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The writer starts by stating that great things may come from rewriting under pressure. Thomas Jefferson, in his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, wrote that all men are created independent and equal. From this equal creation, they derive such rights as liberty, preservation of life, and the right for happiness. He revised this statement further by writing that our Creator has endowed us with the unalienable rights, among which are the pursuit of happiness, liberty and life. He proclaimed a lasting solution to the human rights in his eighteenth century.
In January 1789, the French started thinking about writing a statement of their rights. Marquis de Lafayette, a master mind of the War of the American Independence, wrote a draft on the French declaration allegedly with the help of Jefferson. On July 14, during the fall of Bastille, the French Revolution began, and an official declaration was necessary. On 27th August 1789, the committee of the French deputies approved the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen after an exhaustive debate. The document never mentioned the church, the nobility or a king, as it declared the rights of men as the foundation of all forms of the government. It pronounced the equality of everyone before the law, thus, getting rid of any privilege based on the person’s birth.
Universally, the French people were guaranteed a single reference as a “man”, ”men”, ”every man”, “all men”, ”all citizens”, ”every citizen”, “society”, ”every society”. This French publication resulted to the worldwide galvanization of an opinion on the subject of rights being both negative and positive.
The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was to be later incorporated into a draft of the universal human rights by the United Nations (UN). The article 1 of the Universal declaration of human rights stated that all people are born equal and free in rights and dignity. A statement which had been earlier proclaimed by the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen that all men are born and being equal and free in their rights. Though the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen claimed to safeguard a person’s rights and freedom, it failed to stop the emergence of the rights’ repressive French Government. More issues became apparent. For instance, the declared universal rights excluded children, foreigners, slaves, those without property, religious minorities, women and insane from participating in politics.
Further criticism was on the words “all men” which have some limitations. The stakeholders, that drafted, founded, framed and declared these rights had been depicted as racist, elitist and male chauvinists for they were unable to truly consider all people equal in their freedoms and rights. So amazingly, how can the equality of rights be self-evident in a society where there is slavery, where women are not treated equally to men, where there is subordination? This brings about an issue of self-evidence which is a paradox since the two rights declarations of the 18th century claimed that the truth about human rights is self-evident. The same was explicitly echoed by Jefferson, though he had been a slave owner.
The United Nations Declaration had a more legal tone as it recognized the dignity, equality to rights and inalienability of rights of human beings as the foundation of justice, peace and freedom in the world. Literally, this statement proves to be more self-evident since it uses an assertive language. However, everything about human rights is agreeable as long as we don’t ask why. As a matter of fact, scholars have argued over the years about Jefferson’s statement. What did he mean? Jefferson did not explain himself; the committee also never wanted to revise this claim at an expense of modifying the certain sections of the preliminary draft. They agreed with him totally leaving no room for an argument.
Moreover, the writer puts it across that the history of the entire world is derived from the history of human rights. He states that human rights should possess three qualities: that human rights must be natural, universal and equal. This means that human rights should be derived from human beings; they should be applicable everywhere and should be same for everyone for the sole reason that our status is human beings. Additionally human rights are more meaningful when they have the political content, and those who hold them participate actively. For the first time, the universality, equality and naturalness of human rights gained political expression in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789 and the American Declaration of Independence of 1776. In contrast, the Declaration of Independence emphasized that all men are equally created and every man possesses his own unalienable rights. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen stated that the men, not French, not Catholics, not white ones, but all “men” are born free, thus, they should be equal in their rights. Men here don’t mean just males but all the persons whose status is human beings.
What is the origin of the expression “human rights”? When did the term emerge? The writer pins down the moment back to the eighteenth century when people did not often use this expression. Jefferson used to often speak of “natural rights”; then he began using the expression “rights of man”. That had been before 1789, but afterwards, he employed an expression “human rights”, a term he used to refer to the slave trade evils. It was pathetic that human rights did not enable slaves to act on their own.
Politically relevant rights, for example, the freedom of speech or the right to take part in politics were deemed necessary. The term “rights of man” had the little meaning in English before 1789. A French enlightener Marquis de Condorset was made to first define “rights of man” by the American Revolution. He stated that it included the impartial and fair justice, security of property, security of person, and the right to participate in formulating laws. Explicitly, he linked the American Revolution to the rights of man.
In France, the majority of those using the term in the 1780s, such as Mirabeau and d’Hulbach, referred to this term as if the rights of man were obvious and needed neither definition nor justification. They were simply self-evident. There was also an emergence of a new outlook by the end of the eighteeth century when the philosopher J.B Schneewind traced what he called the “invention of autonomy”. He asserted that all individuals who are normal can live together in a self-governance morality. For an individual to be morally autonomous two disticnt qualities are necessary: the ability to reason and the independence in making decisions. He argues that children have no capacity to reason nor make their own decisions but they may gain it one day when they grow up. The insane will one day regain the capacity to reason. Unlike slaves, insane, propertyless and servants who will gain or regain the reasoning and the power of independent decision making, women status bars them from being fully autonomous since they lack the quality of independence. Slaves can become autonomous by leaving the forced service and developing, the propertyless may buy property and become autonomous but women seem to lack any options as they are dependent inherently on either their husbands or fathers.
