Andrew Brown is up to some wonderful mischief in this essay on whether human rights exist.
The essential point about human rights is that there is no evidence whatsoever that they actually exist. Children are born without any belief in them and they were certainly never heard of in all the millennia of prehistory. Even in recorded history, they are a very new invention, and one which has been confined, even in principle, to a very small part of the world. They are based entirely on documents written by human beings, and produced through squalid political processes nothing like the later myths. Countries where enemies of the state are routinely tortured before being executed sign declarations of rights with as much enthusiasm as peaceful democracies.
We are told that the two qualities of human rights is that they are “self-evident” and “unassailable”. This is like saying that the chief quality of porridge is its excellence as a material for building skyscrapers. The chief evidence for the existence of these unassailable and self-evident human rights is that we are told, by people who believe in them, that they are everywhere attacked and trampled. What difference does a right make if it doesn’t change the world, and if there is no help for all the people who believe in it?
It’s obvious from watching children playing that they have no concept whatever of universal rights, only of their own. In societies where adults are forbidden to indoctrinate their children, the idea of human rights never arises except among lunatics and seldom spreads beyond them.
Even in this country, the active supporters of human rights are tiny and dwindling minority, with influence entirely disproportionate to their numbers. If it weren’t for the disgraceful pandering of the BBC to the rightist agenda and its decision to spend license payers’ money on such rightist indoctrination and propaganda as the Secret Policeman’s ball, these people would dwindle into their natural obscurity.