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Humanist Manifesto 2000: A Call for a New Planetary Humanism.

Humanist Manifesto 2000: A Call for a New Planetary Humanism drafted by Paul Kurtz (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1999); 48 pp.; $6.95 paper.

Humanist Manifesto 2000--copy-righted by the International Academy of Humanism (IAH), first published in the fall 1999 issue of Free Inquiry magazine, and scheduled for release in booklet form by Prometheus before the end of this year--purports in its rambling preamble to be the successor to Humanist Manifesto II, copyrighted by the American Humanist Association. Indeed, in its original incarnation, distributed for signatures this past June to select humanists around the world, Humanist Manifesto 2000 was actually entitled Humanist Manifesto III. This has naturally caused considerable confusion, particularly in North America.

After all, readers of the Humanist will recall how the project of creating a third manifesto was publicly announced within these pages as early as the March/April 1998 issue. Paul Kurtz, himself, was the lead author on that topic in the September/October 1998 Humanist. Readers of Free Mind, the membership newsletter of the American Humanist Association (publisher of the Humanist), learned of their opportunity to participate in this project in the July/August 1998 issue, with the first of their contributions appearing in November/December 1998. Earlier that year, on May 2, a live symposium directed toward the drafting of Humanist Manifesto III was a prominent part of the AHA national conference. (Paul Kurtz was invited to chair the symposium but declined.)

So it is odd indeed that Humanist Manifesto 2000--opening with the words: "Humanism is ... ethical"--would have been conceived, written, and circulated for signatures without the participation or even knowledge of most humanists, particularly the AHA or this magazine. I, myself, didn't see a draft copy until late August, just shortly before its September 1 release to the press. By then the whole matter was fait accompli.

But perhaps we should take a benign view of all this--knowing that the AHA and the Humanist will continue the work of drafting a third manifesto anyway--and simply regard the preamble of Humanist Manifesto 2000 not as a claim to the heritage of others but simply as an example of that academic exercise, common to doctoral dissertations, known as a "survey of the literature." Seen this way, however, the survey gets points off for being excessively limited and provincial, listing as it does only selected late-twentieth-century humanist statements of U.S. origin--a preponderance of which are claimed to be authored by the very drafter of this new document. Everything else ever done by humanist organizations around the world is simply ignored.

Furthermore, the preamble is incomplete in its citations of the documents it does name, failing to indicate exactly which organizations had published each (though such information does appear in the Free Inquiry version, at the very bottom of the last page of the document, following the signatures, in a small-print, unreferenced endnote). In this regard, the IAH cover letter sent this past June to sought-after signers, along with the confidential draft document, may have proved misleading. It referred to Humanist Manifesto II as "our previous Manifesto," as if it had been issued by the IAH instead of the AHA.

But let us turn to the main text. What do we find? Well, first, that its primary author appears to be an avid reader of the Humanist. For this document (much to the chagrin, I hear, of a number of Kurtz's supporters) advocates such progressive goals as stabilizing world population through the advance of universal reproductive rights, protecting the environment through sustainable policies in both the developed and underdeveloped worlds, reversing the current trend of more and more power concentrated in fewer and fewer corporate hands, and increasing the power of the World Court to enforce human rights.

So, despite my not signing when I was finally given the chance, I think Humanist Manifesto 2000 is gorged to repletion with an ungodly excess of good ideas. (And you can quote me out of context on that.) This is unfortunately marred by its painfully triumphalist tone--the very thing that was cautioned against in the September/October 1998 Humanist. And it runs far too long--so long, in fact, that it seems to live up to Norman Hall's sad prediction in our November/December 1998 issue that, at the present rate of manifesto growth, the document "would be over thirty pages long." (So maybe Kurtz wasn't reading the Humanist that closely after all.)

Clearly what we have in Humanist Manifesto 2000 isn't really a manifesto. Rather, it is a learned essay so impractically wordy it needs a table of contents. And the number of its sections reveals that it is actually seven separate documents in a series. These include: "A Universal Commitment to Humanity As a Whole," "A Planetary Bill of Rights and Responsibilities," and "A New Global Agenda." Each document, I believe, would have secured greater impact and a larger readership had each been issued separately at different times. As it is, the IAH's Humanist Manifesto 2000, too prolix for busy reporters to read, came and went as a brief back-page story in newspapers here and there--failing to live up to the front-page coverage (including the New York Times) achieved by the AHA's Humanist Manifesto II in 1973.

And perhaps that provides an accurate view of this new document's importance, despite its many prominent signers.

By contrast, a much higher profile is being enjoyed by an earlier document, called simply Manifesto 2000. This piece was drafted (not merely signed) by twenty-four Nobel Peace Prize laureates--including the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Coretta Scott King, Desmond Tutu, and Elie Wiesel--and issued this past March 4 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Advocating the transformation of the culture of war and violence into a culture of peace and nonviolence, this manifesto is a refreshingly short, nonreligious personal pledge that is free of triumphalism. And anyone anywhere in the world may sign it simply by logging on to the Manifesto 2000 website at www2.unesco.org/manifesto2000, selecting the desired translation, and keying in the appropriate minimal information. UNESCO's goal is to present 100 million signatures to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2000. You can do your part to make that goal a reality, thus joining the UN in recognizing the year 2000 as a new beginning toward the vision of world peace.

Fred Edwords is the executive director of the American Humanist Association and editor of the Humanist.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Edwords, Fred
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1999
Words:1075
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