In 1791, the French government granted Jews equal rights. In 1792, propertyless were also regarded as the French, and, in 1794, slavery was officially abolished.
The title to the Chapter 1 is torrents of emotion; it starts with how Rouasseau gained the worldwide attention with “julie” or the “Helaise” in 1761, a best-selling novel. He told of a love story involving Peter Aberald, a Catholic cleric and Heloise, his pupil. This love was doomed as Peter Aberald was castrated, and they were separated forever. They only exchanged letters.
The Chapter 2 is about an abolishing torture. In 1762, a French named Jean Calas murdered his son who wanted to convert to a Catholic. He was to endure the judicial torture designed to force him naming his accomplices. The torture is also meant to force the accused to confess of guilt. He was later strangled to death, while still protesting that he had been innocenese.The judicial torture was called strappado, and was widely used in Europe. The writer goes ahead to explain the happenings, under which Calas was suspected and tried in court together with his wife, son, visitor and servant. Except Calas, all the others were released. Voltaire was prompted to write about the cruelty and torture in the French judicial system and Calas’ family reaped the fruits of his writings. Everyone was acquited and the confisticated family’s goods were returned.
Later in 1760s, torture and inhuman punishment were abolished in Europe and most parts of the world. The writer continues to explain how culprits were subjected to various forms of punishment ranging form hanging, whipping, castration, dragging on bare backs, cutting off an ear, breaking on the wheel, burning to death, and cutting off a hand, among others. Campaigns against these and the death penalty were staged in France. An aristocrat Beccaria was also against absolute powers to the religius leaders, political leaders and the titled ones.
Then, there is a depiction of man as self-contained. After the 14th century, the individual’s body became sharply defined. The self-control rose. Habits that previously seemed acceptable were ceased. Such habits included urination in public places, blowing noses into hands, spitting, among others. This is the emergence of a self-enclosed person. A person who has a boundary to other people’s bodies is characterized by autonomy, self-discipline and self-possession. He/she deserves the respect in all interactions.
In the eighteenth century, sensibility emerged in the social interaction, especially in music and theatre performances. The audience began to observe silence instead of conversing with friends and remained sited instead of walking around about. The audience, thus, could feel its emotions as a result of performances.
She also recounts on the European portraiture that before the 17th century most body paintings were of the holy family, rules and the Catholic Saints. However, in the eighteenth century, painting of even the ordinary people began. A portrait clearly depicts individuality in each person that is being an individual who is distinct, separate, original and single. The traditional forms of punishment, which were very cruel, were purportedly meant to ensure the state remaining calm and orderly. The pains that the convicted underwent were to inscribe authority and restore order politically, morally and religiously. The punishments were, however, done at places where other festivals were conducted, thus, it was a kind of celebration to mark the recovery of order. Large numbers, including women known to have tender and refined emotions, could avail themselves on such occasions to witness their fellow creatures tortured to death. Henry Dagge, an English reformer, insisted on that what brought benefits to the society should have been pursued. He argued that a mutilated body would be of no use to the society. This explains why imposing fines could be a better option to the property offense than the corporal punishment. As a consequence, pain belongs only to an individual, never to the society, thus, an individual cannot be sacrificed purportedly for good of the society, author or religion. Dr. Rush argued that punishment should not be public and should be geared towards rehabilitation to restore the convicted to the society. Afterwards he/she will be at freedom, and that is dear to the convict and the society. Seeing Calas reaffirming his innocence repeatedly during his breaking of bones, the Toulouse people who witnessed the torments began to feel their unreasoning. The assumption behind this torture was to elicit the truth from the convicted.
In Europe, a physiognomic tradition held that body marks, wrinkles, lines and signs that could depict an individual’s character in the 16th and 17th centuries. After 1750, most physicians and scientists argued against this tradition. They insisted that there was no relationship between an individual’s external appearance and the internal character. When Baccaria argued against torture he insisted that pain could not elicit truth; the truth doesn’t reside in tortured muscles. After 1750, the courts in France intervened to prevent the vice of torture prior to judgment as the judges in Toulouese did during the trial of Calas. Death penalty was also practiced less frequently.
