- The Divine right theory of kingship
- Machiavelli’s political philosophy
- The American Declaration of independence and the French Declaration of the rights of man
- Limitations of these Declarations
- The human rights devised by the UN
- The civil rights
- The economic, social and cultural rights
- The difficulties to enforce these rights
- Russian’s abstaining from voting
- Certain limitations on the exercise of rights
There is no freedom without rights. Rights are merely a manifestation of freedom enjoyed by people. Therefore, the history of freedom is the history of human rights. This essential relation between freedom and rights had been recognized even by the ancients. The ancient Greek Society was divided into freemen and salves – the latter having no rights whatsoever. In Medieval Europe, Feudal Lords enjoyed the freedom and had their rights but their serfs or villains were denied these. The history of every country has less or more such “black pages’ which recorded the denial of essential rights to man.
This denial was not merely the work of despotic rulers. It had enjoyed the sanction of certain theologians and thinkers as well. The Divine Right Theory of kingship had the support of theologians and all those who respected theology. It recognized king as the representative of God on earth. Since the king was acting on behalf of God, he was always right – hence the famous dictum, “king can do no wrong.” People were not to question the validity of the theory, because they were to do so, it was alleged, they were indulging in acts of blasphemy and atheism. Therefore, it was emphasized that the highest civic duty of man was to obey passively and not to resist authority.
Defense of such absolution came also from some thinkers. Machiavelli, the Italian, and Hobbes, the. Englishman, are the most important of them. Machiavelli believed and asserted that the ruler should have only one aim before him and that is the maintenance and increase of his power. To achieve this aim, the ruler had the right to use any means that suited best. He should consider his subjects not as human beings who have their own rights, but as raw material to be used to suit his purposes best. So Machiavelli declared, “If they cannot be appeased, they must be intimidated but in either case his object is not to promote their welfare, but to keep himself in power”. Hobbes believed that the fundamental need of man is security. This he asserted can be secured only if man agrees to obey a government unconditionally and does not question its rights to command. In his view, rights belong to governments and subjects have only duties.
This philosophy justified despotism and reduced the common man to the state of mere animal, found support for quite some time but could not hold its way for long. When education spread and ignorance was dispelled, man refused to recognize the philosophy that was the life force of rule of terror and the oppression of the common man. There arose a bitter conflict between the politics of power and the politics of welfare. The doctrine of the fundamental rights of some privileged classes of people stood for the former and the doctrine of losing one for the former and claimed a glorious victory for the latter. The common man had been repeatedly and mercilessly wronged and the wrong had to be righted. Therefore, to remedy every wrong, a right was granted. That is why the history of rights is that of the extermination of existing wrongs.
Since the wrongs being done in one country were not always the same as in the other, the rights, which were granted, were naturally not the same. The American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens are cases in point. The American Declaration stated the truth that all men are created equal, that all men are equal in the eyes of God and equal before the law. It proclaimed that, “They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The French Declaration, while it recognizes that “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights”, is common with the American Declaration, emphasizes that, “The aim of every political association is the preservation of the natural and inalienable rights of man; these rights are liberty, prosperity, security and resistance to oppression”. The variance in the emphasis in both the Declarations resulted from the difference in the conditions present at the time they were made in both the countries.
Such Declarations have been piece-meal attempts at securing human rights for different people at different times. They were, therefore, limited in their scope and nature both the terms of number of people covered by them and the number of rights claimed and secured. The United Nations showed awareness of this itself undertaking the task of giving the world the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. This declaration begins with a preamble which captures the mood, spirit and scope of this “historic act, destined to consolidate world peace through the contribution of the United Nations towards the liberation of individuals from the unjustified oppression and constraint to which they are too often subject.” The preamble declares, “The recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the equal foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”. It brings to bear upon our minds the need for the protection of human right by the rule of law if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression”.
The human rights, which the United Nations has declared, are broadly in the nature of civil and political rights, economic and social rights, and the right of self-determination. The earlier declarations and struggles for rights had also been concerned with them, though with different emphasis. All these rights aim at the freedom to speak and worship as one chooses, to earn a living and improve one’s status and to live under a government of one’s choice.
The civil rights proclaimed by the United Nations are those that have been most widely recognised and provided for in the constitutions and laws throughout the world. The more important of these are the right of life, liberty, and security of person; prohibition of slavery and slave trade, freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to recognition as a person before the law and equal protection of the law; freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile; the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal; the right to the presumed innocent until proved guilty and freedom from ex post facto laws; freedom from arbitrary interference in one’s privacy, family, home, or correspondence and from attack on one’s honour or reputation; freedom of movement; the right to change nationality; equal rights of men and women concerning marriage and the family; freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. The political rights comprise the right to take part in the government of one’s country; the right of equal access to public service; and a provision that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of the government.”
