In graduate thesis, John Brennan argued for government censorship: ‘Too much freedom is possible’

Charles C. Johnson | Contributor

In his 1980 graduate thesis at the University of Texas at Austin, John Brennan denied the existence of “absolute human rights” and argued in favor of censorship on the part of the Egyptian dictatorship.

“Since the press can play such an influential role in determining the perceptions of the masses, I am in favor of some degree of government censorship,” Brennan wrote. “Inflamatory [sic] articles can provoke mass opposition and possible violence, especially in developing political systems.”

Brennan serves as President Barack Obama’s national security advisor. Obama has nominated him to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. (RELATED: Obama nominates Hagel as Defense secretary, Brennan as CIA chief)

The thesis, “Human Rights: A Case Study of Egypt,” was a requirement for Brennan’s Master of Arts degree in government with a Middle Eastern studies concentration. It grew out of his time studying at the American University in Cairo.

Brennan did not respond to emailed requests for comment from The Daily Caller.

Read the thesis:

Central to Brennan’s presentation was a relativist view of human rights, which he said include “security, welfare, liberty, and justice.”

“These four rights reflect not only my own moral concept of human rights [but] also my interpretation of the Western human rights perspective,” Brennan wrote in his introduction.

“I don’t feel that the possible forfeiture of rights under certain circumstances precludes their inalienability.”

Brennan ultimately concluded that human rights do not exist because they cannot be “classified as universal.”

“The United States should be expected to pass a more strict human rights test [than Egypt] because its environment is more conducive to the realization of those rights,” Brennan concluded. “An economic comparison between Egypt and one of its wealthy Arab neighbors such as Saudi Arabia or Kuwait would be equally unfair due to the wealth of those countries.”

“[T]he stage of economic development and political development have a direct impact on human rights,” he wrote. “The former enables a political system to offer its citizens welfare (e.g. health services) and security (e.g. military defense).”

Paradoxically, Brennan also claimed Egyptian rulers’ repressive regimes were part of that nation’s move toward democracy.

“[I]f democracy is a process rather than a state, the democratic process may involve, at some point, the violation of personal liberties and procedural justice,” he wrote. “[Anwar] Sadat’s undemocratic methods, therefore, may aim at the ultimate preservation of democracy rather than its demise.”

Brennan justified Sadat’s use of emergency powers to crack down on protests from communists because Egyptian citizens’ “exercis[e] of democratic rights would have an adverse affect on stability and even on democracy itself. This implies that too much freedom is possible and in the end, even detrimental to the cause of democracy.”

“[W]ould the ability to demonstrate effectively increase human rights and democracy in Egypt?” Brennan asked rhetorically. “In the light of the political environment, probably not. At the present stage of political development in Egypt widespread open opposition to the administration would be beyond the capacity of the system to handle.”

Brennan conceded that his explanation of why it is sometimes acceptable to abuse human rights “can provide a convenient excuse for any authoritarian leader in any country of the world.”

“Can human rights violations in the Soviet Union be as easily justified in terms of the preservation of the communist ideology? Unfortunately (looking at events from a democratic perspective), yes. Since the absolute status of human rights has been denied, the justification for the violation of any of those rights has to be pursued from a particular ideological perspective. Leonid Brezhnev could justify human rights violations in the Soviet Union as a necessary part of the preservation of the communist ideological system.”

“Can the human rights violations in Egypt be justified from a democratic perspective?” Brennan asked. “There can be no objective answer to this question because it depends on what one considers to be a threat to democracy in Egypt. Whether or not public demonstrations in Egypt actually threaten the existence of democracy in Egypt is uncertain.”

“The fact that absolute human rights do not exist (with the probable exception of freedom from torture) makes the [human rights] analysis subject to innumerable conditional criticisms,” he wrote. “The exact definition of human rights and possible justifications for violations is determined by a particular perspective. A change in perspective causes a drastic change in the analysis.”

“Human rights, therefore, does [sic] not take precedence over all other political goals,” Brennan concluded. “Since absolute rights do not exist, any attempt by a nation to apply a human rights test to another nation (e. g. Carter administration human rights policy) is extremely difficult. Such a policy would be full of inconsistencies and therefore its implementation would be onerous.”

Brennan also praised the Egyptian government’s promised involvement in health care. “Government intervention in health care, especially in developing nations, benefits both the citizens as well as the government. The citizen that is benefitted by the health services that are provided by the government is more likely to feel a greater degree of allegiance to the government than had the service not been provided.”

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