To watch the video, click here.
Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson. Ayaan Hirsi Ali grew up in Africa and the Middle East and lived in the Netherlands where she served in the Dutch Parliament before moving to the United States where she became a citizen in 2013. Ms. Ali is now a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. Peter Berkowitz, also a fellow at the Hoover Institution, has served since 2019 on the Policy Planning Staff in the Office of the Secretary of State. Dr. Berkowitz served as Executive Secretary of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. Ayaan and Peter, welcome.
Peter Berkowitz: Good to be with you, Peter.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Thank you.
Peter Robinson: Two quotations, here's the first question, two quotations. President Calvin Coolidge on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, "If all men are created equal, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions." I actually think that's thrilling. Coolidge has such a reputation as a sort of stick in the mud but those words just ring. Second quotation, Lee Kuan Yew, the longtime ruler of Singapore who of course turned Singapore into one of the most vibrant economies in Asia. "When people say, 'Oh, ask the people,' it's rubbish. Do you honestly believe that the chap who can't pass primary school exams knows the consequences of his choices? What people want is homes, medicine, jobs and schools." Coolidge, government derives its powers from the consent of the governed and that is transcendent and final, a rule of human nature. Lee Kuan Yew, rubbish. Who's right? Peter?
Peter Berkowitz: Well, the difference of opinion just goes to show you how relevant the work of the commission was. It turns out the debate about the best form of government is alive and well in our world in a way all too alive and all too well, especially as the People's Republic of China champions an alternative model, indeed a communist model. And I think it was considerations like this that inspired Secretary Pompeo last year in July, 2019 to announce in the pages of the Wall Street Journal the creation of the commission on unalienable rights. The provision had, the secretary gave the commission two mandates, one, to anchor America's undoubted commitment to human rights in our foreign policy to anchor that in America's founding principles and Constitutional tradition, and also to ground it in the obligations the United States took on in 1948 when we helped win approval in the UN General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And as you know, Peter and Ayaan knows as well, within days, I suspect within hours of Secretary Pompeo's announcement of the commission, fierce criticism was directed at the secretary for having launched this commission. Indeed I think it may be unprecedented that within just a few weeks, the secretary had received a letter signed by 250 or so worthies in the human rights field demanding that he immediately dismantle a commission that had not yet been populated with members.
Peter Robinson: May I add to that? In June of last year, I find doing my research, five Democratic senators wrote to the Secretary Pompeo to express their "Deep reservations about the commission." A commission on unalienable rights and we have five members of the United States Senate, all Democrats as it happens, but five members of the United States Senate have deep reservations and the House voted to defund the commission that failed in the Senate, and of course, President Trump would never have signed it, but a majority in the House of Representatives chose to defund a commission on unalienable rights. All right, how come?
Peter Berkowitz: Well the initial criticisms, which by the way, have remained more or less the criticisms even after the publication of the report, the initial criticisms were that one, there's no controversy or question about human rights, all the answers are clear concerning human rights, two, it's the secretary's obvious purpose to elevate religious liberty above all other rights and freedoms, and three, it's clearly the secretary's purpose to strip women and the LGBTQ community of their rights. And if the secretary's commission into... By the way, he created an independent commission which did not report to him, but if this commission were allowed to do its work, it would threaten "irreparable damage" to the country and to the cause of human rights worldwide. That was the criticism.
Peter Robinson: By the way, let's note that the commission, does it still sit, it formally still exists, I guess.
Peter Berkowitz: Formally it still exists, yes we're still-
Peter Robinson: All right. It had submitted its report which we'll come to. But we should note that 10 members, all of them distinguished scholars, Mary Ann Glendon at Harvard Law School, Russell Berman of Stanford, serving as Executive Secretary, Peter Berkowitz, who is aside from being a friend of Ayaan's and mine, anyone would have to say just looking at a CV an extremely distinguished political scientist and political philosopher. All right, let's hold those criticisms to return to, and just get to the report of the commission. The commission argues that unalienable rights, it goes through, excuse me, I want to sum this up. It's 60 pages long and so I'm trying to compress it. The commission goes very carefully through the history of the Declaration of Independence as a Declaration of Human Rights. The phrase unalienable rights comes from the Declaration itself, who knows why Thomas Jefferson or the printer chose to spell it unalienable instead of inalienable? But the name of the commission honors that choice by calling itself the commission on unalienable rights, it then goes to the Constitution and then as you said to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. So let's go through a couple of the principle findings, the assertions of the committee report. Examining the Declaration, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights and the commission refers to unalienable rights as pre political.
Peter Berkowitz: Yes.
Peter Robinson: That strikes me as a very important phrase. Peter? Ayaan, we're coming to you, go nowhere.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I'm not going anywhere, I'm fascinated.
