Rights Of Man

Back in the day when folks used the word “man” to denote all humans and before the rad-fems got their collective drawers in a bunch because they were convinced that the term was another sign of male dominance in their world, there was talk about the “Rights of Man.”  The doctrine was decidedly an Enlightenment concept and could be found in declarations from the French after their revolution in 1789 and was later to be found in the title of Thomas Paine’s famous book that attempted to encapsulate the rationale behind the American Revolution and the subsequent attempt to ratify a Constitution. It did not, of course, talk about the rights of the males of the human species. Rather, it spoke about the rights of all human beings — French or American, or anything else.

The recent movements the world over toward a new Nationalism is disturbing  on many levels, but most disturbing of all is its tendency to fly in the face of the notion that lies behind the declarations of the rights of all humans; namely, the notion that all humans regardless of race, color, creed, or sexual preference have the same rights. We see this in the recent decision of Great Britain to go it alone and separate itself from the rest of Europe and in the recent movement in this country to “Make America Great Again” by building a wall between the United States and Mexico and refusing sanctuary to those who have been displaced and are homeless. These attempts to isolate the countries reinforce the notion that England or the United States are somehow different from the rest of the world and, clearly, superior in that there is a thinly disguised jingoism hiding behind the movements. We don’t need you: stay away; we can go it alone.

This is absurd on its face, of course, because the economy of any single country these days is dependent on the rest of the world; but more important than that is the “hidden agenda” of jingoistic nonsense that denies the fundamental Enlightenment notion that all human beings have the same rights and while we are not the same in any other respect we are none the less the same in our right to be (as Kant would have it)  respected as “ends in ourselves.” Kant regarded this as the cornerstone of his ethical system: all persons are ends in themselves and ought never be treated merely as a means. That is, regardless of who we are we are not to be used or to use others “merely as a means” to our own ends. This undermines slavery, obviously, but it also undermines what has come to be called “discrimination” of any sort.

I have always thought Kant’s ethical system to be the strongest of any I have studied even though it places huge responsibilities on all of us to acknowledge the fact that other humans are basically the same as ourselves. It’s a truly Christian notion, of course, though Kant doesn’t couch his theory in the language of the New Testament. There is no talk about loving our neighbors. Still, he would insist that we must acknowledge our neighbor’s rights because they are the same as our own. The notion that we should build walls to keep them out, or that we should send people away because they practice another religion or seem to pose a distant threat because others who look like them pose a threat, is in direct contradiction to the fact that all humans have the same rights.  This is so despite the fact that we show ourselves ready at a moment’s notice to de-humanize other people by gearing up the propaganda machine and inventing pejorative names for the “enemy.”  After all, if they are the enemy then they are not really human and they are to be destroyed. War propaganda is a terrible thing, but in its way the movement toward Nationalism is a step in the same direction. It makes us out to be better than “them” no matter who “them” happens to be.

I am not naive and I do realize that others do not always recognize our rights and there are those in this world who would just as soon that we not exist and would love to make that happen. But we should never lose sight of the moral high ground and insist that any violence toward other people, in the form of walls or the nightmare of another war, should never be an option until all else has been shown to fail. There is no moral defense of war. When it happens it is always a matter of expedience and neither side is right if it is willing and able to kill those who wear a different uniform or have a darker skin, or practice a different religion. All humans have the same rights and we have a responsibility to recognize those rights until it has been demonstrated that they refuse to recognize ours. Even then, if he must, the soldier goes to battle with a heavy heart because he knows that what he does is wrong. And, in a small way, this is true of those who build walls.

It is one world and we are all in this together, like it or not. And we must always keep in mind that all humans have the same rights and no one has any sort of claim to be superior in any legitimate sense of that term to any one else.


6 thoughts on “Rights Of Man

  1. As I am fond of saying from time to time, ‘we have met the enemy and he is us’. As you already know, I fully agree with you, but quite frankly, I do not envision any point in the future where the majority in the world will see all humans as having the same rights. Sigh.

    And hey … what’s this about the rad-fems getting their collective drawers in a bunch??? 😀

      • As soon as I read that …. then went back and re-read it to make sure that was what you said … I thought, “Hugh is trying to get my goat!” And I laughed, because yes, that is our little inside joke. 😀

  2. In a bit of limbo these days while camping out at my friends’ cabanas, waiting for visa progress, visiting earthquake survivors/veterans, and it’s the latter that always presents the most-sobering stories. 1. Although this town is not large, I continue to get ‘lost’ because so many of the buildings are gone. 2. I was searching for a dear sweet family from another area of the country; they have a second home here on the coast, and had written to see if I would be in the area this past weekend. Yes! So after several wrong turns, wrong streets – no they were right ones, or were they? I went to what I thought was their old casita, and another family was living there. They told me they were renting it, but to try the uncle’s house… No one was home, but the man across the street came out… “No,” he said, “they live in El Carmen.” “Yes, I know, but they said they might be here this weekend..They used to stop by my house at the river mouth on their way to Jama…”

    “I know who you are,” he said kindly… and then I asked him about the quake, where were they at the time it hit.. was his family ok… yes, his family ok, but the house came down and they were living in a shack built of old boards, and in a tent…. he sent his son after coconut water, which he served me, iced down and refreshing on that hot day… he pointed to two coconut trees and said i was always welcome to have more….

    In a classic body English for Ecuador, the man then took his fist and gently tapped his chest.. it’s a sign of deep respect for another human, and it all but brought me to tears. Here again, a man who had so little was sharing that with me….

    The ‘salt of the earth’ could teach a lot to the world if only the world would realize that our basic needs are simple ones, and respect for our fellow man is one of the greatest.

    Yes, we are all in this together. Thanks, Hugh…

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