I became interested in human rights quite naturally in connection with my choice to become an American citizen. Since, as a boy in Hungary, I had been aware of numerous political events and took part in some, I later wanted to make sense of these for myself. Although it would be difficult to put a simple label on the type of community Hungary was back around 1950, I know that I wanted to leave it for political reasons and that I wanted to do so very much. I recall my being thrown out of class by a teacher of "constitutional government" for posing what to me seemed a natural question in relation to Marx's edict: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." I asked about two equally able persons who start with five dollars but one uses it to obtain wine, the other wood; the first ends up drunk, the second with a table he can trade for things he would like to have; would they have to share what "their" efforts produced? Can the builder justify keeping his earnings, or need he do so, and can the drinker justify sharing the other's earnings, and need he do so? This was the substance of my question -- I can recall it vividly -- and I was expelled from school, to be readmitted weeks later and assigned to a trade school with a nonacademic program.
I suppose questions such as that memorable one nagged at me on and off throughout the ensuing years, and I later decided that to answer them would require undertaking what turned out to be a philosophical and moral inquiry. The question I asked then sounds a bit different today but comes to the same thing: "Are there human rights each person has, and can we identify them?"
This book is my initial attempt to offer a systematic answer to the question. It is not as technical a work as I plan to write in the future, but it develops in straightforward terms the answer I have arrived at thus far. I have provided first of all an overview of the development of human rights theory as it came to maturity as a solution to some of the problems human beings face in life -- in this case, in their effort to organize their communities in accordance with principles of justice and morality. I have then proceeded to develop what I take to be a sound argument for human rights, although many tangents obviously could not be developed in full. (I have attempted, however, to indicate the directions the argument would take at those points which could not be pursued further in this work.) I have also . . .