Peter Berkowitz: Thank you for your indulgence, Ayaan, we appreciate it. And again, by pre political, we mean something simple, we mean something like what Abraham Lincoln said when he set up Thomas Jefferson, that Jefferson inserted into a revolutionary document, meaning a document that was designed to effect a political consequence, breaking with the Brits. But he inserted into it an abstract principle applicable to all men by which he meant all human beings at all times. What is this abstract principle? That all human beings by their nature inherently as human beings are endowed with certain unalienable rights. What do you have to do to qualify for these rights? That's the beauty of it, nothing. By virtue of your humanity, among these, the Declaration says, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we note in the report that the founders believed that prominent also among those unalienable rights were the right to property, which they understood very broadly, not just material goods and land, but also we have property in our rights as well and also religious liberty which they understood as the right to understand the duties you have from God as you deem appropriate. So this is what Jefferson meant in the revolutionary document.
Peter Robinson: Ayaan, we bring you in here. The commission report again, the commission itself raises certain questions. Pre political unalienable, all you have to do to qualify for these unalienable rights is be a human being. Your dignity is inherent in you. And then the commission says, "Can faith in such rights be sustained without faith in God?" You are endowed by your creator. "Can unalienable rights be known by all through reason?" Today, the report continues, "The very idea of human nature, ideas of human nature, objective reason and a creator God have come into disrepute among intellectuals, while the view that human beings are entirely explainable in terms of the physical properties of their bodies has grown in popularity." So there are two questions right away and one is, do you really believe it? Do you really believe that these rights exist and inhere in all of us or is it noble though it may be, or is it merely a human construct? And whether it's a human construct or you really truly believe it in an age in which belief in God is ebbing away, in which belief in reason is in some basic way under assault, how can any one sustain human rights as a basis for anything, let alone foreign policy, which is why the Secretary of State appointed this commission? Ayaan, let's start with the first one, do you believe it?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I believe it but I also want to say, just having read the report, having spent some time with the Secretary of State, having spent some time with Peter Berkowitz, who's not just my colleague and friend, but also in my view, a renowned and respected scholar, I think all of us are operating in a different world from the so-called scholars in our universities who are... They're of us, they're among us, they're with us, but they're against us. Now, let me explain that, it's very complicated. Peter Robinson, Peter Berkowitz, Secretary Pompeo, we all are applying what we have come to call critical thinking. And critical thinking is enshrined and I loved your quote from Coolidge, I also loved-
Peter Robinson: wonderful.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Your quote from Lee Kuan Yew. We think we can all sit together and imagine a conversation between Coolidge and Lee Kuan Yew. And we call that a debate and we discuss and we see things from different perspectives. We look at what America has established, what we think is I think is what America is about, which is you can have a religion, any kind of religion or no religion whatsoever, and you can still have a civil discourse. Now, one thing I want to say to you about this group is, unlike the absolutist ideology, I've been studying since 9/11, 2001, this group is homegrown, they've come out of our colleges, they're American as American as apple pie. Yes, they have some French influences here and there, but that is I think what makes them way, way more dangerous than any kind of foreign invasion. We have a domestic problem that we have created that is anti-American, anti-knowledge, anti-universal truths that is making it very, very, very hard for America as a nation state, as a leading exceptional enterprise to take on arguments like those of Lee Kuan Yew to say, get off it. I don't care if someone has a high school diploma or if they don't, the individual human being has the last word and it's final on who governs them. And we're failing at that because of our home grown absolutist ideology that goes by many names, identity, politics, council, culture and so on and so forth. But this is an American problem and we're exporting it, I'm afraid.
Peter Robinson: Peter, So back to this question of rights, you didn't seem to care to answer whether Calvin Coolidge or Lee Kuan Yew was right. And here I am putting this all in a rather crude way, do you believe in universal human rights? So I'd like to return to that question because I get the feeling that you find the question itself a little intellectually unsophisticated, and then maybe I'm wrong, I'm looking at you now with those, what it's like to be in class with you, with Professor Berkowitz, I'm now discovering. And then of course, Ayaan has raised, how can you even discuss universal rights whether they exist or not, or whether we should at least respect them as a noble, how can you even discuss them when you've got academia, the questions, the notion of universal anything, Peter?
