Liberals and “Human Rights”

One of my many problems with liberals is that modern-day liberals have become firmly attached to the idea of “identity politics” — that the gays, blacks, women, natives, spiritualists, etc. should somehow be separately equal — which is merely a deeply abased form of “human rights.”  In fact, I strongly suspect that every self-described liberal in North America and Europe would include some sort of agreement with the importance of the concept of “human rights” in their own description of “liberal.” This would be considered by most to be a defining characteristic of liberalism in comparison to, say, conservativism.

The National Interest has an interesting review by John Gray of Samuel Moyn’s The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History in which Gray demonstrates that the entire history of “human rights” began no earlier than the 1970s. He traces the actual birth of the concept to the publication in 1981 of John Rawl’s A Theory of Justice. He carefully and concisely links the modern “human rights” movement to both utopianism and the modern nation state. These “human rights” exist only in the context of the nation state; they are “universal” only in the sense that every nation state should be held accountable to them and be responsible for their protection. There is no “liberal” scenario that would allow for these “human rights” to exist outside the jurisdiction of nation state(s).

As an anti-statist anarchist myself, I have always rejected the concept of “human rights” based on a dissected population (whites, blacks, rich, women, LGBT, left-handed, etc, etc etc.) It is a defining characteristic in my definition of being a non-liberal.   However, this is a fascinating history of a theory and well worth reading.

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