Moral Relativism and the Education of Our Youth

“The General Assembly…calls upon all Governments to pay constant attention to educating the young in the spirit of respect for international law and fundamental human rights and freedoms and against Fascist, neo-Fascist and other totalitarian ideologies and practices based on terror, hatred and violence….” (Measures to be taken against Nazi, Fascist and neo-Fascist activities and all other forms of totalitarian ideologies and practices based on apartheid, racial discrimination and racism, and the systematic denial of human rights and fundamental freedoms)

The United States has failed in its duty to educate its youth about the essential character of moral commitment to fundamental human rights.

It is the essence of fascism to see moral action as primarily dependent on power and ambition. As such, fascism is the paradigm of moral relativity. Yet large portions of conservative and liberal communities also practice moral relativity. For them, determining whether something is right or wrong depends on what the goal (complicating the matter is false consciousness about whose interests are served by concrete policies). They do not really base their moral understanding on the “dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small and [the need] to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom….”

While fascism is not the only ideology that teaches people to disrespect international law and fundamental human rights and freedoms, it does seem to be the least hypocritical of the lot. We should end the hypocrisy by reaffirming the necessity of human rights and democracy to advancing human freedom and dedicating considerable time in our classrooms to the matter. And we must insist that our government adheres to a standard of conduct befitting these ideals.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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