When Human Rights Go Wrong

Human Rights

Have you ever actually read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? I’m guessing not. It’s not exactly bed-time reading. I read it a few days ago having come across mention of it in something else I was reading and I found it rather disturbing. Before we get into why I found it so, however, let’s take a quick look at how the UDHR came to be. The following is the account of the history of the document on the official United Nations website.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948, was the result of the experience of the Second World War. With the end of that war, and the creation of the United Nations, the international community vowed never again to allow atrocities like those of that conflict [sic] happen again. World leaders decided to complement the UN Charter with a road map to guarantee the rights of every individual everywhere. The document they considered, and which would later become the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was taken up at the first session of the General Assembly in 1946.  The Assembly reviewed this draft Declaration on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms and transmitted it to the Economic and Social Council “for reference to the Commission on Human Rights for consideration . . . in its preparation of an international bill of rights.” The Commission, at its first session early in 1947, authorized its members to formulate what it termed “a preliminary draft International Bill of Human Rights”. Later the work was taken over by a formal drafting committee, consisting of members of the Commission from eight States, selected with due regard for geographical distribution.

The Commission on Human Rights was made up of 18 members from various political, cultural and religious backgrounds. Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, chaired the UDHR drafting committee. With her were René Cassin of France, who composed the first draft of the Declaration, the Committee Rapporteur Charles Malik of Lebanon, Vice-Chairman Peng Chung Chang of China, and John Humphrey of Canada, Director of the UN’s Human Rights Division, who prepared the Declaration’s blueprint. But Mrs. Roosevelt was recognized as the driving force for the Declaration’s adoption.

…The final draft by Cassin was handed to the Commission on Human Rights, which was being held in Geneva. The draft declaration sent out to all UN member States for comments became known as the Geneva draft.

The entire text of the UDHR was composed in less than two years. At a time when the world was divided into Eastern and Western blocks, finding a common ground on what should make the essence of the document proved to be a colossal task.”

So that’s the story of the UDHR, as told by those at the UN.

The UDHR consists of thirty articles which set out moral entitlements of individuals to have or obtain things or to act in certain ways, which should be protected by the rule of law (i.e. governments). The first fifteen articles, to my surprise, more or less have a healthy alignment with rational moral principles and as such are for the most part unobjectionable. For example, Article 3 states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”  This is a rights-orientated way of saying self-ownership is a self-evident truth, therefore individuals who use force to protect their own property (i.e. themselves) or to contract a third-party to do so when their life, liberty or security is threatened are acting morally. From self-ownership is derived the concept of property rights (the exclusive authority to determine how a resource is used). We own ourselves and therefore we own the effects of our actions because effects without causes can not exist. So far so good, however, it’s not long before this list of human rights veers off a course of rationality and becomes human wrongs.

Article 15 (1) proclaims that: “Everyone has the right to a nationality.”

Article 16 (3) declares: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

Article 17 states:
(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 15 in reality means no tax slave should be without a master (i.e. a government) at any given moment.

Article 16 begs the question: what does protection mean? Given the context and the socialist ideals of the creators of the UDHR, I think it’s reasonable to infer that this broadly means protection for families from poverty and protection for children from a lack of education, as well as free social services for families. Let’s follow in the foot steps of the line of reasoning at the root of this proclamation and see where it leads us. So, families are morally entitled to financial support from the state, free social services, and their children entitled to free education. But seeing as the state only has tax payers’ money, what this really means is that parents have an entitlement to other people’s property (i.e. x amount of their money) in order to pay for the raising of their children and their education, and for social services. Therefore we need a systematic, structured way to direct this money to parents, to schools and to social services. That’s where the state comes in. The state ensures parents/children get what they’re entitled to via a system of taxation. Therefore it is not only moral for the state to imprison those who refuse to pay but it is also virtuous because the UDHR proclaims that parents are entitled to their property; those who refuse to hand over a percentage of their income are effectively stealing from parents and children.

Here, then, we encounter our first contradiction within the concept of the UDHR for there is only one way in reality to achieve the moral entitlement set out in article 16, which is for the state to take people’s money under threat of imprisonment to redistribute to those who are deemed to be entitled to it. Therefore article 16 contradicts/violates article 3 – the right to liberty – and article 17, property rights. The creators of the UDHR believe governments can, uphold a universal right to life, liberty and security of person and a right to own property (without being arbitrarily deprived of it) by having the power and moral sanction to: kill, imprison, threaten and take property arbitrarily! It suddenly becomes clear that universal doesn’t mean universal at all. Universal means something else in the concept of UDHR; it means all humans except those humans who represent the government. The ‘Non-universal Declaration of Human Rights’ just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it does it? Sounds rather sinister actually.

