Community, Diversity, and Rights
The Annual Robert J. Giuffra '82 Conference
Keynote: Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University
How are we to understand the relationships among community, diversity, and rights in the modern free society?
Most citizens are united in regarding community, diversity, and rights as good things. A decent and just society, we think, will respect rights, permit or even foster diversity, and provide opportunities for community, or for citizens to unite in pursuit of a common good. Nevertheless, deeper reflection suggests that these goods may be in tension with each other, that the pursuit of one may not always advance the others. We seek a community that permits diversity, but at some point community demands commonality and therefore must set a limit to diversity. The free society is a community based on respect for individual rights, but rights may not be a sufficient basis for community in the full sense and may even undermine community by elevating the claims of the individual over those of the common good. And an important stream of thought views rights as obtaining and protecting essential human goods, including inherently social goods.
Respect for rights is thought to foster diversity by permitting a variety of ways of life, but it is possible for an imperious understanding of rights to undermine diversity by demanding that all citizens and groups adhere to the same standards of belief and conduct. In the international sphere, we insist on universal human rights while, at the same time, treasuring the diversity of cultures. Yet some of these cultures do not recognize universal human rights and inducing or forcing them into compliance with universal human rights may therefore diminish the diversity of cultures.
Seeking to address these important issues, the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions and the Association for the Study of Free Institutions are pleased to announce a conference in honor of Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University, entitled “Community, Diversity, and Rights.” The conference aims to recognize Professor Glendon’s many important scholarly and professional contributions and explore the relationship of her thought to the conference themes. The program includes scholars from a variety of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities.
We seek to address a number of questions. Is the right to religious freedom the first of our rights, the foundation of any free and just society? Is, as some critics of religious freedom advocacy contend, religious freedom merely a cover for bigotry and intolerance, and thus a threat to the rights of the non-religious? Does the growing tendency to frame our political debates in terms of rights claims help to ensure the freedom of all citizens, or does it impoverish our public discourse and cloud our thinking about the common good? Does religious diversity and respect for religious freedom permit religion to flourish, or does it foster a spirit of indifference that causes faith to wither? How has the Universal Declaration of Human Rights influenced contemporary thinking about rights, community, and diversity? What can Catholic social thought contribute to our understanding of community and rights? Is it possible today to find a philosophically compelling justification for human rights as natural? Universal? Unalienable?
- The Association for the Study of Free Institutions, Texas Tech University