The New Human Rights

Atrocities in a shrinking world create a demand for clear principles of human rights. Recent developments have made clear the necessity of limiting attempts to enforce them directly, and placing them in a system that recognizes the human need for particularity and substantive concrete loyalties. To facilitate discussion, we have put together a proposal for a system intended to satisfy both needs. The proposal should be read in conjunction with our comments on Human Rights as They Are and our Commentary on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human rights have never been formulated in a way that integrates them with other concerns. Certain reforms in current understandings are obviously needed. The need for subsidiarity—the devolution of social power and its distribution among a variety of actors—must be clearly recognized. The likely alternative to subsidiarity is not uniform enforcement of the rights of man but universal tyranny. In addition, the tendency to identify human rights with radical egalitarianism, and so to be more concerned with dangers from the Right than from the Left, is no longer excusable. Man is equal in some ways but hierarchical in others, and a society that denies important aspects of human nature is a destructive one. The 100 million murdered in the past century by leftist regimes are too many to ignore. Even in liberal democracies bureaucratic egalitarianism has led to corruption of public and private life.

The proposal is intended not as a code of law but as a possible statement of common understandings that, if accepted, could serve a function like that served by standards of respectability or informal codes of honor. As such, it has intrinsic limitations. We propose, for example, no international legal machinery for enforcement. Like existing declarations, our proposal includes general principles that are aspirations and not rights properly speaking. In addition, a theory of human rights cannot solve all basic religious and moral issues. Principles recognized as human rights could therefore vary by region, for example in Europe and in the Muslim world. Thus, in one place abortion and in another penalties for changing one’s religion might be treated as serious violations of human rights.

Accordingly, we propose for discussion the following

System of Universal Human Rights

The following shall be recognized as human rights:

  1. Physical security and social trust.
    • The clearest function of government is repression of violence, theft and fraud, and the clearest human rights violations are government actions grossly at odds with that basic function—genocide, extrajudicial killing, torture, arbitrary imprisonment or confiscation, forced labor and the like.
    • Government should also protect physical security and social trust in general, but the obligation to do so is not in general enforceable.
  2. Limited government. The right to limited government is necessary for all other rights. It has several aspects:
    • Law. Rights and responsibilities that are backed by public force must be part of an orderly system so that legitimate and illegitimate use of force can be distinguished. It should be noted that the rule of law can be denied by manipulative misuse or imaginative reinterpretation of a legal system as well as by brutal violation of it.
    • Regularity in legal proceedings. The government must proceed in an orderly and reasonable way in enforcing the rules it sets. The rights necessary to satisfy that requirement include detention only for cause, the presumption of innocence, open trials, the right to counsel in serious criminal cases, the right to confront and question witnesses, and prohibition of torture and coerced confessions.
    • Private property, including the right of contract, and its protection against the administrative state.
    • Limitations on the substantive responsibilities of government, especially for individual outcomes. Comprehensive state responsibility for individuals makes it impossible for government to be answerable to the people, because the people become too dependent on it. It causes central control of society to become so pervasive as to deprive individuals of freedom and autonomous institutions of authority.
    • Genuine acceptance of the principle of subsidiarity. In particular, international institutions must have strictly limited competence. It is difficult for such institutions to recognize a standard external to themselves, and they can not possibly be made responsible to a broad public and its traditions. They pose in the end a plain threat of despotism, and their reach must be subject to principled (and not merely practical) limitations. In particular, the rights hereby proposed are not intended to be internationally enforceable through formal legal institutions.
  3. Development of the individual: physical, intellectual and moral.
    • The state should encourage that development, within the limits of its appropriate role, but it does not have sovereign authority over it and its positive obligations with respect to it are enforceable only by local political decision.
    • For the development to be free there must be limits on government involvement in cultural life, and protection for private and religious education and for homeschooling.
  4. Respect for differences. That includes first and foremost recognition of differences, for example the differences between men and women, adults and children, and among those whose fundamental loyalties and standards differ, and the appropriate reflection of differences in social institutions.
  5. Family life and religion. These are natural to man; without them abstract institutions such as market and bureaucracy become the only principles of social order, and a truly human life becomes impossible.
    • There is a limit to what formal government support can do on behalf of these things, since it is essential that they not be creations or agents of the state.
    • Government can avoid undermining them, however. Minimal demands to be included in a system of human rights include recognition of parental authority and traditional family roles, and an end to government support for secularism.
  6. A functional cultural setting. Man is a social animal, which means that he develops in conjunction with the life of his people and their culture. An authoritative system of particular cultural norms is therefore a necessity for the individual’s development and well-being. One practical consequence, since cultures differ, is that government must recognize local autonomy and accept a considerable degree of social segmentation by culture. Claimed human rights that override these principles must be rejected. In particular, “inclusiveness” is not a human right.
  7. Public life. In order for popular participation in government to be a reality, a public forum not dominated by lies, cynical manipulation, pornography, unlimited greed and so on is a necessity. Again, that is not something that can be simply delivered by some central authority. However, remedies for libel and slander and traditional censorship of obscenity can repress the worst excesses and allow better things to develop and thrive.


