles. Such a rhetoric is very influential today, for instance—but not only—in the Islamic world. As everybody knows, it raises very serious problems for peace and security. But this is not my present topic.

I am interested here in the second, totally opposed, strategy: in order to be at least heard by the democratic community, the "enemy" uses the language of liberal democratic values. By doing so, he or she very often succeeds in radically distorting the language of human rights. I shall call that strategy: the "Trojan horse," or, to use another metaphor, "the wolf in sheep's clothing." The strategy is fundamentally related to demagoguery and, more subtly, to a sophistical distortion of reasoning. The more we consider the values of liberal democracies to be simple, "clear," and "distinct," the less we can see behind these apparently unproblematic notions, which so many people seem to respect, some hidden controversies, or a sheer manipulation of the language of human rights. In our times, dominated by political correctness, when so many deeply controversial notions are superficially considered clear and distinct, Vico's lament keeps all its topicality.

Included in

Law Commons