A View on Human Rights

My daughter is in her first year of college at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, where she is pursuing a double degree from the university’s Conservatory and College. Since she love to write and suspects that she will at some point start to write for it, she suggested we subscribe to The Lawrentian, the Lawrence University student newspaper. I did so.

The current issue, which arrived yesterday, has a piece in it titled W/ Dignity: A View on Human Rights. The piece began by quoting Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The article astutely pointed out that Article 1 is unlike the other articles of the Universal Declaration; rather than functioning as a proclamation of human rights, it serves “as a theoretical foundation for all of the rights proclaimed within the UDHR and a recommendation for human beings’ action toward one another.”

Unlike the other articles of the UDHR, Article I does not give a recommendation for governments. Rather, as the author of this piece points out, it gives a recommendation for all human beings. And, like the rest of the UDHR, it is not legally binding on anyone.

But, suggests the author, the fact that is it not legally binding is part of its power. She writes

I would posit that the reason the UDHR holds so much weight is precisely because it was never meant to be legally binding. Instead, it was meant to inspire. People all around the wold have taken the UDHR seriously not because of its origins in the UN, but because of the power and hope contained within its ideas.

Amen. What holds power over us is not legal mandates, which have no power to change our souls. Rather, what moves us is the power of the idea.

The article concludes: “Should we act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood? Is this an idea powerful enough to be worth supporting? It is up to you to decide.”

The article asks exactly the right question. Sit with the article and ask yourself: is this an idea powerful enough to be worth supporting? And if the answer to that question is yes, what are you going to do to support it?

Update: You can find an online version of the article here.