Document Type



Through or Despite Governments: Differentiated Responsibilities in Human Rights Programs, 72 Iowa Law Review 391 (1987)


I do not believe in natural law. As a result, I find neither comfort nor security in the proposition that the human rights principles we are now developing or reinforcing are something "natural" and hence inevitable because they are inherent in our nature or in the very nature of law. Nor do I believe that the human rights program in this century has very deep roots in human history or, for that matter, very deep roots in contemporary politics. It is a recent development, arising from a unique conjunction of factors including the deterioration of the prevailing political and social order in Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the rise of industrialization, the increasing complexity of class structure in Western Europe, and some religious innovations that fortuitously played into these other trends. One should be wary of assuming that human rights is the unfolding of something inherent and will inexorably continue whether or not political leaders and those who act as temporary custodians of this program make grievous errors. The stakes are high and the game could be lost.

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