In 1781, Joseph Michel, congratulated Louis XVI for abolishing torture to elicit confessions from the accused. Naturally, everyone wished to acquire what he/she doesn’t have and never to lose whatever he/she has already. This is dictated by our natural heart’s desires. Kings enjoyed their supreme authority over the life of ordinary people. They delegated to judges the life of these ordinary people and reserved the right to give their pardon. The writer insists on that the end of torture was not brought about by giving up by judges on it or because of the opposition from the Enlightenment writers. He argues that it ended due to falling apart of the traditional framework of personhood and pain. This traditional framework was replaced by a new framework, whereby individuals were the owners of their bodies. They held rights for their autonomous nature. A person must, therefore, recognize that other people have the same passions, sympathies and sentiments as they do. Being autonomous, they are separate, and they have their rights that should not be violated. He further claims that we should hold other people with sympathy and emotions, so as to act together and retain the human status.
He starts the Chapter 3 by defining the word “declaration” as defined in the second edition of Oxford English Dictionary. Here, he establishes a platform to explain the Declarations of human rights. In 1776 and 1789, the declarations were made fusing together abolition of torture and cruelty.
The word “declaration” unlike “charter”, “petition”, or “bill” seizes more sovereignty. It also adequately guarantees the rights. The French deputies deliberately omitted any mention of their king in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, though they never wanted to renounce the dominion of their king. The National Assembly being the ambassadors of the French people considered that ignorance, disrespect or neglect of human rights to be the individual causes of bad luck and the governmental dishonesty. A formal declaration sets forth the absolute, accepted and sacred human rights emanating from the nature of humans themselves.
In America, two accounts of the rights’ language existed: a universalistic version (general human rights) and a particularistic one (human rights precise for the people or a state tradition). Grotius associated the natural rights with freedom, life, body and honor. This list particularly looked as if to bring the slavery into a question. William Blackstone in his writings of 1750s explained why the focus should be on the individuals' particular rights rather than on the general ones. It was pathetic that although the human rights were said to be universal, the same natural rights had been held by the superior English. The nature has endowed human beings with both perfect freedom and being in a state of equality. In addition, the civic and political rights were also guaranteed. This was also guaranteed to the British American colonies or for any other of the British dominance. This took three dimensions, the law of God, the law of nature and the acts of Parliament. Everyone has been entitled to inseparable, essential, natural and inherent human rights.
Especially in 1770s, the universalistic string of the human rights thickened as the violation widened between the Great Britain and the North American colonies. The universalistic ideology enabled the colonialists to think of a split with the British Sovereignty and the tradition.
The colonists called the countrywide conventions to substitute the British Rule before even the Congress of America had declared Independence. In the state constitutions that followed, the Bills of Rights were included. In particular, on the 12th June 1776, Virginia Declaration of Rights of June announced that all members of the human race are by their nature uniformly free and autonomous and have the certain inborn rights, which they defined as the satisfaction of life and freedom, with the channels of acquiring and owning property. As a result, safety and happiness could be achieved. This Virginia Declaration further offered a list of particular rights, such as the freedom of press and the freedom of the spiritual opinion.
In the Chapter four, Hunt starts by hinting of an unusual debate just before the 25th December 1789 involving the French’s National Assembly deputies. It was about the non-Catholics voting rights, holding of office, the run for civil and military positions among other rights. The government should, therefore, have declared a state religion that was supposed to vote and hold the public offices or open the same to the whole population. The non-Catholics and the Jews should, therefore, be allowed to vote just like other citizens. More serious also was that actors and executioners were deprived of the political rights in the ancient times. By then, they should not be denied those rights and should now gain the access too. The argument was that executioners killed the populace for a source of revenue, while actors imitated someone else. Clermont-Tennerre had much faith in consistency. He argued that forbidding plays would, therefore, allow the actors to enjoy the rights they had been deprived of or to get rid of dishonor that came with acting. Jeremy Bentham viewed that only actual rather than natural law was important. He argued that some acts were pretended by the decree of nature. He was opposed to the idea that natural law was inborn in the human being and could only be discovered by cause. Basically, he rejected the traditional natural law entirely; thus, it followed that he as well rejected the natural rights. He borrowed Becerra’s opinion of utility (the maximum happiness to the maximum number that gave out the paramount measure of wrong and right. In 1768, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours defined the rights of man in his own way. He gave a list, which included liberty for the free trade, choosing occupation, public education, and comparative taxation.
In 1791, the United States’ Bill of Rights was only realized with the confirmation of some amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and it was a totally particularistic document. That is, it protected the U.S. citizens against the infringement by the federal government.
In 1780s, the Americans averted universalism, and the rights of man kept human rights alive. Rousseu argued that humanity had to be instilled in the human beings’ hearts, not merely printed in books.