Peter Berkowitz: So first, I wanna say yes, I can affirm my belief in universal rights, that's not difficult. I would like to say that at last, I wish that Ayaan were not as correct as she is, but she gives that an all too accurate account of the situation in our universities, makes all the more poignant in my mind aligned, Peter we talked about this and then after, the Secretary Pompeo published the day that the commission's report came out in which he said that, he wrote it in the Washington post, that some say this was the middle of July amidst peaceful protests that had turned into violent riots, and with attacks on the United States as systemically racist and so on. And Secretary Pompeo reported that many people told him that this is just about the worst time to bring out such a report. And Secretary Pompeo's reply is to the contrary, this is the best time to bring it out. But here's what we need to understand, the attacks on the United States that have been especially intense over the last three months, did not come from nowhere and they were not merely provoked, but they're not merely a reaction to the killing of George Floyd. There has been a fury welling up in the United States that has been cultivated by our institutions of higher education as Ayaan has so clearly described. And we need to distinguish Peter, you raised a question about rights and indeed the report and the passage that you quoted, we raised questions about what are the bases of rights, we raised questions. Do they depend on a creation of God? Do they depend on a certain conception of nature? To what extent are defense of these rights depend upon the notion of duties, rights, limited government? We put these in questions, we don't leave people hanging, we suggest some, we put thoughts forward. It's one thing to raise questions, but what Ayaan was describing was not critical thinking at the universities, what she was describing is actually systematic vilification of the United States indoctrination, inculcation of scorn, not in education and what actually the United States has achieved under these principles, but let's take one example. It has been observed and rightly observed, the obvious point has made it at its inception, the United States gave legal sanction to the heinous institution of slavery. And that's true. It's also true as Lincoln and former slave, Frederick Douglass, and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, all in different contexts pointed out at the same time, the United States was founded in the affirmation of a principle that unequivocally condemned slavery as an evil institution. And it was in light of that principle and in light of the form of government, very different from the one Lee Kuan Yew imagined, but it was in light of that. It was through that form of government that we eradicated the evil institution. And by the way, it was through that form of government, that form of limited government, grounded in the consent of the people, but which filters and refines the will of the people through elected representatives, that we not only eradicated slavery, that women won the right to vote, that ultimately Jim Crow and legally sanctioned racial discrimination was eliminated. It was through that, that we now in law, we prohibit discrimination based upon gender and sexual orientation and more. All of these achievements are in law.
Peter Robinson: You're describing a nation which is self critical and self correcting, that's a banal way of putting it.
Peter Berkowitz: It is not in a good way.
Peter Robinson: Across the decades, inspired by the claims of the Declaration of Independence and using the fundamental structure of government laid down in the Constitution, it is always to be remembered that Lincoln was a Constitutionalist where he waved habeas corpus, he always did so in defense of the Constitution, not to undermine it. Inspired by the Declaration and using the Constitutional structures, the country accomplished what you just said, eliminated slavery, gave women the vote and so forth, which is an astonishing achievement. And is it not what? Sorry, go ahead, Peter, of course.
Peter Berkowitz: I'll just add this quickly. Lincoln self-consciously refers to the Declaration, former slave Frederick Douglass in demanding abolition, self-consciously refers to it, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony invoke the Declaration of Independence. Martin Luther King refers to our founding documents as providing a promissory note to all peoples. This is not a defense of the long time it's taken, but he understood that it was in light of the Constitutional promise that it was necessary and proper for him to demand justice. The end of racial discrimination.
Peter Robinson: And as he demands justice, he waives the document and that document is the Declaration.
Peter Berkowitz: That's right.
Peter Robinson: Ayaan, two quotations for you. I just want to see what you do with this.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Okay.
Peter Robinson: Here's a document I found, this is a current document, it's on the website of something called the Center for the Constitution. "The founders compromise their morals in the name of economics. Slavery was both profitable and convenient for many white Americans." Here's the second quotation, this is an old one. This is Frederick Douglass in 1863. "The Constitution was purposely framed as to give no claim, no sanction to the claim of property in a man. If in its origin slavery had any relation to the government, it was only as the scaffolding to the magnificent structure to be removed as soon as the building was completed." What does Ayaan do with those two quotations?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Well, of course you will find me feeling closer to the second quotation and the first quotation. I think he is... I keep reminding people I'm 50 years old. If you're five years old and you imagine a nation breaking away from an imperial power, the prevailing imperial power of the moment and you think, well, as soon as we break away, not only do we write the Declaration of Independence and the founding fathers get together and they put the Constitution together and we start acting too. But it has to be perfect. If that's your approach, then you will be very disappointed in the promissory knows that America is, and the idea that America isn't the enterprise, that America is everything that Peter Berkowitz has so eloquently described. But if you are old enough and mature enough and you know a little bit about history, you're going to say, okay, let me just take that comparative view. All human beings in the entire history have in fact practiced one form or other of slavery, of oppression, of misogyny, of denying humanity, it goes on. What makes America exceptional, it's 244 years and I could be wrong, Peter, it might be 45.
Peter Robinson: 44 years of July of this past year, I think. Yes, go ahead.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Very good. So you have to imagine, and you have to imagine a nation as big as ours that's only 244 years old, that is as heterogeneous as we are, that still adheres to, I mean, even though now we have the internal challenge and the external adversity, still America has its checks and balances, we still have our institutions, I still am an optimist, I think we're going to overcome this. We still attract the best and the brightest from across the world. So I just wanna say of those two quotes, there are those people who are propagating, we're steeped in racism and we're steeped in this, that and the other and I just think if you were born and raised here and you think this, travel. Go see the world, and it may end up being Secretary Pompeo, one of his projects to have young people, college age people to go and live in other countries. We may have to pay that with taxpayer money just to show them that we are indeed exceptional. That is why this report is so timely to remind Americans whether they're naturalized citizens like me, or whether they're born and raised here to remind them what makes us different.
Peter Robinson: Peter, to continue now, the Declaration, the Constitution, and then the report deals with the 1948, the UN 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Peter Berkowitz: Yes.
