Professor William Alford ’77 traveled to Dublin, Ireland in December to deliver two lectures concerning China, U.S., and Europe.
His first lecture, entitled “Who Speaks for Whom? China, Disability and Rights” was the inaugural address in an annual series the Irish Human Rights Commission has launched to mark International Human Rights Day. Alford, vice dean for international legal studies and an internationally recognized advocate for disability rights, used a recent case involving the forced sterilization of two orphaned teenage girls with intellectual disabilities to illustrate both how dramatically rights consciousness has grown in China and yet how constrained institutional channels for its expression remain. The talk, held at the National Gallery, drew a large and enthusiastic audience.
The next day, Alford spoke at the Royal Irish Academy as part of its international affairs series. His speech, entitled “China and America – More Alike than Either Might Imagine,” provocatively suggested that for all their considerable political, cultural and other differences, the US and China share a number of characteristics. These include a large and growing gap between rich and poor (especially relative to most other major nations) and an inadequate social welfare safety net (especially with respect to medical care). In addition to being problematic in themselves, these shared traits, he contended, are fostering wariness in each nation about the other, particularly with regard to trade and other economic interdependence.
Taking advantage of his presence in Ireland, Alford suggested that the two countries study the successes — and shortcomings — of the European social welfare state. As the likely superpowers of the early 21st century, Alford concluded, it will be imperative that both the US and China do their utmost to foster equitable societies protective of the dignity of all.
Former Prime Minister Garrett Fitzgerald served as the commentator for Alford’s talk, and Professor Gerard Quinn S.J.D. ’89 as his host.
Alford also met with officials of the Irish Foreign Affairs Department and was a guest on the Pat Kenny Show, a leading public affairs radio program.