In 1789, the France king requested the clergy, the nobles and the ordinary people to forward the lists of their complaints. This shows that human rights are in the process of being respected since the public has been given a chance to air their grievances. However, this does not guarantee them that the listed rights will be considered as the king had the supreme rights to discard some rights he had felt undermined or dishonoured him. Among the listed rights, “the rights of man” was the prevailing. Others were: “the absolute rights of man”, “the rights of free men”, “the rights of self-respect of man”, and “the rights of the free men”. A few complaint lists, especially from the nobles, clearly demanded for the declaration of rights. In one form or another, the grievance list comprised virtually of: the freedom of press, the liberty of religion, the proportional taxation, the defence against arbitrary arrest, the equal treatment, etc.
The fredom of religion was also hotly debated. The protestants and the Jews still existed and were the minorities. The protestants could now participate in state affairs both locally and nationally. Other minorities, as seen by the delegates, were women. Women rights were inevitably evaluated to those of slaves and propertyless men. In 1789, the Jews were no longer restricted from certain rights such as the freedom to expressly state their religious status.
Gregoire advocated for equal rights regardless of skin color or race. He argued that the dark skin could not exclude one from the absolute advantages of the society. It was not a simple sail through because the black men were seen as slaves that brought the enormous benefits to the state. Nationalism took the central stage in the nineteenth century. Nationalism wanted equal rights to all. The limitations of the constitutional human rights led to communism and socialism. Socialism and communism were geared towards ensuring that the lesser classes would enjoy the equality of social and economic resources and benefits rather than the mere equivalent political rights.
Apparently, human rights are even now difficult to enforce. An endless list of the international conventions conferences against the slave trade, genocide, torture and cruel punishment, racism, protection of women and children, and the shows that give you an idea about how many human rights need to be rescued.
In the era between 1500-1800, human rights were not self-evident in the non-European countries. The natural rights derived from the human status were not respected by kings. Human rights also needed to be rescued in other parts of the globe away from Europe in the years between 1500-1800. Take, for instance, the genocide in Rwanda and the torturers in Argentina and Algeria. Barbaric acts were still being practised in South Africa and Iraq during this period as Hunt hints. There was the ethnic cleansing, the oppression of women, and the severe practice of slavery.
In 1500, Roman women did not share equal human rights as men. Women were not entitled to their own property, which included livestock, land, slaves, servants, among many others. The fact that women were denied these rights shows that they had been deprived of some important and absolute rights which every human being should enjoy regardless of gender or sex. Women could not even inherit property and were greatly outnumbered in trades and government positions. An average woman’s place was around family and stricly at home. Though they were regarded as citizens, they were not allowed to vote nor run for offices or political positions. They had little freedom to engage in politics in the society. In around 1700, women started becoming pharoahs as well as holding the important positions in the government and business ventures. Christianity appeared to offer teachings which would eventually guide the Romans towards the abolition of acts that denied people’s human rights. For instance, Christianity favoured the abolition of such laws as childlessness and celibacy. These two were deemed to increase the chances for entering an apparent Christian life. Christianity was also biased towards the elections as Christians supported those aspirants who had been friendly to religious leaders.
Constantine restricted the marriage of highly ranked men with lowly ranked women but Justinian removed this entirely. For instance, senators could not marry women of low ranks. This shows that the Romans were not civilized at all as they did not accord the inalienable human status to everybody. Remarrying was also punishable during this era. Notwithstanding, the conditions were imposed that the right to property ceased when a widow got remarried.
The criminal law had a different perspective to women. Constantine punished adultery with death. If a woman was convicted of adultery, she could not marry again. More disturbing is the fact that if a woman married a Jew being a Christian; the parties were rendered guilty as they were deemed to have committed adultery. If this was termed adultery, then there is much to question on the possibility of the existence of human rights by then in the Roman Empire. As Hunt articulated, human rights are inalienable and should be self-evident; the marriage between a Jew and a Christian could not be a crime.
Moreover, it was a capital offense to offer aggression to a nun. Women were penalized for dressing in a manner perceived to be emulating those held in reserve for his family and the emperor. There were also women and actresses labeled to be of bad fame, and they were banned from wearing some dresses. There was a canon law which disfavored the independence of females. A wife was fully subjected to her husband and had to obey him in everything. Archaeology believes that the cradle of mankind is Africa. In most African states, in the era between the years 1500-1600, people who committed crime were punished by being sold as slaves. Slavery is a cruel and harsh punishment. In itself, it is a violation of the absolute inalienable human rights. The slaves were even transported to Europe, thus, violating their citizenship rights. Lynn stated that slavery is a violation of human rights; thus, this act was to a greater extent considered as a denial of the equal rights to all.
In conclusion, this Lynn Hunt’s book clearly shows that all human beings should enjoy equal rights. These rights should be self-evident but unfortunately they are not. Many scholars have written about the self-evidence of human rights arguing that all members of the human race should focus on ensuring that they all enjoy equal rights. Furthermore, these rights are derived from the human status. This is a status that all human beings should derive from birth.