I agree with Natalie Nougayrède’s point that “universalism is not a dirty word” (Hong Kong’s struggles are ours too, Journal, 19 June), but I don’t think it is “beautiful” either.
As I understand it, it entails a challenge to all of us to assume responsibility for our condition. This cannot be achieved by affirming values as universal because they belong to our particular vocabulary (“basic human aspirations”, “fundamental rights and freedom”, “essential, individual rights”, etc). It can only be achieved by grappling with the different realities of those who think and feel not as we do.
I don’t believe that this challenge is adequately met by arguing that there is no difference between Putin’s Russia or Orbán’s Hungary and China. Neither Russia nor Hungary has anything in its national background to compare with the millennia of historical time during which China has been governed with a wisdom, pragmatism and commitment to compromise, neither nationalistic nor colonialising, which was quite un-European.