Origins of Human Rights
The emergence of rights in political thought is generally regarded as relatively recent, though any historical study of rights reveals how indeterminate the philosophical charting of the evolution of rights has been. Human rights are considered the offspring of natural rights, which themselves evolved from the concept of natural law. Natural law, which has played a dominant role in Western political theory for centuries, is that standard of higher-order morality against which all other laws are adjudged. To contest the injustice of human-made law, one was to appeal to the greater authority of God or natural law. Eventually this concept of natural law evolved into natural rights; this change reflected a shift in emphasis from society to the individual. Whereas natural law provided a basis for curbing excessive state power over society, natural rights gave individuals the ability to press claims against the government The modern conception of rights can be traced back to Enlightenment political philosophy and the movement, primarily in England, France, and the United States, to establish limited forms of representative government that would respect the freedom of individual citizens. John Locke, in his Second Treatise on Government (1690), described a 'state of nature' prior to the creation of society in which individuals fended for themselves and looked after their own interests. In this state, each person possessed a set of natural rights, including the rights to life, liberty and property. According to Locke, when individuals came together in social groups, the main purpose of their union was to secure these rights more effectively. Consequently, they ceded to the governments they established 'only the right to enforce these natural rights and not the rights themselves'. Locke’s philosophy, known as classical liberalism, helped foster a new way of thinking about individuals, governments, and the rights that link the two. Previously,...
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