Are you U or non-U? By which I mean, are you a universalist or a relativist? Forget left and right; the defining political divide of the global era is between those who believe that some moral rights and freedoms ought to be universal and those who argue that each culture to its own. This new frontline of contemporary debate runs across issues as diverse as race, faith, multiculturalism, feminism, gay rights, freedom of speech and foreign policy. In each instance, the argument eventually comes down to whether you have a universalist or relativist view of the world. Universalists argue that certain rights and protections – freedom of speech, democracy, the rule of law – are common or, at least, should be available to all people. Relativists maintain that different cultures have different values and that it’s impossible to say that one system or idea is better than another and, moreover, it’s racist to try.
If all of that sounds a little abstract and theoretical, then a quick glance at government policy is enough to show that these contradictory principles underpin many of the most significant developments of recent years. For example, the interventions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and, most controversially, Iraq were predicated, give or take a few WMD, on the notion that the inhabitants of those countries should be extended the democratic rights that most people in the West take for granted.
more from the Observer here.