Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Finland Uber Alles?

Since the war discussion downthread goes well, I thought I'd bring up another political question. To be truthful, I'm not 100 percent certain of my own answer. Due to a bunch of tecbnicalities, there are large debates over which country was the first to develop true universal sufferage. For the sake of this argument, I'm going to go with Finland, but I am aware that the debate exists.

Anywho, suffice to say, for awhile Finland's civil rights record was a heck of a lot better than ours. If you want to argue that this is because they had fewer people of other colors to actually deal with and race issues are always harder in areas with high concentrations of people of color, I get that and the statistics I've seen on these things would agree with you.

In the early part of this century, Finland's human rights record was a heck of a lot better than ours was. This leads me to some questions,

If Finland had been powerful enough to try to force us to improve our civil rights record, should they have?

If we wouldn't listen, should they have tried to take us over?

If they had, would the state of civil rights in this country today be better?

How much moral authority does a superior human rights record give a country? How should your answer impact the way we approach Iraq? What about Darfur?

I have my own thoughtful if not perfect answers, but I'd like to know yours.



LinguistFriend said...

Dear CC:
I'd be careful about commenting on the progressive nature of Finland's civil rights record in (I think you mean) the early 20th c., when it was a part of the Russian empire. The universal suffrage of 1906 Finland elected members of a parliament with little power under the czar.
However, modern Finland seems to be recognized as a progressive country. When I once commented to a young Russian woman about the exile of the Russian poet Baratynsky to Finland in the early 19th century, she did not think that was much of a punishment at all, incorrectly assuming that the Finland of that period was as pleasant as modern Finland.
Linguist Friend

Chalicechick said...

OK, we're very impressed with Linguist Friend's knowledge of Finnish history and Psyton's skill with Monty Pythom references.

But would someone actually like to address the question?


Joel Monka said...

The answer is yes. In the situation you postulate, I would expect them to start with trade sanctions, disinvestment pressures, and U.N. resolutions. As for going in militarily, they might have had problems justifying it domestically- would the Fin in the street have thought it worth spilling Finnish blood? If you went back another half-century to when we had slavery, it would have been a much easier answer for the military solution; America in 1900 was not as bad as South Africa under apartheid, and nobody invaded them. I was gratified when Vietnam invaded against PolPot- somebody needed to!

Actually, it would have been good for us to have received such sanctions- if anyone had been in the moral and power situation in 1900 to impose them.

A superior rights record yields tremendous moral authority in my book. Unfortunately, there's always the question Stalin asked: "And how many divisions does moral authority field"


TheCSO said...

If I take "Finland" to mean an arbitrary country with a somewhat better human rights record - what I think you meant, even if your choice of examples turns out to be less applicable than you intended - then I still don't think the situation is all that applicable to today.

The difference in rights just wasn't that severe. America certainly had deficiencies; however, the contrast was not nearly as sharp as, say, the contrast between a Western secular democracy and a Wahabi theocracy.

I agree with Psyton. The analogy just doesn't work. To answer the question, though - no, I don't think Finland would have been justified in invading us to improve our human rights record. But I don't think that says anything either way about whether America is justified in invading other countries to improve their human rights records. The world was just too different a place before WWII.

Anonymous said...

I don't know anything about the history of Finland. I know that New Zealand gave women the vote about 70 years before we did, and that there were several countries who preceded us significantly. Far from being in the forefront on the freedom issue, we tend to trail behind and let other countries test it for us, just like we do with drugs and weapons (I hear that the reason we arm Israel is that we are letting them test weapons for us.)

Anonymous said...

Joel -- How can one be sure one's "moral authority" is on the right track and one is not simply fooling oneself?

Joel Monka said...

You have to have faith in your judgement, and do your best, knowing that in the end, not even the hudgement of history is a guarantee of "right". If nobody risked being wrong, nothing would ever be done.

Chalicechick said...

New Zealand did let women vote really early. But the didn't let the Maoris vote for a long time.


PG said...

the US would not have readily amended its human rights abuses under pressure from foreign powers. In fact it may have dug in its heels.

Seems factually inaccurate when one considers the civil rights movement -- the Cold War actually was quite influential on politicians in pushing them to support the Civil Rights Act, etc. The Soviet Union, Cuba and other Communist powers loved to harp on how racist America was in contrast to their own utopia of equality. Some people in the former bloc are still convinced of all that. Secretaries of State throughout the 1950s and 1960s were in favor of improving our civil rights record as a way to improve our image abroad.