A friend of mine showed me this document the UN made called the
Universal Declaration of Human
Rights. I was horrified by it, and this confused my friend, so I wrote
this commentary to explain why. It is an important document because it takes
to the logical extreme every mistaken idea of rights that I know; and thus to
refute it is to make a very comprehensive statement on what rights are.
The stated intent of this document is entirely admirable, for the preservation of rights is the very essence of good government, but it is clear that the writers make a profound error in their assessment of what is to be accepted as a right; for while the liberties and entitlements listed in this document are for things which are good in and of themselves, the consequences of making them rights are sometimes good and sometimes bad.
Article 1.The first sentence is good, but not the second, for in no way can it be construed as asserting a right. It is good to recognize that people have reason and concience, but these are not inherent qualities in people but develop to a greater or lesser degree depending on their circumstances and their capacaties for such qualities; for example, the positive welfare rights listed in article 22, tend to reduce the need, and thus the use, of reason and conscience for the people who rely on it. As for acting in a spirit of brotherhood, this is out of place, for a right limits action, not motive. This appears to be in contradiction to article 18, listing freedom of thought, for surely there is no freedom of thought when people are only free to 'brotherly' thoughts.
Article 2.This is certainly true of rights in general, but to enforce some of the rights listed later on would be impractical, insofar as they would hold poor places in poverty and lead rich places toward collapse.
Article 3.It's interesting that they'd admit that a person has a right to liberty, when much of the rest of the document (articles 23, 24, and 29, for example, which list imperatives that direct peoples' action in a specific way, rather than limiting those actions that harm others) is clearly anti-liberty.
In addition, note the replacement of 'the pursuit of happiness', as in the Declaration of Independence, for 'security of person'. This appears to mean that a person has a right not to be harmed or stolen from. Certainly this is an important right, but it seems to be already covered in more detail in articles 5 and 17; and since there is nothing in this document resembling the 9th amendment of the US constitution (recognizing other rights that are not explicitly stated), and since the document is intended to be a "universal declaration of human rights", it appears that the writers do not believe in a right to pursue happiness. This is bizarre, for what good are other rights if ones pursuit of happiness is impeded? Perhaps the was too capitalistic for them.
Article 5.These are two article are both crucial, of course. (Perhaps the phrase 'without consent' should be added to each, however.)
Article 6.Sounds good to me.
Article 7.At this point the US could not adopt this doctrine because we have affirmative action, which makes people unequal before the law, based on their race. (This most likely isn't the real reason the US doesn't use it though. I'm just pointing that out.)
Article 8.But not, apparently, to simply resist these acts on their own, for this document does not explicitly mention any right to the means of resistance of such violation, for example guns. It may be argued that article 17, which protects private property includes this right, but I think many would object to applying it that way and that it should therefore be listed explicitly. The right to bear arms is vital, both as a means to protect oneself without relying on the state (imagine that!), and to rebel against the state, should it become tyrannous. This document implicitly recognizes that violent rebellion may be necessary to resist the force of tyranny in the preamble "Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law...", but if people have no right to weapons, how is such rebellion to be accomplished?
Article 11.These last three are all important because they establish a process for justice. This limits the power of government to arrest and punish arbitrarily. Of these limitations, the right to a jury is probably the most important, for it is the most direct way people can limit the government. That people must be tried by a jury of peers is the same sort of check which has Congress make the laws and the Supreme Court interpret them; thus the jury, if it takes this responsibility, can oppose unjust laws and excessive punishments, protecting for the accused what they do not wish to lose themselves.
Article 12.The right to privacy is very important, and that this document lists this right explicitly is one way it is an improvement over the Bill of Rights, where privacy is only implied in the 9th amendment.
Article 15.As for these last three, I'm sure there's a reason for them, but I don't know what it is, so I won't comment. Articles 13.2 and 15.2 appear to include the right to free immigration, which is of great importantce, should one see better opportunity in another country.
Article 16.(1) and (2) here are unnecessary since marriage is a form of association granted in article 20, granting freedom of association. (3) is bad and unnecessary, for it is more important that the state not interfere with civil society rather than that it should protect important institutions of it. Marriage is very well-protected as it is, since most people find it a very desirable thing.
Article 17.This is the fundamental right of capitalism, so it is extraordinarily important. Its recognition brings us opportunity, necessities for life, and convenient ways to fulfill our interests and desires. Its violation brings poverty, squalor, and inhibits our opportunities toward our potential.
