Podcast: Peter Berkowitz on Unalienable Rights, the American Tradition, and Foreign Policy

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Just over a year ago, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo created the new Commission on Unalienable Rights, tasked with “provid[ing] the Secretary of State advice and recommendations concerning international human rights matters” as well as “fresh thinking about human rights discourse where such discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.” The formation of this commission signaled that Secretary Pompeo views America’s pursuit of human rights at home and abroad as properly rooted the deepest sources of American political philosophy and history.


In a draft report issued earlier this month, the commission seeks to answer this question and much more. The Commission on Unalienable Rights has been—perhaps peculiarly—controversial from the beginning. Critics accuse it of too myopic a focus on religious liberty and too little focus on sexual and so-called reproductive freedom. But in this podcast, we sit  down with Dr. Peter Berkowitz, director of policy planning at the State Department and the executive secretary of the commission, to hear first-hand the thinking behind the commission’s report and the conclusions it presents.

There probably aren’t many interviews out there with State Department officials in which the topics of discussion include the first chapter of Genesis, Plato’s Republic, and the philosophy of John Locke. This is a conversation you don’t want to miss.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

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