categoryHuman Rights

Human Rights

Kim R. Holmes on Manufacturing Human Rights


Yet this principle of inalienable natural rights — fundamental rights that government neither creates nor can take away — isn’t the same as the thoroughly modern idea of “human rights.” ¶ Although both are universal, natural rights most emphatically do not come from government. Government only secures these rights, that is, creates the political conditions that allow one to exercise them. Human rights, as popularly understood, are bestowed by the state or governing body. In addition, natural rights, being natural, do not change over time. All men, at all times, have had the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Human rights, on the other hand, constantly change. A whole cottage industry has sprung up to advance a bevy of new “economic and social rights” conceived of, defined by, and promoted by activists, governments, and international bureaucrats. ¶ Many Americans are unaware that these manufactured rights are not the same as the natural rights endowed by God or nature. What are often called “human rights” today are social constructs. They either sound like high-minded aspirations — equal rights for women and minorities — or like trivial and harmless concepts such as the “right to leisure.” ¶ These concepts are in fact neither high-minded nor harmless: they are fundamentally incompatible with the Founders’ understanding of natural rights.

Scott Sauls on the Core Issue in Abortion


I believe that the core issue in the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate is whose rights matter most. Is it the rights of the mother or the rights of the infant in her womb? I believe that the answer is yes. … Pro-life advocates allege that pro-choice is not an accurate term, because only one person in the equation gets to choose the destiny of all people in the equation, namely the mother. She has one hundred percent of the decision making power and the infant inside of her has no decision making power, no voice, and no ability to defend her/himself. The idea that a woman should have jurisdiction over her own body also breaks down, because roughly fifty percent of infants in utero are female who have no choice over what happens to their bodies. ¶ Pro-choice advocates allege that pro-life is not an accurate term. This is precisely the concern that an abortion provider voiced to me just one week ago. He said, “As I see it, the so-called pro-life position only applies to one kind of life. After the infant is born, pro-life people tend to disappear from the picture.” He went on to say that over sixty percent of women who come in for an abortion are alone and live below the poverty line. Rarely has this doctor seen or heard a “pro-life” person express any concern whatsoever for her life. … If we don’t show deep concern for both mother and child, … then our religion is lopsided. Until we become both/and on this issue, our religion is not true.

Victor Hugo on Deep Waters, Dark Shadows, and the Hiddenness of God

Go Night falls; he has been swimming for hours, his strength almost gone; the ship, a distant far-off thing, where there were men, is gone; he is alone in the terrible gloom of the abyss; he sinks, he strains, he struggles, feels beneath himself invisible shadowy monsters; he screams. ¶ Men are gone. Where is God? ¶ He screams. Help! Someone! Help! He screams over and over. ¶ Nothing on the horizon. Nothing in the sky. ¶ He implores the lofty sky, the endless waves, the reefs; all are deaf. He begs the storms; but impassive, they obey only the infinite. ¶ Around him, darkness, storm, solitude, wild, unconscious tumult, the ceaseless churning of fierce waters. Within him, horror and exhaustion. Beneath him the devouring abyss. No resting place. He thinks of the shadowy adventures of his limp body in the limitless gloom. The biting cold paralyzes him. His hands cramp shut and grasp at ... nothing.

The Idea of Human Rights


The international doctrine of human rights is one of the most ambitious parts of the settlement of World War II. Since then, the language of human rights has become the common language of social criticism in global political life. This book is a theoretical examination of the central idea of that language, the idea of a human right. In contrast to more conventional philosophical studies, the author takes a practical approach, looking at the history and political practice of human rights for guidance in understanding the central idea. The author presents a model of human rights as matters of international concern whose violation by governments can justify international protective and restorative action ranging from intervention to assistance. He proposes a schema for justifying human rights and applies it to several controversial cases—rights against poverty, rights to democracy, and the human rights of women. Throughout, the book attends to some main reasons why people are skeptical about human rights, including the fear that human rights will be used by strong powers to advance their national interests. The book concludes by observing that contemporary human rights practice is vulnerable to several pathologies and argues the need for international collaboration to avoid them. ~ Product Description

