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The demands for human rights being made today around the world are heir to all the great historic movements for human freedom, equality and solidarity—including the English, American, French, Russian and Chinese revolutions and the events they set in train. They derive also from the more enduring elements in the traditions both of natural law and natural rights and of most of the world's great religions and philosophies. They achieve support, further, from the findings of modern science about the close link between simple respect for human dignity and the shaping and sharing of all other values. It has been many times observed how rudimentary demands for freedom from despotic executive tyranny have gradually been transformed into demands for protection against not only the executive but all institutions or functions of government and all private coercion. Early demands for the barest "civil liberties," inherent in the most primitive conception of rule by law, have burgeoned into insistence upon comprehensive "human rights"—that is, into demands for effective participation in all community value processes and for wide sharing in all the values upon which even minimum civil liberties depend. This history can be traced in the changing relation of the individual to the state: from the absolutist state through the liberal or laissez-faire state to the welfare or socialist state, with an increasing perception of political organization as an instrument of all values, and of the importance of government of, by and for all people. From demands for physical security and inviolability of the person, with freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment and freedom from arbitrary arrest and confinement, a progression may be noted to demands for freedom of conscience and religion, of opinion and expression and of association and assembly. With the impact of industrialization, massive concentration of wealth, sprawling urbanization, accelerating change, and the attendant ills of exploitation, disparities in wealth distribution, unemployment and inadequate housing, medical care, education, skills and so on, have come not unnaturally demands for fair and adequate wages, basic income, improved working and health conditions, access to education and skill acquisition, and protection against the hazards of unemployment, sickness, old age and the like.

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