Monday, August 28, 2006

The United Nations' Lack of Legitimacy

by Tibor R. Machan

In 1972 I was not rehired at the Department of Philosophy of the California State University, Bakersfield, even though I fulfilled the promise of finishing my dissertation and obtained my PhD as I was told I would have to so as to be reappointed. I was mystified -- I had a good publication record, my teaching went quite well as a beginner. So what was up?

I had a friend in the office. She checked out the secret records they could still keep on people back then and learned that those records contained something totally irrelevant to my qualifications. I had written a letter to the editor of the local paper, The Bakersfield Californian, in which I argued that the United Nations is mostly a coercive international organization that lacks any moral or even political legitimacy. Turns out, this letter made it into my records -- and through the grapevine I heard it was deemed an embarrassment by the dean and my department chairman. Cal State Bakersfield was just starting up in 1970, and academic freedom wasn't their priority. Looking good in the community and to the politicians in Sacramento -- that was what counted most.

Adding to my shortcomings was my public lecture to the faculty and students, "The Schools Ain't What They Used to Be, and Never Was," a critique of government involvement in the education process. Again, academic freedom is fine if you are a racist, a Nazi, or a communist, but attack American public education and it flies out the window. Or at least that seemed to be the case at Cal State Bakersfield.

Why bring up this ancient history? Because some 34 years after having shot myself in the foot by daring to call the UN illegitimate, I read in -- of all places! -- The New Republic the following lines penned by Martin Peretz, the editor in chief: "Since so few of the states in the United Nations operate through [democratic] processes, there is little legitimacy in the United Nations at all, particularly on extreme questions like force." Wow. Was I prescient or what?

Of course anyone with but the most minimal sense of genuine political correctness -- which means, some care about justice, freedom and human rights -- would know that the UN is nothing but a Tower of Babel in which countries that are out and out tyrannies have "representatives" sitting next to the representatives of countries that are at least moderately democratic and free. So the discussion of any issue must take seriously the input from a bunch of thugs and murderers. Plato, who in his most famous dialog, The Republic, knew what to do with such people when they crashed a civilized discussion, would find my and Mr. Peretz's stance more than respectable.

Well, never mind the personal end of the matter. It is, however, scandalous how much credibility the mainstream media accords to the United Nations, how much money the organization receives from various governments which in turn blithely extort it from their citizens, and for absolutely nothing worthwhile at all. The place would be a joke if it didn't spend millions of dollars on nearly completely useless endeavors while supplying its staff with the most wonderful perks one can think of -- their kids get private education, they always fly first class, etc., and so forth. But the joke becomes most unfunny when one considers the extent to which the UN has sabotaged the efforts of the United States and other relatively free countries to defend themselves and support the poorer, less free countries in bootstrapping themselves up to a reasonable standard of living (see Eric Shawn's The U.N. exposed: How the United Nations Sabotages America's Security and Fails the World [2006]).

Why, on might wonder, would any decent human being support such an institution? Well, marketing may explain it a little -- the UN is great at advertising itself as the most humanitarian organization on earth. All those cute cards they send around showing off how helpful they are, never mind that the world hasn't gotten even a tad better because of all this humanitarianism (quite the contrary if you judge, for example, by reading William Easterly's thorough examination of the history of foreign aid, White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill And So Little Good [2006]).

Let me just conclude by noting that so long as the media and thousands of educated people at most of our universities take an organization like the UN seriously, give it any credibility at all, and consider it legitimate, we are in serious trouble in the world. I am not a pessimist but sometimes maybe I ought to be.


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