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November 10, 2016 / Congau

Fictitious Rights

Why think there are universal human rights?

The universal human rights were invented by the UN in a document of 1948. Before that there were no universal rights.

A right can only exist within a concrete legal system and it doesn’t make sense to talk about natural rights that would be valid regardless of time and place. They have to come from somewhere. Someone must give them to us, perhaps as a free gift, but more likely as a pragmatic contract. The state can give certain rights to its citizens because it is considered a sensible way of organizing society, but it is meaningless outside of a social context.

Imagine that noble savage, the man of nature roaming around alone in the wilderness. One day he meets another man, a stranger with whom he has no connection. Could he really claim any right toward him?

A right presumes some form of previous agreement, a promise or a social convention. Those two savages have never been connected and therefore owe each other no rights. It would certainly be wrong for one of them to kill the other, but not because of some presumed right.

Morality needs no legalistic concept of right. All cruelty happening in the world is terrible in itself. Violence, murder and suffering are evils, but not because they infringe on someone’s rights. The concept of rights actually degrades our emotions. When someone is suffering it should disturb us because we feel compassion, not because we have some cold notion about judicial rights.

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