The Rights Of Man
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Politics and Activism

The Rights Of Man

Where do our rights come from?

The Rights Of Man
United for Human Rights

From next week through August, I will be interning at a research institution in Grenoble, France. I figured that the eve of my first sojourn to the country of Rousseau would be a good time to do a little philosophical musing.

What are the rights of humankind? The Declaration of Independence labels a certain group of rights as “self-evident truths," yet they cannot be as obvious as our Founding Fathers decided they should be, else their “truths” would not have been incomplete, and it would not have taken millennia for humans to realize them.

These rights, then, which are codified in so many declarations and constitutions in sovereign nations and intergovernmental organizations alike, are not the most basic rights of the human being; there are others, less glorious, perhaps, but no less important and far more fundamental.

There are the rights granted to us by Nature, and then there are rights granted to us by Society; these are protected and exist only because we ourselves allow it.

The rights given by Nature are grounded in science, and the only necessary justification for these rights is that we exist. What are these rights? They are everything that we physically have evolved to be able to do. We have the rights to eat, to walk, to speak, to think; we have the rights to live and also to die.

These rights are not always secure. A jailer might prevent his prisoner from eating by withholding food. The prisoner still has the right and the ability to eat, given that the necessary organs are intact, yet another man has prevented him from exercising his rights. This, then would truly be deprivation of the basic rights of a human being.

All life has rights given by Nature; we alone, perhaps, as far as the limits of our knowledge of this earth and this vast universe allow us to perceive, have rights given by Society. These rights are the ones that have been touted, to varying degrees over the centuries, by Socrates and civil rights activists and everyone in between.

We — that is, we Americans — are fortunate in our ability to take these rights for granted (for the most part). They are our rights, and we recognize them as such, because centuries of rule of law have instilled the acceptance of these rights in our Society. If Society did not allow it — if, say, freedom of speech were not seen by all as a just measure — then these rights would not exist; they would not be perceived as rights at all, but rather, perhaps, paths to anarchy. In essence, the rights of Society are perhaps only rights because those who possess them have made it so.

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