A conservative conception of universal human rights
“All the races of the world are men, and of all men and of each individual there is but one definition, and this is that they are rational. All have understanding and will and free choice, as all are made in the image and likeness of God . . . Thus the entire human race is one.” – Bishop Bartolomé De Las Casas (1550)
Yesterday, over twitter Joel R. Pruce, a Post Doc in Human Rights Studies at the University of Dayton, made a remarkable claim: “Either you are for a liberal conception of universal human rights, or you’re politically conservative. Can’t be both.”
The essay below will make the case that this is not only incorrect but exposes a misunderstanding of the origins of the idea of universal human rights and the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
The discourse and modern concept of human rights emerged out of internal debates within the Catholic Church in the late Middle Ages and the very universality of human rights emerged out of a debate in which a Catholic Bishop defended the rights of the indigenous peoples of America. This at a time when liberals refused to recognize it in favor of their commercial interests.
“The missionary Church opposed this state of affairs from the beginning, and nearly everything positive that was done for the benefit of the indigenous peoples resulted from the call and clamor of the missionaries. The fact remained, however, that widespread injustice was extremely difficult to uproot … Even more important than Bartolome de Las Casas was the Bishop of Nicaragua, Antonio de Valdeviso, who ultimately suffered martyrdom for his defense of the Indian.” [Dussel, E. 1981]
Human rights and the concept that all human beings are equal in dignity before their maker is at the root of the universal human rights standard and it is not a “liberal conception” but a profoundly conservative one rooted in that most conservative and anti-modern of institutions the Roman Catholic Church. This is not how many modern academics view the Catholic Church of the 15th and 16th Century but rather as accomplices to authoritarian rule.
Continue reading HERE.