Article 18.This I think to be the most important right of all; for even if the others are not known, freedom of thought and opinion allows the others to be discovered, whether all at once or by gradual trials over generations. This right also nullifies the tactics used by, for example, feminists and by Marxists of simply dismissing competing opinions out of hand as simply sexist, racist, classist, and other forms of political incorrectness.
As for the practice of beliefs, however, this cannot be entirely protected because if practicing a belief interferes with the rights of others, for example that humans need to be sacrificed to appease the gods, or that large companies ought to be shoplifted from, than it is not included by this right.
Article 19.The freedom of speech is perhaps the second most important. Thinking becomes so much easier when you get to learn of other thoughts to use as tools in your mind. However, as with all rights, exercising this right may not interfere with the rights of others; if you say something on another's property which he does not like, he may order you off.
Article 20.This is the right that enables a free society to exist. This is what people appeal to so as to live their lives as they please. This is the right that enables people to go see the movies they like, to go to the restaurants they like, to sell what they have to those who wish to buy, to marry whomever agrees to it, and to avoid those they don't like. An 'association' is a wonderfully inclusive term: it includes private exchanges of money, goods, and services, political parties and other clubs, religions, even communes, and protects them all from government intervention. The only limit to associations of this freedom is that a person may not be kept from such associations by any third party, and may not be forced to engage in them by any party. Unfortunately this right is severely infringed by much of the rest of this document, such as articles 23 and 24.
If there was someway that I could help ensure that this right is protected equally for all people, and thereby eradicate laws that prohibit sodomy or prostitution, all laws that enforce minimum wages, affirmative action, or in any way regulate the terms under which a person may be employed, regulate the prices at which things can be bought and sold, social programs and anything else which allows a person to force another to provide for them without their consent, I would sacrifice everything I own, including my life, without a regret.
Article 21.I am wary of this one because the government described here sounds more like a democracy than a republic. I agree with the founding fathers of the US that a constitutional republic, being the least corruptible form of government, is the best form of government, and the principle of equal and universal suffrage, as in (3), is not necessary for its virtue to work. The principle of universal suffrage was not originally a part of our constitution, and the principle of equal suffrage still is not, for the Senate, with two senators per state gives very unequal suffrage to people, depending on the population of their state. Therefore (3) contradicts the US constitution.
As for the will of the people being the basis of authority of government, I regard this as very problematic, for the people do not have a will; they are a collection of many wills. The effect of giving the people authority tends to result in many violated liberties, and the majority tyrannizing over the minority. Obviously, a government must govern with the approval of the people, but should not simply do whatever the majority demands because obviously if majority rule is the main authority, the majority may tyranize over the minority. That great and wonderful book, Democracy in America includes a large section on how the U.S. constitution prevents this danger. Unfortunately in this country right now we are seeing some of the dangerous effects of democracy because right now about 10% of the people pay about 50% of the taxes, and about 50% of people pay no taxes at all.
A Republican government, on the other hand, is maintained through the opposition of many authorities, one of which is the people. The powers of the authorities is divided between them by a constitution.
Article 22.At this point it is necessary to make the distinction between liberties and entitlements. Liberties: say where the government may not interfere and thus limit the power of government; tell what a person may do; limit action to a particular range but make no directives within that range. Entitlements: say where the government MUST interfere and thus increase the power of government; tell what a person may have; direct action towards specific goals rather than merely obstruct the action which interferes with others' rights.
Of the two kinds, the former promote self-reliance and responsibility, enable capitalism, and in general promote a society in which government intervention is minimal and where people are free to make their own choices. Innovation, the natural consequence of people being obliged to be self-reliant, comes from all sides; and peoples' natural rights are supplemented by real opportunities created by entrepreneurs. The latter tend toward enormous state control, discourage self-reliance by making money available for the taking, discourage responsibility by reducing the necessity of it, and, because of the enormous taxation necessary to enable them, hold people back from attaining wealth. In attempting to circumvent the natural constraints of reality, a country that tries to grant entitlements is hit with those constraints full force when their people are impoverished and innovation is stifled in its womb.
Positive rights are, in addition, on an obviously different level of feasibility. Free speech, private property, and freedom of association, for example, require no particular resources at all to be enabled. Even the poorest country could afford to respect them. Positive liberties, such as the 'right' to an education, to a job, etc., clearly can only be enabled at great expense, and will obviously be beyond the means of many poor countries. I certainly believe that people ought to have access to good education and good health care, just how I believe that people ought to be able to shape-shift to any form they want, but I do not believe that any of these are in general feasible.
