On December 10th the United Nations celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a five-page, 30-article document specifying everyone’s alleged rights. Rather than celebrate it, we should condemn it as a destroyer of rights and a charter of tyranny.
The concept of rights is older than the United Nations but relatively new in human history — a predominantly savage and bloody history of war, murder, slavery, rape and looting committed by humans against humans. Such is “life” when people regard each other as sacrificial fodder for their needs, desires or superstitions.
Throughout history, governments formed to protect people from domestic criminals and foreign invaders, but people also needed protection from their own government. The greatest crimes in history were committed by governments against their own people, specifically governments that were above the law. In the 20th century alone, scores of millions were slaughtered by communist and fascist (both collectivist) governments which regarded their citizens as means to their ends.
The 18th century concept of individual rights is founded on the opposite and revolutionary idea — that each individual is an end in himself, with his (or her) life and happiness as the moral purpose. That’s what the United States’ founding fathers meant by the individual’s right to “life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.” These rights, being “unalienable,” cannot be abrogated by government decree or majority vote.
Because these rights apply to each individual, nobody’s rights can negate anyone else’s. Individual rights are not entitlements to food, shelter, health care, money, love, sex, etc., forcibly extracted from others. They are freedoms of action that a rational being requires to choose and achieve the values that his life and happiness require, actions such as creative thought, productive work, voluntary association and free trade. Only such freedoms can yield peaceful coexistence and prosperity.
Individual rights are precisely what the UN’s declaration is designed to destroy. No, it doesn’t openly attack individual rights; that would be rejected outright by freer countries. It destroys rights by internal corruption — by perverting the meaning of rights into its exact opposite.
The declaration first covers what appear to be legitimate rights, such as “the right to life, liberty and security of person,” “the right to own property,” and freedom of “thought” and “opinion.” (The right to pursue happiness is absent, for reasons that will soon become obvious.) It then introduces a series of “economic rights,” such as a person’s “right” to work, paid holidays, protection against unemployment, social security, free education, and a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care .
If people are entitled to these, who will be forced to provide them? Whose property will be seized to pay for them?
Such “economic rights” obviously contradict the right to liberty and property. There can be no such thing as a right to violate the rights of others. “Economic rights” merely hand government the power to violate individual rights, thereby rendering the individual a slave to the needs and desires of others. They effectively make communism the social ideal. (This is made explicit in Article 29, which states: “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.”)
A tyrannical country such as China or North Korea can claim that it upholds “economic rights,” and thereby derive moral sanction. Meanwhile, the United States — the freest and most prosperous country on earth — becomes the moral villain for not sufficiently protecting “economic rights,” i.e., for not sufficiently sacrificing those individuals who are ambitious, creative and productive to those who are not.
When rights get perverted, so does justice — and vice versa.
In 1920, Germany’s National Socialist (Nazi) party adopted “economic rights” in its platform. And Stalin entrenched them into the Soviet Union’s constitution. Doing so establishes the principle that the individual’s life belongs to the collective, which, in essence, hands the government the power and the moral sanction to do whatever it wants with that life.
The declaration deserves moral condemnation and rejection. The only human rights are individual rights — which have made possible the freedom and prosperity that we currently enjoy, but risk losing. Rather than allow political power lusters to destroy the remnants of individual rights that still protect us, we should be eternally vigilant in protecting and restoring our inalienable rights.
As for those countries which still blatantly violate individual rights, we should morally condemn them and boycott them — not treat them as civilized members of the “world community.” That’s what should have been done fifty years ago.