Democracy and human rights


23 Mar 2015

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This essay is going to be about some of the philosophers whose thoughts about democracy and human rights affected the declaration of human rights, and also about the deceleration itself.

The first evidence of Human rights were given by Cyrus the great around 539 BC. After conquering Babylon he had the "Cyrus cylinder" created stating that he overthrew the old king and that he had greatly improved the lives of Babylonians. This is considered to be one of the first human rights charters as it is said that Cyrus freed slaves and said that every one should have freedom of religion. Whether it was put into action scholars disagree about, some say it is propaganda to win the hearts of his newly conquered city. Nonetheless he was the first leader to have those ideas.

Democracy means people rule in Greek and ancient Greece is considered to be the home of democracy. But only a few select were allowed to vote. Is that really people rule?

Plato was sceptic to "people rule" and thought that people were not to be trusted with power as they are easily swayed by strong leaders. In Plato's masterpiece "The Republic" he suggests many different types of government and today it would not be a good manual for a good government as Plato strived for an "utopian" society. The governments suggested in "The Republic" do not resemble "modern" republics and constitutional monarchies. But some dictatorships can resemble Plato's "Utopia". Plato however suggested that women and men should have equal rights which is very relevant to human rights.

Aristotle, unlike Plato, was not concerned with creating a perfect society. He wanted to improve the existing one. However he was, like Plato also sceptical towards democracy or "mob rule".

In Aristotle's ideal state an Enlightened king would rule alongside the help of an Educated Aristocracy and a Popular Assembly that respected the rule of law. This idea resembles the current U.S. Model. Aristotle however believed that it was the woman's role to obey as it was for the man's to command.

Other philosophers are John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, we can clearly see similarities between their ideas, and how our modern society is formed.

Thomas Hobbes believed that: " Each man must be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself ", that is similar to the golden rule: "Treat others as you wish to be treated yourself." Hobbes lived in the time when the English civil war took place, he believed that humans are greedy and evil.

John Locke on the other hand, believed that people are good and tolerant. He said that: " People are free to do whatever they want as long as they do not damage someone else's: life, health, liberty or possessions". He also believed that : " Everyone must agree to hand over power to one central authority whose job it is to impose the law and severely punish law-breakers".

John Locke had a more optimistic view on mankind whilst Thomas Hobbes had a more negative view on man. Hobbes would compare man to beasts except for one difference, man was always competing for honour and dignity: "Are continually in competition for honour and dignity" (Leviathan, XVII, p.111)

These philosophers may not have directly affected the democracy we have today, but with their ideas they are sure to have influenced many other thinkers in helping to create the government we have today.

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." - Winston Churchill.

The universal declaration of human rights was born on December 10, 1958 and is not a legally binding document. It was not made legally binding because if it was then no countries would have adopted it. As it is today the countries that want to make it legal can only do so by incorporating it into the constitution.

Article one and two can be seen as the foundation blocks of the human rights. They are negative rights because they restrict people from discrimination. The articles state that: "everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration". The main point of the two articles is that everyone are equal and free without any form of discrimination. The ideas about equality between men and women can be found in Plato's ideas about equality "women should be treated equally with men"

Articles 3, 4 and 5 state that everybody should be secure and free and that nobody should be denied their security and freedom. The problem with these articles is that they are very vague and can be interpreted differently by each country. A topic that is widely discussed is abortion, the declaration of human rights clearly state that everyone has the right to live. But when does that right take action? When the child is conceived or when the child is born?

Article 26 discusses the issue of education. It goes back to the foundation blocks saying that everyone has the equal right to education no matter what sex, race or nationality. It also says that the guardians have the authority to the education for their child, until they come of legal age. The right to education can be seen in Jeremy Bentham's ideas, he "called for right to education for all"

Article 17 talks about the right to own property and not to be deprived of it without any concrete evidence. This right could be based on John Locke's idea about property and profit: " private ownership of property and profit" meaning that no government or state has the right to claim your property and profit.

Article 21 consists of positive rights that give you the right to affect the choice of government. It gives you the right to vote no matter sex or race and to do so anonymously and free of cost. Jeremy Bentham believed in voting rights for working men and women.

Thomas Hobbes and the natural law tradition by norberto bobbio 1993 i think and translated by Daniela Gobetti


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