The Latest Secularist Best-Seller Attacks Not Just Religion, but Human Rights and Human Equality

June 25, 2020 | Mark Leib
About the author:

Published in Hebrew in 2011, and in English three years later, Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens—which attempts to tell the history of mankind in a mere 400 pages—has earned numerous plaudits, and gotten its once-obscure author invited to Davos and to meetings with Mark Zuckerberg, and even a television deal. To Mark Leib, many of the book’s arguments are indeed “eloquent and informative,” even “ingenious.” But few reviewers seem to have noticed its assault—made quite explicitly—on the values of the Declaration of Independence:

Throughout the book, Harari propagates a philosophy that is nihilistic to the core, disparaging every major religion, every claim of human rights, even the existence of meaningful altruism. The philosophy of Sapiens is so contemptuous of Western values that the reader is left with a stark choice: to be shocked or seduced. Which makes Harari’s adoption by readers in the millions worrisome.

[I]f, as Harari believes, . . . there’s no Higher Being to choose between Thomas Jefferson and Hammurabi, we have to admit that human rights are up for grabs, like fashion, cuisine, and television miniseries. The laws that protect individuals from false arrest, torture, and political murder are just someone’s fallible opinion.

Perhaps the response to Harari’s book is a kind of bellwether. Maybe the doubt, the disbelief, the void is more widespread than anyone dared think. With 12 million copies sold and the author lionized, what’s a reviewer who believes in the Torah and who reveres the Declaration of Independence to feel? In a word: grief.

Harari, born and raised in the Holy Land of Israel, thinks that God and God-given rights are a fiction. It’s true that his positions aren’t shared everywhere and that belief in divinely given rights can claim a certain momentum after three-and-a-half millennia. But as the familiar metaphor reminds us, cut flowers can retain their vigor for only so long. Sooner or later, a generation that has lost all faith in the God of the Torah will think that human rights are just one arguable opinion among others. And if that occurs, there’s no end to the possible damage.

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