Pierre Manent, La loi Naturelle Et Les Droit Des Hommes
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We are told to respect ‘human rights.’ But why? Where do rights come from, and why should anyone acknowledge that source as authoritative?
Philosophers once derived human rights from natural law. But, as Pierre Manent observes, natural law “has been radically discredited by modern philosophy and is today the object of unanimous contempt of enlightened opinion,” dismissed as an “archaism” by all but a few Catholic thinkers. If, then, our rights do not and cannot originate in “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” as independence-minded Americans famously claimed, does any non-arbitrary criterion of judgment exist?
Evidently not. “Citizens of modern democracies” show themselves eager to reform their own ‘culture’ (usually in the name of equality) while refusing to judgethe ‘cultures’ of others, even when bearers of foreign ‘cultures’ arrive in their countries. Both the eagerness to judge and the refusal to judge is judged to derive from human rights, on the grounds of an implied...