Michael Lind on the Roots of Natural Rights


In reality, neither Jewish nor Christian traditions know anything of the ideas of natural rights and social contract found in Hobbes, Gassendi and Locke. That’s because those ideas were inspired by themes found in non-Christian Greek and Roman philosophy. Ideas of the social contract were anticipated in the fourth and fifth centuries BC by the sophists Glaucon and Lycophron, according to Plato and Aristotle, and by Epicurus, who banished divine activity from a universe explained by natural forces and taught that justice is an agreement among people neither to harm nor be harmed. The idea that all human beings are equal by nature also comes from the Greek sophists and was planted by the Roman jurist Ulpian in Roman law: “quod ad ius natural attinet, omnes hominess aequales sunt” — according to the law of nature, all human beings are equal. ¶ Desperate to obscure the actual intellectual roots of the Declaration of Independence in Greek philosophy and Roman law, Christian apologists have sought to identify the “Creator” who endows everyone with unalienable rights with the revealed, personal God of Moses and Jesus. But a few sentences earlier, the Declaration refers to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Adherents of natural rights liberalism often have dropped “Nature’s God” and relied solely on “Nature” as the source of natural rights.

Os Guinness on Tolerance Versus Free Exercise


Toleration was certainly the term of choice in matters of religious liberty before American independence. It had been made popular by writings such as John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration and copied into the first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776 by George Mason. Young James Madison objected, however, and when he succeeded in changing the word tolerance to the words free exercise, he advanced the cause of religious liberty by light-years. Tolerance is too condescending and uncertain. It is the gesture of the strong toward the weak, the government toward the citizenry, and the majority toward the minority. Free exercise, by contrast, is inalienable because it is the inalienable right of everyone, the minority no less than the majority, the weak as well as the poor, and the citizens just as much as the government.

Os Guinness on Mutuality and Reciprocity


The principle of religious liberty for all rests on and requires an essential mutuality, or reciprocity, of rights, responsibilities, and respect — the “three Rs” of religious liberty. Thus a right for one person is a right for another person and a responsibility for both. A right for a Christian is a right for a Jew, and right for an atheist, and a right for a Muslim, and a right for a Buddhist, and a right for the adherent of every possible faith or nonfaith within the wide span of the fifty states, either today or in some future as yet unseen. In principle, there is no right for anyone that is not thereby a right for everyone.



AAppiah, a Princeton philosophy professor, articulates a precise yet flexible ethical manifesto for a world characterized by heretofore unthinkable interconnection but riven by escalating fractiousness. Drawing on his Ghanaian roots and on examples from philosophy and literature, he attempts to steer a course between the extremes of liberal universalism, with its tendency to impose our values on others, and cultural relativism, with its implicit conviction that gulfs in understanding cannot be bridged. Cosmopolitanism, in Appiah’s formulation, balances our “obligations to others” with the "value not just of human life but of particular human lives" — what he calls “universality plus difference.” Appiah remains skeptical of simple maxims for ethical behavior — like the Golden Rule, whose failings as a moral precept he swiftly demonstrates — and argues that cosmopolitanism is the name not "of the solution but of the challenge." ~ The New Yorker

Donald W. Shriver, Jr. on What Trials Cannot Do


Court trials cannot: prosecute the dead, secure direct testimony from the dead, or repair damages done to the lives of the dead; truly match punishments to crimes when the crime consists of the murder of many victims; put institutions and systems on trial; within usual rules against self-incrimination and torture, compel perpetrators to confess; summon classes of offenders newly tagged as such without engaging in the ambiguities of ex post facto prosecution — an ambiguity abolishable by legislative grants of general impunity; avoid, in most societies, the skewing influence of money and power on the effectiveness of prosecution and defence; always implement distinction between retribution and vengeance, especially in response to public demand for the latter; guarantee ‘closure’ or satisfaction among victims that justice has been done once a perpetrator has been punished, a problem further exacerbated by the traditional western judicial system which largely keeps victims on the margins of the whole process; always avoid adversarial abuse of plaintiffs, defendants, and witnesses; avoid scapegoating, especially in trials of leaders who required large constituencies for carrying out their crimes; or escape from the danger, inherent in the adversarial trial system, that the courtroom will become a playing field in which the most skilled, rather than the most truthful, side will win.

Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice


In the third edition of his classic work, revised extensively and updated to include recent developments on the international scene, Jack Donnelly explains and defends a richly interdisciplinary account of human rights as universal rights. He shows that any conception of human rights—and the idea of human rights itself—is historically specific and contingent. Since publication of the first edition in 1989, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice has justified Donnelly’s claim that “conceptual clarity, the fruit of sound theory, can facilitate action. At the very least it can help to unmask the arguments of dictators and their allies.”

A Non-Theist’s Case Against Abortion


The Secular Web is currently hosting the Carrier-Roth Debate in which Jennifer Roth argues that an ethical case can be made against abortion without reference to God or any other supernatural entity. It is telling that neither disputant attempts to justify the intrinsic worth they assume for human persons. If each party just grants that humans are inherently more valuable than rocks and trees, the crucial issue has been missed: the question of what it is that makes anything valuable. William Lane Craig presses this very issue in a new article in Paper Trails, “The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality.” There is also philosophical confusion in the debate about what constitutes personal identity and other problems, but there are also many highlights in this exchange. Whether or not Roth is successful, it is refreshing to hear concerns about abortion outside of the religious community. Apart from condemnations of clinic violence, ethical considerations are conspicuously absent from virtually every pro-choice website, from Planned Parenthood to Protect Choice. Teenwire is about as close as you get with its swift dismissal: “Abortion is a touchy subject with a lot of people. Remember that this is your body and your decision… You have a right to end an unwanted pregnancy if you feel that it is the wisest decision for you.” Considering this, The Secular Web’s substantive discussion is especially commendable.

The Abortion Controversy


The Abortion Controversy (second edition) is a superb anthology in which all the major viewpoints on abortion are well represented. Highlights include Michael Tooley’s latest formulation of his argument against foetal personhood, Judith Jarvis Thomson’s classic “A Defense of Abortion”, David Boonin-Vail’s brilliant 1997 defense of what he calls the “Responsibility Objection” to Thomson’s argument, and Keith Pavlischek’s interesting 1998 critique of Thomson and Boonin-Vail. Pavlischek essentially admits that Boonin-Vail’s arguments succeed, but points out (correctly, I think) that those arguments entail that if a woman becomes pregnant to a man who wishes to play no part in the child’s life, then that man, the father, is not morally obliged to pay child-support to the mother. Pavlischek thinks that many pro-choicers would find this implication unacceptable. I would add that on the other hand, many pro-choicers would regard this implication as perfectly just, so that Boonin-Vail’s defense of Thomson is (for them at least) ultima facie sound. These are just some of the interesting issues covered in the book; there are many more. Since no other anthology is as wide-ranging, up-to-date and authoritative as this one, “The Abortion Controversy” is essential reading for anyone who is interested in the philosophical debate over abortion. ~ Dean Stretton at

King Arthur on Objective Moral Laws


You know the law we live by. And where is it written beyond Camelot live lesser people, people too weak to protect themselves, let them die? Malagant: Other people live by other laws, Arthur. Or is the law of Camelot to rule the entire world. King Arthur: There are laws that enslave men, and laws that set them free. Either what we hold to be right and good and true is right and good and true for all mankind, under God, or we’re just another robber tribe. Malagant: Your words are talking you out of peace and into war. King Arthur: There’s a peace you only find after war. If that battle must come. I will fight it!

Michael Tooley on Infanticide


One reason the question of the morality of infantacide is worth examining is that it seems very difficult to formulate a completely satisfactory liberal position on abortion without coming to grips with the infanticide issue. The problem the liberal encounters is essentially that of specifying a cutoff point which is not arbitrary: at what stage in the development of a human being does it cease to be morally permissible to destroy it? It is important to be clear about the difficulty here. The conservative’s objection is not that since there is a continuous line of development from a zygote to a newborn baby, one must also conclude that if it is seriously wrong to destory a newborn baby it is also seriously wrong to destory a zygote or any intermediate stage in the develpment of a human being. His point is rather that if one says it is wrong to destroy a newborn baby but not a zygote or some intermediate stage in the develpment of a human being, one should be prepared to point to a morally relevant diffference between a newborn baby and the earlier stage in the development of a human being.