Peter Robinson: And what I'd like to ask you to do is explain that document, and in particular, the distinction that the commission draws between unalienable rights, rights that inhere and hall all human beings simply as part of their dignity as human beings and other kinds of rights which seem to arise as Europe and the United States become as industrial and they're different, their contingencies could draw that. Tell us what took place in 1948 at the UN? And if you could, just draw this basic distinction on which the commission insists.
Peter Berkowitz: This free society, United States in 1948, in the aftermath of the carnage of World War II, voted in favor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the UN General Assembly as our report documents by the way, that effort was led by Eleanor Roosevelt. And in some respects that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stands to International Human Rights Law, as the Declaration of Independence stands to the American Constitution and federal statutory law. That is, just as the Declaration of Independence creates as Lincoln creates, affirms a universal maxim for free societies, so the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its preamble says, we mean here to create, to elaborate a common standard of achievement for all peoples and for all nations. So the Universal Declaration doesn't actually have legal status just as the Declaration of Independence can provide you a cause of action in an American court. It however elaborates a standard of achievement. Early on in the report, we distinguish between alienable rights, universal rights, rights inherent in all persons and positive rights. What's a positive right? A positive right is a right that's created by government. And positive rights can vary. Lincoln says that unalienable rights, they apply to all human beings at all times, but positive rights, they differ from society to society. Now the Constitution is for example positive law, it was created by human beings, but it was created to serve a purpose, the purpose outlined in the Declaration, the first purpose of government, which is to secure our rights. Take for example, the right to trial by jury in certain criminal cases in the United States. We don't regard that as an unalienable right, as a universal right, we know decent societies that don't provide trial by jury. Now we do regard due process. That's a universal right, but we recognize that there are a variety of ways that countries could provide you due process. And there are other positive rights. Now, positive rights are essential to making concrete, to giving effect to, to realizing unalienable rights, universal rights. So that's one very important distinction between unalienable rights and positive rights. But I think Peter, you were also referring to a different probably more controversial aspect of the report, which we discussed the place of social and economic rights in the American political tradition. Now the Constitution primarily recognizes, the original Constitution recognizes what we call today, civil and political rights. Those are the rights that are presented in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. These are protections from overreaching government, protections from your fellow citizens. These protections by the way, as Ayaan pointed out, are essential, not only to expressing yourself, not only to worshiping or not worshiping, but to acquiring property which is part of building your family, living in a community and being free from a government that can in the middle of your night, break down your door and drag you out of your bed. There are all kinds of protections in the Bill of Rights in the realm of criminal justice. American society changes in the late 19th and in the 20th century. What was a largely agrarian society becomes more of an urban society. People leave the countryside, they go to the city. Partly as a result of that, the fabric of family and community to some extent, as a sociological matter, begins to unravel. People do grow more dependent for social safety net on the government. In the mid 20th century, FDR elaborates a number of social and economic rights. As you both know, these have, they were subject to controversy from the moment FDR elaborated them, we have colleagues in the Hoover Institution who are very skeptical of them.
Peter Robinson: Peter, his 1944 State of the Union address, FDR speaks of the right to a job, the right to a decent home, the right to medical care and so on. That's what you're talking, that kind of right is over against the right to the freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
Peter Berkowitz: Exactly. So the one kind of right is that these fundamental civil and political rights are protection from government. They say to government, you may not, Congress shall make no law bridging the freedom of speech. These rights are more obligations on the part of government to provide for you. We sometimes call these entitlements. Now they're controversial in a variety of ways, maybe the fundamental tension in our tradition is that these rights seem to cut against right to property, your right to control your goods, they involve taxation, taking from one to provide for others. But to make a very long story short, let me just make two points. First, it's now 2020, these rights, or we should say the idea that government has an obligation to provide some kind of minimum social safety net for citizens who for whatever reason can't provide for themselves, this has become a right, that has become woven into the fabric of politics in the United States and the fabric of expectations. A second point, it's not well known, but there's also theoretical justification for such rights in the thinking of none other than John Locke. In chapter six of the "Second Treatise on Government" when John Locke is discussing education, parent's duty is to educate and trying to explain how it is in a free society, parents can exercise authority. Don't worry, parents, Locke does justify the authority that parents exercise over the children, but he justifies it in terms of freedom. You may educate your children only in so far as your exercise of authority is designed to enable your sons, your daughters to become free men, free women as their capabilities grow and develop. But Locke is compelled to address the following question, what happens if a child finds himself or herself an orphan? Locke's answer, it's the obligation of the state to step in and provide the education that was the duty of the parents to provide. But Locke underscores this, the state is bound by the same restriction on the exercise of authority as parents were. That education, that provision must serve the purpose of preparing the child for freedom. So those social and economic rights, those entitlements that FDR elaborates, they're most justified, most legitimate in our system when they don't induce dependence. When they contribute to enabling citizens, to exercise their rights responsibly. I know it's a long story, but I'll stop there.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: May I please, 'cause I'm so-
Peter Robinson: Yes, yes. Now you're raising your hands, I've got you both. I've done what John Locke wanted, I've trained you both. Yes Ayaan of course, what-
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I want to go to the two points. So we're living in 2020 and things have evolved and you are saying the conception, the expectation that government has to provide a number of things is so woven into what is now America, the relationship between the government and the governed. When you say that, then I want to say, I see that we all see it, right? Do you think, and this is more of a question, there should be a follow-up to this report where we then clarify what the trade-offs will be. Because the more power you give to government in the expectation that government is going to give something back, the more freedoms, individual freedom, group freedom, religious freedom, every kind of freedom you sacrifice to the government. And I don't want, in answering that question, I really think that this should be an addendum to the reports on a domestic level to warn free citizens. You give this to the governments, you give the government one finger, they'll take all five, all 10 in fact.