Talking of sinister, Article 22 proclaims:

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Everyone is entitled to social security means people who are out of work are entitled to some money from other people for a period of time or even an indefinite period of time. I have no idea what the rest of that sentence means, but you can bet your life that it involves coercively redistributing money. Again, the only way to achieve the right of social security is to get the state to systematically take money from people and imprison those who refuse. Once again, this renders a universal right to liberty and property ownership an impossibility. Sure, anyone and everyone can say and believe they do have these rights, but they really don’t. What they in fact have is the ‘right’ to and the ‘freedom’ to a finite set of permissible actions as defined by the state. That’s not the same as the universal right to liberty or universal property rights. Most people today conflate the two and have no idea they do so. Thus liberty is what the government allows you to do. Your property is what you have minus what the government takes or allows you to have.

Moving on, Article 25 declares:

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

This is yet another attempted moral justification for the coercive redistribution of people’s money. Basically, if your goal happens to be an entitlement in the UDHR, then any means necessary to achieve it is morally acceptable, including actions deemed immoral and prohibitable by other UDHR articles. Don’t dwell on that dose of Orwellian doublethink for too long or your brain will melt.

Article 26 proclaims:

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

This one is the socialist’s wet dream. FREE education! Note that it says “…at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” Implying that, ideally, all stages of education should be free, right up to adulthood. But what do they mean by ‘free’? There’s only two ways to achieve ‘free’: either get teachers to work for free (i.e. enslave them) or pay teachers a wage but force someone else to pay their wages. Hardly anyone would be incentivized enough to become teachers and endure the inevitable impoverishment under the first scenario therefore it’s no surprise that the latter is the state of affairs that has manifested itself.  So how do get other people to pay for your education? Yep, you’ve guessed it, coercive redistribution of money by the state. It’s the socialist’s Swiss Army knife.

“Education…shall further the activities of the United Nations…” Wow. So utterly convinced were they who drafted the UDHR of their own virtue, intelligence, righteousness and all-round superiority to the rest of the human race that they deemed it a moral imperative for every child and young adult to receive an education designed to further the activities of their organisation.

This promising but ultimately flawed document ends with article 30:

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

How else can one interpret “education shall be free”? As we’ve already seen there’s no way to achieve ‘free’ education using the state other than to violate and therefore ‘destroy’ other principles previously set out in the document. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean education can’t genuinely be free of cost. It can, all that needs to be done is to make it worth someone else’s while to pay for your education. There’s plenty of ways to do that. One way, off the top of my head, is to agree to pay them a percentage of your earnings after you complete your education until the principle plus x amount of interest is paid off; and no doubt there’s plenty of other ways I haven’t thought of. In fact such arrangements may not even be necessary. Many of the highest quality schools, universities and institutions are already providing content on the web, either for free or for a relatively small fee. Technology is rapidly changing the nature and cost education. Education as delivered by governments is rising in cost and lowering in quality whereas the opposite is happening in the peaceful world of voluntary interactions.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not need governments to prohibit others from destroying the rights and freedoms it sets forth; it does that all by itself. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of years from now this document will probably be on display in various museums around the world. People will peer through the glass to read it, shake their heads, furrow their brows and laugh.  They will walk away, remarking to themselves “the things we used to believe!”

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One thought on “When Human Rights Go Wrong

  1. you have a right to your life liberty or property until the state says someone elses rights trumps your rights so you have priveleges, they basically step on their own feet in their logic or illogic. these are positive rights, which is involuntary servitude, you have a right and someone else has an obligation to provide it whether you want to or not, or whether it violates your rights or not. so they are seeming to say positive rights trumps negative rights. so they are saying that the un rights to dictate who has a right to something and who is obligated to pay it is God, they are saying we are god and give and take rights according to what we want not based on logic but on profitablity. arrogance is a realy problem, so it is true power corrupts, and this proves it. it would take real creeps to take a wonderful thing like human rights and twist it all around making it an ugly thing.

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