Go English ethicist Jonathan Glover begins with the now commonplace observation that the last 100 years were perhaps the most brutal in all history. But the problem wasn't that human nature suddenly took a sharp turn for the worse: "It is a myth that barbarism is unique to the twentieth century: the whole of human history includes wars, massacres, and every kind of torture and cruelty," he writes. Technology has made a huge difference, but psychology has remained the same — and this is what Glover seeks to examine, through discussions of Nietzsche, the My Lai atrocity in Vietnam, Hiroshima, tribal genocide in Rwanda, Stalinism, Nazism, and so on. There is much history here, but Humanity is fundamentally a book of philosophy. In his first chapter, for instance, Glover announces his goal "to replace the thin, mechanical psychology of the Enlightenment with something more complex, something closer to reality." But he also seeks "to defend the Enlightenment hope of a world that is more peaceful and more humane, the hope that by understanding more about ourselves we can do something to create a world with less misery." The result is an odd combination of darkness and light — darkness because the subject matter of the 20th century's moral failings is so bleak, light because of Glover's earnest optimism, which insists that "keeping the past alive may help to prevent atrocities".

The Genesis of Justice

Go Dershowitz turns to 10 stories from Genesis to demonstrate how the Bible provides a basis for contemporary ideas about justice and injustice. The narratives deal with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Abraham, Lot, Jacob, Dina, Tamar and Joseph. Dershowitz includes a translation of each story, recounts some theological commentaries and offers his own interpretations. He acknowledges the failings of the biblical characters, pointing out that they were guilty of deception, lust, crime, incest, revenge and murder. Their problematic actions highlighted the need for the laws that appear later in the Torah, starting with Exodus and the Ten Commandments. The book concludes with four chapters on "The Genesis of Justice in the Injustice of Genesis." Dershowitz argues that the "bad actions" depicted in Genesis gave rise to the "common law of justice." He addresses the question of theodicy, claiming that the belief in the hereafter solves the problem of why evil exists on earth. Finally, he asserts that the stories he has examined explain the need for judicial codes. The book makes an important contribution by clearly validating this claim, although Dershowitz disregards the stories' significance as a basis for moral and ethical development. ~ Publishers Weekly

The Human Rights Reader


The Second Edition of The Human Rights Reader presents a dramatically revised organization and updated selections, including pieces on globalization and the war on terrorism. Each part of the Reader corresponds to five historical phases in the history of human rights and explores for each the arguments, debates, and issues of inclusiveness central to those eras. The volume remains the most comprehensive and up-to-date collection of essays, speeches, and documents from historical and contemporary sources, all of which are now placed in context with Micheline Ishay’s substantial introduction to the reader as a whole and valuable introductions to each part and chapter. ~ Product Description

Disposable People

Go Slavery is illegal throughout the world, yet more than twenty-seven million people are still trapped in one of history's oldest social institutions. Kevin Bales's heart-wrenching story of slavery today reaches from brick kilns in Pakistan and brothels in Thailand to the offices of multinational corporations. His investigation of conditions in Mauritania, Brazil, Thailand, Pakistan, and India reveals the tragic emergence of a "new slavery," one intricately linked to the global economy. The new slaves are not a long-term investment as was true with older forms of slavery, explains Bales. Instead, they are cheap, require little care, and are disposable. Bales offers suggestions for combating the new slavery and provides examples of very positive results from organizations such as Anti-Slavery International, the Pastoral Land Commission in Brazil, and the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan.

Good News About Injustice

Go International news accounts describe mind-blowing horrors of child prostitution, state-sponsored religious persecution, racial violence, torture and genocide. What can we possibly do in response? Can ordinary Christians make a difference? And where is the God of justice? The good news about injustice is that God is against it. Gary Haugen explains that God is in the business of using the unlikely to accomplish justice and mercy. This book offers stories of courageous Christians who have stood up for justice and also calls the body of Christ to action. Haugen provides concrete guidance on how Christians can rise up to seek justice throughout the world.

US Commission on International Human Rights


Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

The Hippocratic Oath and Declaration of Geneva


I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius the surgeon, likewise Hygeia and Panacea, and call all the gods and goddesses to witness, that I will observe and keep this underwritten oath, to the utmost of my power and judgment.

