Inherent Human Rights: Philosophical Roots of the Universal Declaration

Inherent Human Rights: Philosophical Roots of the Universal Declaration

Inherent Human Rights: Philosophical Roots of the Universal Declaration

Inherent Human Rights: Philosophical Roots of the Universal Declaration

Synopsis

Philosopher and political theorist Johannes Morsink offers his interpretation inherent human rights in relation to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948.

Excerpt

During the sixty years since its adoption by the Third UN General Assembly in December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become a remarkable success story. When one buys the document in bulk from the UN it costs only seventy-five cents, measures four by five inches, and can be readily put in one’s hip pocket or purse. Yet within this little blue and white booklet one finds articulated the moral lingua franca of our age. This booklet has been the inspirational source for millions of persecuted and oppressed individuals around the world. It has been translated into even more languages than has the Bible. It became the platform for thousands of domestic and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and served as a model for the bills of rights in the constitutions of dozens of countries that have been liberated from colonial yokes and crumbling empires. It is the ultimate source of almost any human rights reference that my reader may run across in the media, and it lies at the heart of most accusations that some government or other has grossly abused the human rights of its own or other peoples. For all these reasons it makes sense for us to scrutinize the Declaration and to lay bare and explain the philosophical roots of the rights it proclaims.

Most great movements of history have had their texts to carry around with them. For religious movements, it may be a version of the Bible, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, or another sacred text. Believers can be seen reading and getting in touch with their source of inspiration while standing in line or sitting on a bench. For those not religiously inclined, the text could be Confucius’s Analects, Marx’s Communist Manifesto, or Mao’s Little Red Book. To understand any of these religious or secular movements and engage in dialogue with their members, others would do well to follow their example and study these inspirational texts. They are canonical and serve as catechisms for their members, who study them to learn the basics of their religious or secular faith. If we wish to succeed . . .

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