Recognizing a right to an entitlement generally tends to deprive people of that very thing. The socialism which is necessary to get things, such as education and health care, even for those who can't afford it, generally survives by forcing people to pay for it in the form of taxes. A company that survives not on profits but on taxes is one whose gain does not relate to its service, and therefore one under little incentive to do well. This trend is quite obvious in US socialistic industries, such as education and medicare. In addition, in a market such a company is unfairly competitive, for by offering service for 'free', it can easily gain a near monopoly over the industry and drive away competing businesses that must support themselves honestly. This is very obvious in our socialized education, since the only schools generally able to compete with it are either religious or able to market to the very rich.
An interesting paradox related to this is that often, people who desire the most powerful anti-monopoly laws for private businesses will advocate extensive government-owned monopolies, despite the fact that the incentives to those who run a monopoly are the same in either case. To me, this indicates no distrust of monopolies per se, but merely an anti-capitalist attitude in general.
More devastating and horrific than the economic degradation which results from welfare is the (very much related) moral degradation. Where people may gain the means to survive simply by existing, the virtues which previously ensured their survival (prudence, temperance, politeness, etc.) are no longer necessary. Similarly, when the need to strive and the threat of poverty are mitigated, so is the inclination to strive. This leaves a person bored, dependant and unsocial. The squalor and crime of the US's inner cities, which did hardly existed before the 1960's, is a clear example of this.
The creators of The Matrix, instead of having the robots enslave humanity to generate electricity (which is in violation of the laws of thermodynamics anyway), really should have had people create and enter the matrix voluntarily, for with the technology of intelligent, caretaking robots and virtual reality by direct brain stimulation, a complete welfare paradise could be created: necessities for life would all be evaluated and administered by computer through the tubes entering everyone's body; thus the tyranny of necessity would be overcome, and since anything could be simulated in the virtual world, and total freedom from all constraints would be achieved. The moral evaporation and misery that would result in such a situation (as Agent Smith alluded) should be obvious to anyone who has ever been bored, and creating artificial problems would have been necessary to preserve people's sanity.
Article 23.This article is, as a friend of mine put it, a death spiral. Attempting to grant such entitlements will in all cases produce a very poor economy, in which the value of money is greatly reduced, and in the worst case will provide an easy route to totalitarianism: for when such enormous power over an economy is concentrated, regardless of the intent, one only needs a means to usurp it to gain means to great evil. Given how many people who are elected are already fools, liars, or cynical opportunists, it seems unwise to trust a government with that sort of power.
In addition, granting such entitlements is in contradiction to another right of association given in article 20, listing freedom of association. To assert the right of a person to be employed without discrimination, with protection from unemployment, or with restrictions as to wage, allows the employee to force the employer to associate with him when he may not want to or under terms he may not agree with. By the same terms, people have a right to enter a union as a means to negotiate with the employer, but have no right to forcibly limit who he may employ and under terms he may agree to.
These entitlements also have undesirable economic effects which are often denied by those who want them to be law. A minimum wage causes unemployment and a bad economy; no minimum wage causes near-total employment and a good economy where a dollar has more buying power. Enforcing favorable working conditions tends to have the effect of lowering wages, for it adds another constraint that the employer must overcome to be profitable. On the other hand, allowing people to choose between the alternatives themselves from what is available gives them the best opportunity to get what they prefer.
Article 24.Again, this interferes with the right of an employer to offer his own terms of employment. Employment is a relationship of contract, just like marriage, so it is an interference of the right of contract to restrict terms under which employment may be offered.
Article 25.I've already mentioned the problems with welfare rights in (1) after article 22. As for (2), the connection between giving children special protection and enormous rates of unwed mothers has been clearly observed. To remove the natural sanctions on imprudent behavior is to encourage imprudence.
Article 26.The results of public education as in (1) are the same as with any other socialized industry: poor quality goods and unfair monopolistic competition against other schools. A particular danger with compulsory education is that schools cannot eject students who do not wish to learn. Obviously, this is very bad for the students who DO want to learn. Possibly the worst danger of government education (and this was certainly the case at my school) is teaching political propaganda; for example, although I had two years of history and a semester of government class in my high school, I don't recall the word 'liberty' ever being properly defined, but rather used inappropriately as a synonym for 'democracy'. I learned in history that laissez-faire capitalism was cruel. I learned that, historically, all changes in government which made it more like it is now were good. In 8th grade, in Social Studies, I remember Sweeden being presented as some sort of heaven on Earth, whithout mention of the steady economic decline it has experienced for over a decade. God knows what other idiocy persists in my brain that I have not unlearned yet.