As a further means of focusing discussion we propose the following

Revised Version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and consequent inalienable rights of all members of the human family is necessary to justice, peace and freedom,

Whereas disregard for human rights has resulted in barbarous acts that have outraged the conscience of mankind,

Whereas it is desirable that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is desirable to promote friendly and respectful relations among nations,

Whereas the signatories have reaffirmed their faith in the dignity of the human person and in fundamental human rights, and have determined to promote a better way of life for all,

Whereas a common understanding of that dignity and those rights is of the greatest importance for the realization of that determination,

Now, therefore,

The undersigned

Proclaim this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations, to the end that individuals and organs of society, with this Declaration in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for those rights, and by progressive measures to secure their recognition and observance.

Article 1

All human beings are born with a fundamental dignity that is the same for all and is rooted in the very nature of things, and with consequent rights that all must respect. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. They achieve a life worthy of their humanity through membership in particular societies based on concrete understandings of the nature of things, including the nature of God and of man.

Article 2

Everyone possesses the dignity and is entitled to the fundamental rights set forth in this Declaration.

Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4

Slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7

Everyone is equally entitled to the protection of the law for the rights the law grants him.

Article 8

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 10

1. Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.

2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offense on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offense at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offense was committed.

Article 11

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 12

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.

2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14

1. Everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries.
2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes.

Article 15

1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16

1. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

Article 17

1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to exercise his religion or belief through observance, worship and teaching, either alone or in community with others, and to change his religion or belief, and also includes public respect and support for religion.

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas regardless of frontiers and through any media.

Article 20

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

2. No one may be compelled to join an association.

3. Every private association shall be judge of matters relating to its own membership and internal governance.

Article 21

The people shall participate in the government of their country, directly or through their chosen representatives.

Article 22

Everyone, in accordance with the organization, resources and fundamental commitments of his society, should enjoy the economic, social and cultural conditions indispensable for his dignity and the full development of his personality. Such conditions should include security and well-being, rest and leisure, special care for motherhood and childhood, a high standard of morality, culture and religion, and education directed to the full development of personality.

Article 23

Everyone should have the benefit of a social and international order in which the rights and aspirations set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized in accordance with subsidiarity, local autonomy, and economic freedom.

Article 24

1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the full development of his personality is possible.

2. In the exercise of the rights set forth in this Declaration, everyone shall of securing due recognition and respect for the rights of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, religion, public order and the general welfare.

2 thoughts on “The New Human Rights”

  1. Can you explain “the right to
    Can you explain “the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State”? It seems to me that, say, Utah might want to limit the number of people coming in from California for much the same reasons that the U.S. might want to limit immigration from Mexico, and that the one is no more a violation of basic rights than the other. Why are international borders the only ones that are allowed to count?

    • The thought was that a
      The thought was that a general system of internal passports like the one they had in the old Soviet Union is tyrannical and should be generally viewed as such.

      As stated the standards assume something like the current system of independent nation-states. Your question assumes that the United States would be treated as an independent nation-state while Utah would not.

      None of that would make much sense if Utah had the general power to keep out Californians. There wouldn’t be the degree of common interest and common action between the two that the idea of a nation-state suggests. It sounds more like some kind of loose federation.

      The standards are intended to apply somewhat loosely and not as a code of law, so the more there’s a reasonable argument for something based on unusual circumstances or whatever the less they apply. If the “nation state” analysis doesn’t really apply then human rights related to that analysis wouldn’t apply either.

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