Antonio Guterres Gets Another UN Term to Promote Socialism
AP Photo/Rahmat Gul
Antonio Guterres Gets Another UN Term to Promote Socialism
AP Photo/Rahmat Gul
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No one should doubt the humanitarian heart of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, whose start in public service followed his engagement in the Catholic Church’s “social action” channel. After his term as Prime Minister of Portugal, he served as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, arguably the toughest and most heartbreaking job in any international institution, during the still-ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, the worst since World War II.

What has emerged more strongly since his elevation to UN Secretary General, however, is a tendency to use that position to promote socialism.   But this seems to have mattered little to the members of the UN Security Council who recommended him for a second term; neither the United States nor any other permanent member raised questions about his reappointment.

Guterres was Secretary General of the Spanish Socialist Party and President of the Socialist International, a global association of political parties that seeks to establish democratic socialism, for six years. 

With the proliferation of collective economic, social, and cultural rights in United Nations treaties and soft law, agitating for socialism in human rights language has become normal for UN officials in the upper reaches of the bureaucracy. On the UN website, Guterres is quoted saying,

The vision and promise of the United Nations is that food, healthcare, water and sanitation, education, decent work and social security are not commodities for sale to those who can afford them, but basic human rights to which we are all entitled.  We work to reduce inequality, every day, everywhere.

In fact, as head of the Portuguese Socialist Party, Guterres was no radical. He supported increasing privatization of industry. He also remained respectful of conservative Catholic teachings regarding abortion and LGBT rights, although he eventually presided over the legalization of same-sex marriages.

But as leader of the UN, Guterres has been more ideological than his predecessors. Ban-Ki Moon was a career diplomat, as was Kofi Anan. In the UN environment, Guterres seems to have moved further left, even from the political rhetoric typical of presidents of the Socialist International. And he has not let the Covid-19 crisis go to waste. 

In June 2020, speaking in South Africa at an event honoring Nelson Mandela, Guterres said the pandemic had shown that the world needs a transformative political reorganization to fix inequalities and threats to the environment: “It has laid bare risks we have ignored for decades: inadequate health systems; gaps in social protection; structural inequalities; environmental degradation; the climate crisis,” he said.  

“Inequality defines our time,” he claimed, and argued that rising inequality affects more than seventy percent of the world’s people. He continued:

But income, pay and wealth are not the only measures of inequality. People’s chances in life depend on their gender, family and ethnic background, race, whether or not they have a disability, and other factors. Multiple inequalities intersect and reinforce each other across the generations. The lives and expectations of millions of people are largely determined by their circumstances at birth.

The problem with this kind of multi-dimensional determinism, which is known as “Intersectionality,” is that, like the simpler socialism from which it evolved, it is a recipe for illiberalism and censorship. Writing for the online journal Quillette, Christian Alejandro Gonzalez argues that

Intersectionality employs dangerous and imprecise language, encourages ideological uniformity (and conformity), fosters groupthink, and necessitates radicalism. These undesirable characteristics are all likely—if not necessary—consequences of the foundational tenets of intersectional theory.

But forms of intersectionality pervade UN human-rights speak, because of the dogma of the “indivisibility of human rights,” a revisionist ideology that emerged in the 1950s that has served as an instrument to weaken the priority of protecting political freedoms. If no human right can be fully realized without honoring all others, including redistributionist rights like the “right to an adequate standard of living,” then only a massive overhaul of society can promise respect for any human right.

There was hardly any mention made to protecting fundamental freedoms in Guterres’ bloviation. Instead, he stoked identity politics, class antagonism, and regional resentment:

The Global North, specifically my own continent of Europe, imposed colonial rule on much of the Global South for centuries, through violence and coercion…. A wave of decolonization swept the world. But let’s not fool ourselves. The legacy of colonialism still reverberates. We see this in economic and social injustice, the rise of hate crimes and xenophobia; the persistence of institutionalized racism and white supremacy…The nations that came out on top more than seven decades ago have refused to contemplate the reforms needed to change power relations in international institutions.”   

The UN is charged with promoting peace and tolerance in the world, but Guterres veered toward incitement, claiming that the “countries that are most affected by climate disruption did the least to contribute to global heating.” But what about China? And he did little to encourage harmony between women and men: “We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture,” he claimed. If you have a problem, Guterres thinks you’re a victim, your problem is someone else’s fault, and its someone else’s to solve.

Covid-19 is a “human tragedy,” Guterres said in his conclusion,

But it has also created a generational opportunity.  An opportunity to build back a more equal and sustainable world. The response to the pandemic, and to the widespread discontent that preceded it, must be based on a New Social Contract and a New Global Deal that create equal opportunities for all and respect the rights and freedoms of all. 

He said a UN sponsored “worldwide consultation process” had made clear that people want a “global governance system that delivers for them.” At the end, he asked,

Will we succumb to chaos, division and inequality? Or will we right the wrongs of the past and move forward together, for the good of all? We are at breaking point. But we know which side of history we are on.

Critics have accused Guterres for wrong-headed politics, arguing against him by citing evidence that free markets lift people out of poverty more than redistributionist economic plans.

On its face, Guterres’ speech promoted harmony and global governance, but its emotional lines of force hardly encouraged unity of purpose or brotherhood; on the contrary, they inspire enmity against other societies and people in different circumstances. It did not promote global cooperation, but populist nationalism that generally accompanies economic downturns.

But there is another problem with the Secretary-General’s speech, which has gone unnoticed, perhaps because it is so pervasive: the politicization of international institutions. The United Nations supposedly exists for all people and all governments. The leader of its bureaucracy has no business advocating on behalf of a particular political perspective. If Guterres had used the bully pulpit of leadership of the UN Secretariat to promote de-regulation and tax reductions as solutions to poverty and inequality, it would have been just as inappropriate as his leftist effusions.

Human rights are principles that are supposedly antecedent to and above partisan politics in protecting the freedom of the individual from state coercion. They need to be unifying, dissociated from political agendas, to comport with the role the United Nations was established to fulfill. If the UN’s leaders would give voice to those principles, it might counteract the growing impression that the institution is a divisive platform for promoting post-modern cultural fads and the politics off the left.

Aaron Rhodes is Senior Fellow in the Common Sense Society and President of the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe. He is the author of The Debasement of Human Rights (Encounter Books). 

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