Enlightened authoritarianism and the stench of liberal racism

Norman Geras has taken a well-aimed pop at former New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer, who in a Guardian Comment is Free article lambasts the western imperialist human rights industry for being, er, western and imperialist. Norm the political and moral philosopher highlights one of many obnoxious paragraphs from Kinzer’s piece, and in a couple of acerbic sentences exposes the logical fallacies therein.

Here is another extract from Kinzer that caught my eye…

“By my standards, this authoritarian regime is the best thing that has happened to Rwanda since colonialists arrived a century ago. My own experience tells me that people in Rwanda are happy with it, thrilled at their future prospects, and not angry that there is not a wide enough range of newspapers or political parties. Human Rights Watch, however, portrays the Rwandan regime as brutally oppressive. Giving people jobs, electricity, and above all security is not considered a human rights achievement; limiting political speech and arresting violators is considered unpardonable.”

Thrilled, eh? Has Kinzer the intrepid reporter, who in his long and illustrious career has spread himself thinly across the globe, been spending quality time on the ground in Rwanda, interviewing those directly affected by the policies of Paul Kagame’s enlightened authoritarian government? I don’t think so. Neither have I, for that matter, but I have read enough reliable testimony from Rwandan citizens to question the liberal intentions of this much admired African administration.

Now I know that it is in many ways a shitty world we live in, but the response of a moral being is not to set his standards so low as to compensate for all of life’s many disappointments. That would be a cowardly and immature response to the weighty challenges presented. But that is exactly what Mr Kinzer appears to be doing. Actually, it’s worse than that. One could go further and interpret the words quoted above as an overtly racist statement.