The economic, social and cultural rights have also been more or less exhaustively covered and described in detail. They include the right to own property; the right to social security; the right to work and protection from unemployment, to equal pay for equal work, to just and favourable remuneration and to form and join trade unions; the right to rest and leisure; the right to an adequate standard of living, with special care and assistance for motherhood and childhood and the same social protection for all children whether born in or out of wedlock, the right to education; the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community and to the protection of scientific, literary, or artistic works; and the right to a social and international order in which the freedoms set forth in the Declaration can be fully realized.
Though the U.N. made this declaration as far back as December 1948, the problem still remains of making these rights universal. The United Nations, the only world body at present, is in no way empowered to enforce them. This is quite evident from the declaration itself, which says that it is a “Common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations” and for which the members of the United Nations have pledged themselves to promote “universal respect and observance.” All this means that the provisions of the Declaration are ideal to which the nations of the world should aspire and should be attained through the process of education, teaching national and international measures. Though the members of the United Nations being committed to the U.N. automatically commit themselves to these “human rights and fundamental freedom”, these cannot become obligatory. The only force behind them is moral authority. Nevertheless, it is a landmark in the history of civilization because it seeks to establish the sovereignty of the individual and the sanctity of human personality. This is very important because it has far-reaching effects.
History shows that to temporize with aggression gives powers to aggressor. Similarly, to temporize on the question of human rights give powers to dictators. Therefore the Declaration by the U.N. will go a long way in promoting the rule of justice and equality. It is true that the rights enumerated in it, though covering most of civilized life, are not exhaustive. That is possible considering the nature of man and society. As Laski put it, “natural rights will have an ever changing content because that is not a static world.” There is an other aspect of these rights. These rights cannot become universal so long as we have different political systems. In many cases, there is a direct clash between the human rights and ideologies, which different countries subscribe to.
It is only on account of this reason that the Russian block abstained from voting when the Declaration was put to vote. It is an irony that Russia which subscribes to that very ideology which claims to break the chains of the workers of the world and to establish a classless society found itself unable to support this charter of human liberty. This happened because, according to communism, all rights arise from the collective group. It emphasizes the importance on the basis of society, found it unable to support this charter of human liberty. This happened because, according to communism, all rights arise from collective group. It emphasizes the importance on the basis of society and origin of man’s rights. Its followers, therefore, cannot see rights and freedom as inherent in the nature of man and do not conceive the problem of observance of human rights as basically a moral problem and not merely a political one. The materialistic concept of society as propounded by Marx should abandon its “fundamental right” of limiting the rights of individuals in the larger interest. This is because of the fundamental difference in the relation between individual and society as recognized by communism and democracy. Communism believes that the individual exists for the state; democracy believes that the state exists for the individual. Spinoza, one of the exponents of the theory of democratic freedom, declared that freedom of thought and expressions are essential to the preservation and welfare of commonwealth. He emphasized that every person has the natural right of free reason and judgment; and if the state tries to exercise control over it, this will lead to dissent and put into danger the existence of this State. Therefore, according to him, the power of the state should extend only to the prevention of the expression of ideas, which endanger directly the existence of the state. He stated emphatically, “The object of the government is not to change men from rational beings to puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, to learn to employ their reason unshackled”.
But it must not be taken to mean that democracy puts no.checks on individuals. Though it has become a platitude that “Rights imply duties”, it would here repetition bear. This idea that individual has rights as well as the U.N had also incorporated duties in the declaration. It lays down certain limitations on the exercise of rights and redeems. It provides that “Every one has duties to the community in which the free and full development of his personality is possible”. These duties come as limitations which are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare of others. But all these limitations are in the interest of individuals and society, which remain the most important concern of mankind.
These become all the more essential in the world of today. This is because the magnificent intellectual achievements of those who sought out and found new knowledge from atom to star, from bacteria to mind of man, and the technical achievement of those who have discovered how to apply this knowledge to the practical problems of mankind are overshadowed by the grim horror of the destructive application of so much of this knowledge. According to Aldous Huxley, the technical advances have placed immense power in the hands of a few so that they can command the multitudes forcibly and effectively. Therefore, the challenge to every individual of goodwill is to work for international trust and co-operation in the constructive use of our natural, scientific and sociological resources. For the first time in his long history, man has the knowledge and the potential power to create an era of prosperity for the whole of mankind. Such an era of prosperity is impossible without recognizing and respecting the intrinsic value of every individual, without granting him, without reserve his legitimate human rights.