I will reverence my master who taught me the art. Equally with my parents, will I allow him things necessary for his support, and will consider his sons as brothers. I will teach them my art without reward or agreement; and I will impart all my acquirement, instructions, and whatever I know, to my master’s children, as to my own; and likewise to all my pupils, who shall bind and tie themselves by a professional oath, but to none else.

Nor shall any man’s entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so. Moreover, I will get no sort of medicine to any pregnant woman, with a view to destroy the child.

Further, I will comport myself and use my knowledge in a godly manner.

I will not cut for the stone, but will commit that affair entirely to the surgeons.

Whatsoever house I may enter, my visit shall be for the convenience and advantage of the patient; and I will willingly refrain from doing any injury or wrong from falsehood, and (in an especial manner) from acts of an amorous nature, whatever may be the rank of those who it may be my duty to cure, whether mistress or servant, bond or free.

Whatever, in the course of my practice, I may see or hear (even when not invited), whatever I may happen to obtain knowledge of, if it be not proper to repeat it, I will keep sacred and secret within my own breast.

If I faithfully observe this oath, may I thrive and prosper in my fortune and profession, and live in the estimation of posterity; or on breach thereof, may the reverse be my fate!

Edmund Burke on Whether Democracy is a Natural Right


Whilst they are possessed by these notions, it is vain to talk to them of the practice of their ancestors, the fundamental laws of their country, the fixed form of a constitution, whose merits are confirmed by the solid test of long experience, and an increasing public strength and national prosperity. They despise experience as the wisdom of unlettered men; and as for the rest, they have wrought underground a mine that will blow up at one grand explosion all examples of antiquity, all precedents, charters, and acts of parliament. They have “the rights of men”. Against these there can be no prescription; against these no agreement is binding: these admit no temperament, and no compromise: any thing withheld from their full demand is so much of fraud and injustice. Against these their rights of men let no government look for security in the length of its continuance, or in the justice and lenity of its administration. The objections of these speculatists, if its forms do not quadrate with their theories, Are as valid against such an old and beneficent government as against the most violent tyranny, or the greenest usurpation. They are always at issue with governments, not on a question of abuse, but a question of competency, and a question of title. I have nothing to say to the clumsy subtilty of their political metaphysics. Let them be their amusement in the schools. — “Ilia se jactet in aula — Æolus, et “clauso ventorum carcere regnet.” — But let them not break prison to burst like a Levanter, to sweep the earth with their hurricane, and to break up the fountains of the great deep to overwhelm us. ¶ Far am I from denying in theory; full as far is my heart from withholding in practice (if I were of power to give or to withhold) the real rights of men. In denying their false claims of right, I do not mean to injure those which are real, and are such as their pretended rights would totally destroy. If civil society be made; for the advantage of man, all the advantages for which it is made become his right. It is an institution of beneficence; and law itself is only beneficence acting by a rule. Men have a right to live by that rule; they have a right to justice; as between their fellows, whether their fellows are in politic function or in ordinary occupation. They have a right to the fruits of their industry; and to the means of making, their industry fruitful. They have a right to the acquisitions of their parents; to the nourishment and improvement of their offspring; to instruction in life, and to consolation in death. Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself; and he has a right to a fair portion of all which society, with all its combinations of skill, and force, can do in his favour. But as to the share of power, authority, and direction which, each individual ought to have in the management of the state, that I must deny to be amongst the direct original rights of man in civil society; for I have in my contemplation the civil social man, and no other.

Edmund Burke on Government and Natural Rights


One of the first motives to civil society, and which becomes one of its fundamental rules, is, that no man should be judge in his own cause. By this each person has at once divested himself of the first fundamental right of uncovenanted man, that is, to judge for himself, and to assert his own cause. He abdicates all right to be his own governor. He inclusively, in a great measure, abandons the right of self-defence, the first law of nature. Men cannot enjoy the rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together. That he may obtain justice he gives up his right of determining what it is in points the most essential to him. That he may secure some liberty, he makes a surrender in trust of the whole of it.

The Deleted Condemnation of Slavery in The Declaration of Independence


He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.  This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain.  Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce.  And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.