International Studies 386

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It has long been argued that encouraging Human Rights is a facade for cultural
imperialism. Uniting vastly different human cultures around a very particular set of conditions
that function, in essence, to provide a right and wrong way to live, has proved to be quite
complicated. However, one would be remiss to think that Human Rights are incompatible with
culture. Culture is dynamic, constantly adapting to best suit its constituents and reshaping itself
based on the most appropriate application of its values. One of the most salient arguments about
culture and Human Rights application emanates from Asia. In Culture is Destiny readers are
exposed to an Asian perspective on the issue from one of Singapore’s renowned leaders, Lee
Kuan Yew. Evidencing the complexity of the issue, Kim Dae Jung gives a contrasting opinion in
Is Culture Destiny? The Myth of Asia’s Anti-Democratic Values.
Using these sources as well as the expertise from Donelley and Ignatief I will argue that
promoting a global realization of Human Rights is not cultural imperialism. This accusation
comes from tying the promotion of Human Rights to the promotion of a Democratic political
system. Forcing a particular political system on nations is what emits an odor of imperialism.
Encouraging Human Rights is not culturally imperialistic because they are designed to promote
the dignity of all humans, through a genetic culture that we all share.
Lee Kuan Yew is one of not only Singapore but also Asia’s most influential leaders. It is
imperative to understand his claims in the interview as they can be easily misinterpreted. His
main argument does not surround the implementation of human rights in Asia. What he argues is
that a Western, democratic political system will not work for East Asian states. According to Lee,
the reason for this “is that Eastern societies believe that the individual exists in the context of his
family...the ruler or the government does not try to provide for a person what the family best
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