Peter Robinson: So here's what just happened.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Okay.
Peter Robinson: Peter Berkowitz is forced to recognize that FDR is onto a little something because all Peter's friends are so conservative and would wish that we could roll back the state. And Peter is saying because he's operating in a contentious environment in Washington, well, the Democrats, the party of FDR actually have some intellectual justification and Peter lays it out just beautifully, limits it, lays it out and Ayaan says, oh yeah, Buster.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Well, it's not .
Peter Robinson: Think again.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: So I would just say the report, and I don't know how long we are going to have this commission sit together. But in an ideal form, if we said this is part one, and then you follow with a part two, which goes to that question about you saying that we got so used to government giving us all sorts of things. Now I have lived in Europe and I don't want to talk about my African experience or my European experiences, that is the trait of many European countries, have actually accepted to be taxed to their hilt, they'll be told what to do and what not to do. They have let government in to the most intimate spaces of their private lives. They have sacrificed liberty for some form of the government provides that kind of economic material security, which they save from birth to grave, cradle to grave. And I think we should be able to have a conversation about that, and it's a very, very important conversation in the age of work. And then the second point which you made about John Locke, and I think that's more important also because I've got small children. It is the, as a parent, you have to educate your children in freedom, what it means to be free. And a lot of people confuse freedom with license.
Peter Berkowitz: Yes.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: You can take drugs, you can drink, you can have as much sex as you want, you can go as crazy and kooky as you want, there are no consequences because they don't understand the true meaning of freedom, which is actually about restraint and constraint. And now we're finding this challenge to the idea of freedom. And I want to go back to the work because what they're proposing is these restraints and constraints and the postponing of gratification, all of that, that is now white racism, white male racism, toxic masculinity, we need to fight that. So as a parent, you are forced to pollute what's the message of John Locke to contaminate it by talking about freedom, not in the way the three of us understand here, which is really about restraint and self-restraint, but which is about license. And then we're saying, and this is the second piece that really Peter, I find so disturbing. You said that the orphan and that dialogue between what do we do with the orphan, he says, it's the duty of the government to then in that case educate the child, to understand what freedom is. The government of 2020, which is related to that first point you said, the government of 2020 is not doing that. They're educating children in license. And I just wanted to put that out and say, what a brilliant job you've done in terms of the reports, but we still need to address these issues before we can deploy our diplomats at the state department to proselytize the idea of America. Because right now, the idea of America is disturbed and disturbing.
Peter Robinson: Peter, 20 seconds. And then I'm going to intervene and move us back to the foreign policy component of the report. But you must have had, what you have here of course, is that every teacher's nightmare is a student who is undeniably brilliant, but who's talking back in some basic way and making demands? How do you handle Ayaan, Peter?
Peter Berkowitz: I handle Ayaan in the only way appropriate to say excellent points and allow me to amplify, please. First on the policy question, I couldn't agree with Ayaan more that the challenge, but it's a political challenge once we've understand the theoretical dimensions, which is to balance or harmonize the claims, the minimum claims of a social safety net with the protection of fundamental freedoms. There is not a liberal democracy in the world today that doesn't face that challenge. Now we may agree, I think Ayaan and I do agree that our European friends have drawn the line in the wrong place. It will remain a difficult place for us to draw the line. Once we understand theoretically what's at stake, it becomes a difficult political question, which also involves persuasion, getting out in political debate, doing the empirical research, the sort of thing we do at the Hoover Institution in order to ensure that providing that minimum social safety net does not undercut our precious freedoms. That's the first point. And the second point is I agree with Ayaan in a way that John Locke helps us appreciate how dire our situation is in the United States right now. Our schools in order for our system of free and democratic government to work, our educational system must provide an education in freedom. That doesn't just mean by the way, providing an education and Jefferson and Lincoln and Martin Luther King, it means teaching students to think for themselves. But they're not thinking for themselves, they're receiving indoctrination and the final point about freedom, Locke himself also says liberty should not be misunderstood for license. I think of freedom as an achievement. I want this wonderful analogy from the great African-American music critic, Stanley Crouch, who said freedom is a bit like improvisation in jazz. Not everybody gets to improvise in jazz, who improvises in jazz? The master, the person who is trained for five, 10, 15, 20 years, the person, the musician who knows his or her band-mates, only the person who's deeply immersed in the tradition, only the person who's practiced hours, hundreds, thousands of hours, only the person who knows the piece very well, only that person can really improvise in a way that produces beautiful music. Freedom is like that, freedom is a kind of discipline itself.
