Should Human Rights Be Rejected?

The Universal Declaration of Human RightsLast month’s Brussels Conference and the accompanying Brussels Declaration sparked a much-needed conversation about Human Rights versus Individual Liberties. Portions of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights are socialist/statist, and are thus in direct conflict with the United States Constitution and other instruments that champion individual liberty.

The guest-post below by Enza Ferreri is a follow-up to last week’s discussion about the conflicting definitions of “human rights”.

Should Human Rights Be Rejected?
by Enza Ferreri

In Europe in particular, “human rights” have become dirty words.

For that we have to thank supranational bodies like the European Court of Human Rights, that have given this concept a bad name through a never-ending proliferation of entitlements that often have very little to do with the concept’s original and true meaning.

Parts of the European counterjihad have also started systematically attacking the idea of human rights. And there were some who did not sign the Brussels Declaration at the conference of July 2012 because they had problems with its human rights strategy.

The phenomenon of so-called “judicial imperialism”, by which unelected judges through their verdicts supersede laws passed by elected representatives of the people, has long been recognized by many brilliant writers, from the British journalist Melanie Phillips to the Italian philosopher Marcello Pera, former President of the Italian Senate — the second highest office in the country — author of the book Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians, and incidentally the professor with whom I prepared my undergraduate thesis, who wrote:

It was not a law of the United States Congress that first liberalized abortion in America, but a ruling of the Supreme Court. The Italian parliament has never authorized euthanasia, but court rulings have. No public debate preceded a court decision in the Netherlands that euthanasia may be performed on twelve-year-old children. Not by parliamentary law was same-sex marriage first granted equal status to marriage between a man and a woman in some countries. Not by parliamentary vote has eugenics become a right. No parliamentary decisions allow for polygamy to be freely practiced, as often occurs, or for the recognition of transgender rights. Nor is it the will of the people that distinctions be made between terrorists and ‘resistance fighters’ who plot to carry out massacres, or that migrants be allowed to remain in a country they have entered illegally.

However, these authors do not think, and I agree with them, that we should throw away the human rights baby with the bathwater of its distortions.

To bring clarity to this discussion, we need to look at the philosophical basis and origin of “rights”. People sometimes scoff at philosophy, but they probably don’t realize that practically all major views that are held today, mainstream or not, have at one point been formulated by philosophers.

Without delving too much into a historical analysis, the contemporary idea of human rights derives from the concepts of rights, natural rights and God-given rights in ethics, established by the 16th- and 17th-century thinkers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, the 18th-century Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, and other philosophers, continuing a Christian tradition.

In politics, classical liberalism is the doctrine that has at its centre the theory of the fundamental rights of human beings, namely that all humans are naturally free and equal, and their basic freedoms exist before, are independent from, and incoercible by the state.

Human rights are individual rights, not group rights. Liberalism does not recognize the right of cultures to exist or to be protected, which is one of the dogmas of multiculturalism in open contradiction with the theory of human rights, showing once again how the latter has been distorted beyond recognition — even transformed into its opposite — by its current usage and applications. Cultures that violate individual rights should not be protected at all.

The criticism levelled against human rights, that they conflict with each other so someone, usually a judge, has to decide on their relative weights, describes a situation that is common to all legal or ethical principles, so is not a good reason to reject human rights. Even a summary knowledge of the law will show you that laws constantly contradict other laws, so a balancing act is always required.

The problem, highlighted by “anti-humanrightists”, of the infinite, ever-expanding number of new “rights”, often used to help Muslims in the West, illegal immigrants and jihadists, is real, but the target here is this proliferation, not human rights.

Bear with me while I bring in philosophy again. In logic, a concept has two dimensions: meaning and sense. The former is the class of objects to which the concept refers, the latter the information it conveys. There is an inverse proportion between the two: the larger the meaning the narrower the sense and vice versa. If you ask me what happened today and I answer “everything”, this reply’s descriptive power is almost nil because its meaning is so all-comprising.

The extension of the meaning of “right” has decreased its sense, to the point that today it just describes nothing more than a desire for something. In these times of public spending cuts I found even a “right to our library”.

In fact, many of the current “human rights” policies are violating real rights. The distinction between negative and positive rights is also crucial.

But I think that we cannot do without the principle of rights.

You can see why we need the concept of human rights when you think of free speech. Presumably all counterjihadists support free speech, but what does that mean if not the “right to” free speech? It’s impossible even to formulate the idea without a reference to rights or some very similar principle.

Anti-jihad people (in the comments section of the linked post) who say they only believe in democracy, narrowly defined as majority rule, and nationalism will find it impossible to derive the case for free speech from those two beliefs alone: if a nation’s majority decided to abolish free speech, they would have nothing to oppose this undesirable result.

It is no coincidence that we need the concept of rights, and it’s not just for semantic or political reasons. It goes deeper than that, to the foundations of our beliefs. It may be true that there have been great political movements without an ethical basis theoretically formulated, but I think that, in the same way as we need ethical guidance in our personal lives, so we do in our political actions.

Throughout this debate on human rights, I have encountered many references to “gut instincts” and similar, as bases for making political decisions. I believe that it’s dangerous to leave everything to that, for a simple motive. As individuals, we all have “instincts”, feelings, emotions which are entirely subjective and not shared by anyone else. What we have in common is reason, which is universal.

Once we do away with a rational ethical foundation, which the rights’ view provides, we can no longer be sure of what other people in the same movement really want, what are their motives behind what superficially may appear the same aspirations: different people may be for democracy for all the wrong reasons, for example, as the Muslim Brotherhood clearly shows.

There are other ethical theories, but the only real rival of the rights’ view is utilitarianism which, as I explained here, would be a worse substitute.