(1) also asserts that people have a right to compulsory education. Hmmmm...
It is interesting that (2) expresses such concern over 'the full development of the human personality', 'tolerance', and 'further[ing] the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace', but none at all over, say, reading, writing, mathematics, history, science, or music. I think it is scary that this explicit mention of schools being used as a tool of political propaganda does not make people concerned.
In addition, requiring that people teach with an obvious political slant seems contrary to article 19 (listing freedom of thought), which to be made more consistent should perhaps have amended "unless he is a teacher or runs a school." A state of course has some right as to what is taught in the schools it owns, but nothing about (2) indicates that they mean only state schools. Obviously, according to this 'right', I very well might not be able to send my future children to a school that would teach how awful many of the rights expressed in this document really are. (3) is in contradiction with (2) because it asserts the right to a choice that is already greatly limited by the terms in (2). However, in practical terms, this is not a real contradiction because after the 'free' education has eradicated the private school industry except for the few that are still able to profit by marketing to the rich, public school will be the only choice for most parents anyway.
Article 27.Copyrights are clearly important, but they are quite a bit different from private property rights. I don't know much about them myself, but F. A. Hayek in his book The Fatal Conceit suggests that such rights have not been around long enough to have evolved so as to work as well as they might, and that perhaps they should not be granted as absolutely as they are here.
Article 28.This is my favorite article for complete denial of reality. Where is this 'social and international order' supposed to come from, God? Building a rich society takes an enormous amount of work, innovation, and time; it cannot simply be stolen like welfare can.
Article 29.(1) is not in any sense a right, for rather than a guarantee of what a person may do, it orders what one must do. It clearly has no place in a document intended to list rights, and its existence here shows the paradoxical quality of positive rights, which to exist cannot but by forcing a great deal from other people in order to provide them. Rather than simply requiring of others not to kill you or steal from you, you can require of them to work and provide for you, regardless of whether you do anything in return, or even thank them. Thus the poor and slothful becomes the tyrant of the rich and diligent, as long as the former remembers to stay poor and slothful.
(2) can be interpreted to mean anything, for the 'general welfare' of any society is a matter of great dispute and infinite varieties of opinion. Because of this, it is a clause which could easily be used to nullify the entire document. Some may see this as a disadvantage, and it would be in many other circumstances to give those in power the right to do anything for the general welfare, but in this case it is not, for after the devastating effects of the positive rights in this document are understood, than, insofar as it is in the general welfare to do so, there is no impediment to ignoring them.
(3) is particularly interesting, for it is hard to imagine how a natural right, belonging to all humans from their birth, could be somehow mitigated by a designed human institution which has only existed for a fraction of human history. Although in the preamble above, these rights are called 'inalienable' and 'fundamental' (though never 'natural'), to me this appears to be a telltale sign that the UN views these rights as having been granted by it, rather than by nature. This view is contrary to that expressed in the 9th amendment of the US constitution.
Article 30.This last one is a further contradiction since the rest of the document is already such that not all the articles in it can be granted at the same time.
Conclusion: Where liberty is respected, many undesirable things are allowed, but limiting freedom so that the government may combat them is less desirable still. The reasons for this are three-fold: on the one hand, it is often inherently impossible for a central authority to combat problems of material need better than a society of widely dispersed authority. Poverty, for example, is improved by free capitalism, which creates wealth for the masses; whereas no government has ever aided in creating wealth except indirectly by promoting capitalism and punishing theft. Rather, it impoverishes everyone in attempting to 'redistribute' wealth. On the other hand, even when a powerful, centralized authority is capable of good, it is all the more capable of abuse because there are fewer natural limitations to its own growth and tyranny. And finally, liberty is a good in and of itself, for it means to have authority over one's own choices, something I don't understand why anyone would want to give up. I would rather die for liberty than live without it.
Of the liberties listed in this document, I think the most important are freedom of thought, freedom of speech, private property, and freedom of association. The worst of the entitlements are therefore the ones that most contradict these, such as the various 'worker rights', social programs, and socialized industries, which are against private property and freedom of association.
The major omissions I detect here are, in addition to the right to bear arms, is the lack of anything corresponding to the 9th amendment of the US constitution. This states that people may have rights not listed in the bill. This is important partly because the writers may always have forgotten some, but mostly because it implies that the rights do not come from the document but always belonged to everyone.