Reading Jesuit priest Robert F. Drinan’s The Mobilization of Shame in a post 9/11/01 world is a surreal experience. Written shortly before the catastrophic event that changed the lives and points of view of millions of Americans, the author could not know then what he and the rest of us know now, i.e., the level of cynicism, fear, and self righteousness that would overtake the American public. The book is filled with hope and a cautious optimism. The author had faith in a broken world that we could surrender some of our rights so that the human rights of all may some day soon be exercised. Sadly, those sentiments now seem alarmingly and tragically anachronistic.
Drinan surveys the world from a human rights stand point between 1945 and early 2001. He chronicles successes and failures, names names, assesses nations’ efforts toward peace building, and dares to predict a positive future. He paints an inspiring trajectory and invites the reader to dream of a future in which all may live to exercise the rights with which they were born. Today his canvas appears to have been somewhat naïvely designed. Still, the merits of the book are numerous because of Drinan’s careful thinking about both his experiences and his studies.
The author praises and castigates the role of the United States vis-à-vis human rights since the formation of the United Nations. Among his chief complaints is the failure of US officials to endorse the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the Preface, Drinan states that the “basic assumption” of the book is that "the acceptance and enforcement of basic moral norms elevates the standards of public morality and thereby enhances the dignity of all human beings” (xi). The refusal of the United States to support important moral norms, especially those dealing with the rights of women and children, virtually guarantees inequality and injustice for vast numbers of human beings. Drinan finds this morally unacceptable. The continuous insistence of the US to separate economic and political rights also results in intolerable divisions among people. Furthermore, he identifies “a streak of isolationism [that] runs deep through the United States” (193) as being problematic.
What Drinan calls the “centerpiece of this book” (xi) is the “Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action Adopted at the World Conference on Human Rights 25 June 1993.” The complete document is reproduced in the Appendix of the book. Drinan praises it for its comprehensive treatment of human rights, including, among others, those of prisoners; religious and linguistic minorities; victims of racism and xenophobia; indigenous people; migrant workers; refugees; and disabled persons.
The range of Drinan’s concern for human rights is seemingly inexhaustible. Using documents from the United Nations, he analyzes the world’s progress in such areas as religious freedom, the rule of law, food, and medical care for all. He also considers the inhumane practice of torture worldwide and argues for its eradication. He is most concerned about the ability of China and parts of Africa to conform to the moral high ground occupied by nations sincere in their pursuit of human rights for every person.
This highly accessible, clearly written, insightful, and convincing work presents a challenge to today’s readers. Although Drinan makes predictions that have not come to pass, one wonders if we may leave our collective American pessimism and reach back to the optimism of a pre 9/11/01 world. The book curiously leaves the reader hopeful that such a move may not only be necessary but possible as well. I highly recommend this work for those who have not given up and given in to despair. Furthermore, I hope that Drinan is working on a sequel!