Peter Robinson: That was beautiful.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: That was beautiful.
Peter Robinson: And it's so beautiful, I think we should just stop right there.
Peter Berkowitz: Okay.
Peter Robinson: All right, listen, the report, the commission on unalienable rights ends with what it calls observations, but are really exhortations. There's a series of having gone through this historical discussion and considered the theoretical difference between unalienable rights and positive rights, here's what the United States should do. Exhortation one. "It is urgent to vigorously champion human rights and foreign policy. In this hour of need, the United States by virtue of the principles deeply inscribed in its Constitutional system must champion the vision that it and nearly every other nation pledged to support when they approve the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Let me just give you an obvious and difficult case so that I can see how seriously you mean that, Peter, and what you would do about this, Ayaan, and that case in Saudi Arabia, which Ayaan knows well, having grown up in part in the Middle East. And Saudi Arabia does not have anything like our conception of human rights, and I believe we have to say that in their treatment of women and there are large numbers of workers, it is my understanding in Saudi Arabia, who are treated very little differently from slaves.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: LGBT?
Peter Robinson: Correct, and Saudi Arabia is an ally of the United States. And why should that be? That should be because in the raw power politics of the Middle East, we need them. Now Ayaan, Peter, how do we make the political, the power realities of the world comport in any way with this exhortation to place human rights at the center of our foreign policy? Ayaan?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Well, you described Saudi Arabia, and I know you agree with my criticism of Saudi Arabia. I've been a very, very harsh and a longtime critic of Saudi Arabia, but we're also seeing China now and the way they treat the Uyghur community right now, concentration camp style. I don't want to use the term genocide, but I think very close to genocide. Then there is of course Russia and the whole relationship with the Ukraine, we have Iran and the way they're rampaging across the region. The United States of America is strong, strong, not only when it's militarily strong or when it is economically strong. But I think when we have unity about the fact that we actually do have what the report says, which is universal truths, the unalienable rights of all human beings. If we're united in that, then we can effectively and cleverly deploy our powers to bend the will of autocratic theocracies like Saudi Arabia, autocratic secular theocracies like China, we can make the world bend to us. My point, my whole contribution to this, and after reading the report, which I think is really excellent and a fantastic beginning, my-
Peter Robinson: By the way it's the first report, government report, the first government document I've read in a quarter of a century and I thought actually bears rereading.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Yes, it bears rereading, it bears thinking about, and I think it's a fantastic place to start, is to say, if we get that right, then we can be able and we will be able, and we've done it before to bend the ideas and values of other nations to conform with others. We send people to the moon, we're still in times of technology, it's still the most advanced nation in the world. We're still the most advanced nation in the world when it comes to economically in every way, shape or form. But we do actually have to get our own house in order before we start, and we won't be able, we will not succeed if Russia, China, Taiwan, Iran, if they can tell us, well, you're just a bunch of racists. How are you different from us? Why would they listen to us? Why would they take not? How can we compel them? And compelling, when I say compelling, Peter, you'll agree with me on this, it's not just that you force other countries through military means or economic sanctions to do what you want them to do. You also want to make them feel bad of themselves. Having slaves, treating their people badly, you know why China is hiding the weakest situation? Why are they hiding it? Because they're ashamed of it. We want to shame them, but we can't shame them if we're shaming our professors, right now if we're embroiled in this domestic situation, we're tearing down our statues, we're tearing down our history. In Chicago, they've started to say history class has to be abolished because it's racist, in California where we all are, they have this ethnic studies thing going where we are being told about the 3Is, we're all racist and terrible. How can we make a case to the rest of the world if we are so racist, misogynistic, so bigoted, so irredeemably sinful? That's what I want to fight.
Peter Robinson: Okay. I refer you one more time to that very shrewd well-read, beautifully spoken, successful autocrat, Lee Kuan Yew. I say successful because he lifted his little nation out of poverty. Quoting Lee Kuan Yew, "Rwanda or Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Philippines. They've got democracy, but have they got a civilized life to lead? People don't want the right to write an editorial as you please, people want economic development first and foremost." That's one, here's the second quotation from him. "Nobody doubts that if you take me on, I will put on knuckle-dusters and catch you in a cul-de-sac. If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try. There is no other way to govern a Chinese society."
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: That's so.
Peter Robinson: Sorry, I'll give you one, here's the large fact. Lee Kuan Yew, the whole notion, you can see where this goes. The whole notion that this exalted talk about human rights is a Western construct, and it just doesn't apply in Asia. And furthermore, that China, which has given, has suppressed human rights, not even given them the courtesy of hypocrisy, not even pretended to accept those human rights, has however lifted something like 600 million people out of poverty and ought not that to grant that regime a certain kind of legitimacy. All right, these strike me as pretty hard problems, but something tells me that Dr. Berkowitz will have thought about them before.
