Academic Article

Human Rights Practice and Natural Law

July 26, 2023


Bemoaning the fragmentation of the human rights project due to a proliferation of rights that have diverted attention from the basic human rights that are in most need of protection, Aaron Rhodes argues that we must affirm “natural law as the substance of universality.” He traces the development of natural law within the Hebrew, Greek, Stoic, Christian, and Enlightenment traditions in order to demonstrate that natural law is grounded in an innate human capacity for reason, “which offers the possibility of harmony and tolerance in the exercise of liberty.” He insists, however, that this human capacity only exists on an individual moral level and cannot be the basis for global, universalizing institutions. In practice, these institutions have created an easily manipulable bureaucratic system that has drawn our focus away from the core rights of freedom from murder, torture, slavery, and genocide. Rhodes argues for a privileging of civil and political rights over social and cultural ones as well as the need for nation-states to be the key actors in promoting human rights through their alliances, sanctions, and support of civil society movements.

Aaron Rhodes is a senior fellow at Common Sense Society, and president of the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe.

Full article published in Telos 203 (Summer 2023): The Manifold Foundations of Human Rights.

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