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Book Reviews

Mary Ann Glendon, Tradizioni in subbuglio

Mary Ann Glendon, Tradizioni in subbuglio (Traditions in Turmoil: Essays on Law, Culture and Human Rights), Rubbettino, Soveria Mannelli 2007

This lively book, Tradizioni in subbuglio (Traditions in Turmoil in the original English), finally offers Italian readers an important, albeit small glimpse into the opus of an extraordinary scholar. It is a collection of short essays originally published in English which, with clarity equal to the acumen of the views expressed, takes the reader through the history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, charting its history, particularly its legacy.

 

In the knowing hands of Ms Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School specialising among other things in the fields of comparative constitutional and international law as well as president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and now United States Ambassador to the Holy See, the Declaration turns out to be the product of an extraordinary enterprise, legal and cultural, which as the author has pointed out elsewhere is also nowadays under legal but even more so cultural siege.

 

Mary Ann Glendon shows how the work behind the Declaration brought together politicians and scholars from profoundly different cultures, each providing its own inestimable contribution to a document that is profoundly unitary in conception and articulation.

 

For the author the two key notions that successfully brought together different cultural perspectives in favour of a single solution were universality and human dignity.

 

In fact, those who drafted the Declaration were not so concerned about finding common points in various cultural and political ideas, but sought instead something good and thus universally valid. For them what mattered was what was good for everyone, not what everyone thought.

 

Indeed if it was quite astonishing that a world so torn apart could come together around a substantive idea about what it meant to be human, the newness of the product turned out to be even more amazing, namely a Declaration centred on human dignity.

 

The essays in the text focus in fact on man in his totality and in all his features. For the author the various parts of the Declaration cannot be viewed separately without losing sight of the overall character of human dignity. These essays hang well together the way colour paints on a palette make it possible for an artist to paint a picture.

 

Behind this unitary idea each cultural tradition is involved in an effort to decode its own heritage so as to make it accessible to others. It is an effort that has also been undertaken by the Catholic Church, which has had to rely on the notion of dignity in lieu of the older one of human nature.

 

In Glendon's words the Church has however become so familiar with the new concept that it has acquired almost exclusive guardianship over it, unlike others who view the Declaration more as a smorgasbord from which they can pick and choose what appears to be the priory of the

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