Peter Berkowitz: Yes. Concerning the preposterous proposition that Asian or Chinese societies could never accept democracy or rights, we should tell that to the people of Hong Kong, we should tell that to the people of Taiwan, we should tell that to the people of South Korea. These are peoples who are no less steeped in Confucian civilization in the peoples of Mainland China, first point. Second point, at different stages of development, there's no doubt that people may prefer one kind of a social organization or another. There's nothing in our report that suggests that the United States is authorized, the United Nations is authorized, international organizations are authorized to go around the world and emancipate other peoples or impose upon them liberal democracies. But having said that, it's very important I think, to make this point, we argue that it's the American point of view and I think it's the correct point of view, that human rights, the rights inherent in all persons are best secured in liberal democracies. That is democracies that protect rights. Now of course Lee Kuan Yew is correct. Not every individual citizen is well-placed to make political decisions. Of course what Lee Kuan Yew leaves out is not every politician is well-placed to make political decisions, not even those who seize power undemocratically. So we have created a system in which power is always traced back to the people, but through a system of checks and balances, the system of separation of powers and so on, we attempt to refine in a lot and enlarge the will of the people and check governments so that our freedoms will be protected.
Peter Robinson: A few kind of concluding questions here. To quote the report once again, "In this hour of need, the United States must champion human rights." And I was very struck when I read that phrase, this hour of need. I can think of a couple of other times in modern history of course, when observers all had the feeling that things were going wrong. Sir Edward Grey on the eve of the first World War, "The lamps are going out across Europe and they will not be relit in our lifetime." Churchill writes, he titles his volume devoted to the pre-war, pre-second war period in his history of the Second World War, he entitles that volume, "The Gathering Storm". How bad is this moment? How bad is this hour of need, Peter?
Peter Berkowitz: Right now today, more than 70 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, roughly half the world's population lives under authoritarian regimes. As Ayaan pointed out, in the People's Republic of China today, governed by the Chinese Communist Party, we see the re-institution of what they call reeducation camps. These are concentration camps in which the aim is to purge the Uyghurs of their religious beliefs. They're characterized by involuntary sterilization, enforced birth control and other heinous practices. So around the world, we have very significant challenges, but as far as this hour of need, I think we go back to the points that Ayaan was making. And it reminds me of the speech that Abraham Lincoln gave as a young man, the Lyceum Address, in which he said, "The United States will not be done in by forces from abroad. We're protected by great seas, we have enormous land. If we are to perish, we will perish from forces from within, we will perish from our failure to adhere to our founding principles." In light of what Ayaan has described, when I think of our need, I think especially of not only the United States not adhering to those principles, but on movement arising. And that now is, infuses our school system, which is devoted to vilifying those principles. So for me, the last of the reports concluding observations speaks of seedbeds of human rights, seedbeds. We in the first place learn to respect other human beings in our families, in our communities, but we also learn to respect human beings in our schools and we should be learning the ways in which American political institutions are designed to provide fundamental protections for all the human beings who live under our laws. When we're denouncing them, when we're depriving students of a proper education, when we're not encouraging critical thought questioning, thinking for ourselves, but when we're encouraging students to all agree to all at once denounce in unison, then I think we are not only undercutting our ability to... We are certainly undercutting ability to maintain freedom abroad, and without that, without the civic Concorde rooted in love of freedom, America will not be able to lead the world in securing freedom abroad.
Peter Robinson: Ayaan.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I'm gonna build on what Peter said. Peter, I agree with everything you said and I want to say to you, the indoctrination of students, whether they are five years old, 15 years old, 18 years old, or 25 years old, I think you're absolutely right. The indoctrination of students is something that we have to fight, and it's a long-time agenda. But we have an election coming up and I know Peter Berkowitz, Peter Robinson, that you probably are just feeling really uncomfortable talking about it. I'm uncomfortable talking, I hate talking about it. I think that the role of government should be small, transparent, and accountable, but that's not the case. And so Peter Berkowitz, you mentioned, I heard you say leaders and leadership and leaders and leadership right now in the coming election, we have on the one hand, the Republican Party and on the other hand, the Democrat Party, we are a two party state. Those are our major parties and our major leaders. These are the people that we elect and we say, you can go into office and take care of these problems. My take right now is that the leadership, the leaders, not the voters, not the members, but the leaders of the Democratic Party, they've lost their wits to various, what all of us thought was really a small and a fringe group, but they've lost their wits. I have to live as a black woman, as an immigrant with someone like Kamala Harris, who is saying our country is endemically racist and is not defending the content of this right to the domestic situation and not in foreign policy terms. I'm disappointed by that. I also live in California, and so I had very high hopes of her. I'm very disappointed in Michelle Obama, who also proposes that we're also racist and so terrible, when in fact she's been first lady for eight years. Her husband was elected by the entire country, and he's still probably the most living, most popular living president. And so to carry on, condemning our country this way, she's probably also one of the most popular women along with Oprah Winfrey. Oprah Winfrey, a cultural icon who is now, she's now hosting books where America is described as a caste system. And so we have on the one side, the Democratic Party leadership, and I don't know where they want to take things, but it's dangerous and it's just wrong, and it's just wrong. And my criticism of the Democratic Party leadership right now is what is wrong with you? Are you cowards? Are you being forced to do this? And why? Have you converted to the work and identity politics? Don't you care about America anymore? Are you cynical? Give me an answer. Then we have the Republican Party and the Republican Party leadership, and I think they did a fantastic job. On the convention, they had a lineup of immigrants one after the other, telling us, what is it, why is it that they came? Where they came from to America? Just like me, I came to America, I have my reason, I've got a whole choice of places and countries to go and live in, I don't want to go to any, I wanted to live in America. And it's because I think it's great and it's fantastic that the Republican Party is giving a voice to immigrants to come forward and say what it is that makes America great and exceptional. And it isn't this, it's what this report conveys. It's that. But please, please, I don't want to sermonize, but I just want to say my criticism of the Republican Party.