In conclusion, human rights should not be discarded but, far from it, returned to their original meaning. Their present use, deriving from a quasi-socialist interpretation of them, is in conflict with the liberal doctrines and the spirit from which they originated.

Enza Ferreri is an Italian-born Philosophy graduate and writer living in London. She blogs at

7 thoughts on “Should Human Rights Be Rejected?

  1. Enoch Powell, MP : What are human rights?

    “The arbitrary implications of undefinable rights are particularly evident where the right claimed is by its nature not capable of being satisfied by any degree of compulsion exercised within the relevant society. However vague may be the concept of ‘medical care adequate for health’, the right clearly cannot be realized if there are no doctors. However subjective the ‘standard of living adequate forhealth and wellbeing’, it obviously cannot be achieved if population is outstripping subsistence.Unless therefore the right asserted is tautologous and meaningless – unless ‘adequate’ means simply whatever is available in the given circumstances – its assertion is a threat not merely of arbitrary compulsion but of unlimited and inherently futile compulsion: it is a programme of nihilistic aggression.

    This is precisely the purpose with which it was framed by its authors in the United Nations. The society implicit in any statement of a right is not in the context of the United Nations, a national society. The society intended is international – the so-called community of nations, or world society.The compulsion to be exercised in the attempt to satisfy the claim of right is not purely or mainly internal to particular societies: it is compulsion to be exercised by some societies against other societies, coercion to be brought to bear upon an intemational scale. The statement ‘everyone has a right to medical care adequate to his health and well-being’ is, in the Universal Declaration, tantamount to the highwayman’s ‘stand and
    deliver’: if this right is not realizable within a society, it must be realized by compulsory redistribution and reorganization as between societies,and if it is still impracticable even by compulsion on an international scale, so much the worse for the international community! The implicit nihilism and aggression are global.”

  2. Human rights were formulated by and for Europeans, not people who need tyrants and thugs to rule over them like Muslims and other 3rd worlders because they lack even the most rudimentary form of self-control and respect for their fellow human.

  3. I would say that human rights, such as they are, represent the right to live with minimum of coercion. If you are being coercion to do something, you are, by definition, less than free.

    Obviously, we give up some of our freedom for the opportunity to live a civil society, but this coercion should still be kept to a minimum.

    I would state, very strongly, that there is no “human right” to anything some other person must be coerced to provide. That includes food, shelter, clothing, education and medical care.

  4. It´s actually quite simple: a right is what is not bestowed: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
    Phony rights (housing, a “decent” wage, library, health care depend on an external actor to provide for, and cannot be rights because they depend on someone else (usually the govt) being there and having the resources to provide for it.
    If someone else has to provide for it, it cannot be a right because it may not be there.

  5. To quote Wikipedia, “natural rights are rights not contingent upon laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable.”

    But if I look to nature, what do I see a continuing cycle of eat, secrete and reproduce, while trying not to be eaten by something bigger. So to believe that humans are endowed with certain inalienable rights logically demands that one must also believe that humans are somehow fundamentally different from all the rest of the animal kingdom.

    The answer to the question, “What are our natural rights?” has to start with the question, ”What is the point of being human; that is, what makes us different and an exception?” If one can’t answer these second questions, then there is no coherent answer to the first.

    These second questions are the reef that secularists and atheists will always founder upon. They reject the notion that there is a “bigger picture” but insist that they can still find reasons for the rights that they propose. But in reality they are just unconsciously taking their queue from the Judeo-Christian culture they grew up in and live in.

    This is why the notion of a Creator as the endower of rights is such an important requirement. We don’t have rights because G_d says so; we have rights because the existence of a G_d implies that there is reason and purpose for our existence to start with.

    The rights that we call inalienable are, then, precisely those that allow us as individuals to fulfill the reason and purpose for our being.

  6. Human rights
    – or, rather Sharia Rights

    “Mother-of-seven Manal Mahmoud moved into the upmarket Fulham address almost three years ago, but they have since been branded the ‘family from hell’.”

    ‘I deserve to live in a nice house and get benefits. I deserve this house because I am human. In this country, it is our right to live here. It is important for my kids to have space to play,’ she said

    Let’s see what the
    Cairo Declaration of 1990
    Human (Sharia) Rights says

    “ARTICLE 11a of the
    Cairo Declaration states:

    “Human beings are born free, and no one has the right to enslave, humiliate, oppress or exploit them, and there can be no subjugation but to God the Most-high.”

    – Check!

    “ARTICLE 12 :
    Every man shall have the right, within the framework of Shari’ah, to free movement and to select his place of residence whether inside or outside his country and if persecuted, is entitled to seek asylum in another country. The country of refuge shall ensure his protection until he reaches safety, unless asylum is motivated by an act which Shari’ah regards as a crime.”

    – Check!

    “ARTICLE 15 :
    a) Everyone shall have the right to own property acquired in a legitimate way, and shall be entitled to the rights of ownership, without prejudice to oneself, others or to society in general.”

    – Check!

    “ARTICLE 17 :
    c) The State shall ensure the right of the individual to a decent living which will enable him to meet all his requirements and those of his dependents, including food, clothing, housing, education, medical care and all other basic needs.”

    – Check!

    “ARTICLE 20 :
    It is not permitted without legitimate reason to arrest an individual, restrict his freedom, to exile or to punish him.”

    – Check!

    “ARTICLE 22 :
    a) Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari’ah.”

    – “Free speech”…for all, as long as you follow the Koran, and spread the word, dawa.

    Judging from the Cairo Declaration of 1990 Sharia Rights, it seems she is indeed right, and in her right to stay in that mansion.

    Something tells me that she, and many alike, are carefully instructed what phrases to use, to get their way. And this goes for any field, as how to exploit the Western world.

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