Peter Robinson: Oh, yes of course.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: That they never bothered to reach out. And so if you can't have a democracy with just one party, you can't have one party thinking we're right anyway, Kimberley Strassel said, "As long as they say free markets, they think that everything is fine." I don't think that's how you do it. The only part right now that is soliciting, that is campaigning, that's proselytizing, it's the Democratic Party. And I really want to encourage the Republican Party just as we're seeing in the UK to go forward and start to get the new Americans to come and stand in for America, not just at the convention. But in counties, in cities, in states, anywhere where you have individuals being elected to serve in office, Republicans need to fight with the agenda that they presented in the last few weeks.
Peter Robinson: Peter, we've been talking about human rights, but Ayaan makes a point. This is the middle of a presidential campaign. I will ask you to make one semi-political observation, brace yourself. Recent headlines, the Atlantic, the President is winning his war on American institutions. Foreign Policy, Trump wants to destroy the world order. Here's a quotation from the General Secretary of Amnesty International. "Donald Trump's policies may have marked a new era of human rights regression," regression. How can it be that the administration of a president so determined to destroy the world order and subvert human rights, that that administration assigned 10 scholars to examine the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and advise the Secretary of State, how best to return human rights to the center of American foreign policy? How can this be?
Peter Berkowitz: So Peter, as you know, because of my government position, I can't discuss partisan politics. But I think I can say the following. President Trump appointed as a Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, has done more than any Secretary of State I know of to put religious liberty and human rights front and center in American foreign policy. I do wanna of course, even though I use the word center there, I shouldn't have, it's not so much that the report says that human rights are the centerpiece of American foreign policy. We say they need to be championed, that they're part of foreign policy. Of course, security is the first task of diplomacy and ensuring prosperity of the United States in a free and open international order. But human rights are always there because Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, made those decisions. He has helped two religious freedom ministerials in the state department, there would have been a third this year, but for COVID-19, and I believe the Secretary of State gets a lot of credit for not only identifying the importance of religious liberty, but wanting to ensure, and you could call this the conservative defense, the conservative dimension of his commitment to human rights, wanting to ensure that our undoubted commitment to human rights is anchored in America's founding principles.
Peter Robinson: Last question. Like we've had a lovely summer afternoons conversation making me miss East Coast summer thunderstorms, but all good things must end. Last question. Again, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Well, all right, but as Ayaan pointed out, those words are now 244 years old. Explain to high school seniors and college students, kids who are taking their classes remotely and clicking onto YouTube to take study breaks and seeing videos of riots in one American city after another, explain to those kids, why those words still matter. Ayaan.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I'll assign them a reading list by Niall Ferguson, my historian husband who's amazing. I will also tell them to, depending on where their parents or grandparents come from, just say please take a look at the rest of the world and then reflect on America. And the third thing I would do is I would resist with every fiber in my being the new curriculum indoctrination programs that they're putting out there, led by people like Abram Kendi or Ibram Kendi, and DiAngelo, where they want to divide our society instead of us being all human beings and sharing a common humanity, regardless of where we come from, where we're being divided into groups, or skin color, or gender identity, I would put an end to that.
Peter Robinson: Peter, we hold these truths. Why do they still matter, those words?
Peter Berkowitz: They matter for the following reason. Just as all human beings are imperfect and flawed, all political societies are imperfect and flawed. But there is the most fundamental difference between a liberal democracy that's committed to securing the rights inherent in all persons and the authoritarian government that repudiates such rights and believe that the will of the ruler governs. Young people, and I felt our schools increasingly do not understand this fundamental distinction indeed. Grownups increasingly don't understand this fundamental distinction. So students need to understand this, it's the American tradition of unalienable rights. Actually as we point out in the report, beginning long before the Declaration, actually, as we point out the Declaration itself represents the convergence of three other great traditions, the Biblical tradition, the tradition of classical political philosophy and the modern tradition of freedom, only that kind of study will enable students to begin to appreciate the wonders, notwithstanding all its flaws, of the exceptional free society in which they live.
Peter Robinson: Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Peter Berkowitz, thank you. By the way, Peter, the funder in the background during that last answer made you sound positively mosaic. For Uncommon Knowledge, the Hoover Institution and Fox Nation, I'm Peter Robinson.