In the last article, I discussed the problem of how inhumane acts are done, by laying the foundation of the problem, and concluded that we needed protection. In order to be protected, it is imperative that we not only have a system in place that allows people to express actions, but most importantly we need one that can answer the question, who or what gives me the right to act without hindrance?
.There have been attempts by various theorists to put forward human rights frameworks which address universal inhumanity. This article will look at two human rights theories, or frameworks that functioned as a means of regulation for governing human affairs. The first framework I will look at is the Justinian Code, which is based on a Roman law compiled in the 6th century for law students; and the second, the categorical imperative of Immanuel Kant.
I would firstly like to touch on a particular maxim from book 1 of the Justinian code, which states, "To live honestly, to hurt no one and to give everyone his due." I have no problem at all with the maxim stated, it sounds very noble and each man would do well to follow this notion. However, I only agree with this statement to some extent.
The problem for me is that this statement could be interpreted in many different ways and therefore I do not think it wise to assume that everyone will interpret it in the same way. I do not believe that the majority of men believe something to be evil and then act on this belief. Rather, I believe they do what "seems right" (while being inherently evil). Herein lies the main difference, all three in that maxim are good things to live by, but are we to assume that all embrace the same fundamental understanding?
In the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp in Germany, there was a particular phrase in German right above the gate – "Jedem Das Seine". When translated, it reads, "to each what he deserves". As the substance of the phrase moves from paper to practice, I'm inclined to wonder if this is what we are to understand "getting what one deserves" to mean? As stated with the above maxim, it would not be wise to leave this statement up for interpretation, for we do not need vague human rights but rather, rights clearly stated.
John Warwick Montgomery quotes an apt verse from Hymn writer Bonar "will they tell us what is to regulate service, if not law? Love they say. This is a pure fallacy. Love is not a rule but a motive. Love does not tell me what to do; it tells me how to do it.... Love without law to guide its impulses would be the parent of will-worship and confusion, as surely as terror and self-righteousness, unless upon the supposition of an inward miraculous illumination, as an equivalent for law".
Basically we need a clear guide; because if we lack this, how will one know "harm no one" and "live honestly"? Do all humans interpret the meaning of honesty in the same way? How can I be told to harm no one, unless I know upon what basis I should affirm the personhood firstly of everyone?
Let us look on the other system, the categorical imperative of Immanuel Kant, the 18th century German philosopher who was especially influential during the age of the enlightenment. This imperative was what Kant considered to be moral obligations that we were to follow in all situations and circumstances.
In the first formulation, Kant states "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law" In the words of a professor of mine, who taught me this approach to human rights, "act in such a way that your action can become the general rule". It sounds very much like "love your neighbour as yourself"
I believe the problem is painted very well by John Warwick Montgomery in his book 'Human Rights and Human Dignity' – "The reply of the thoroughly self centred person, the fanatic, the revolutionary or the anarchist may well be: Ill act without regard for others (or the other side) if I can get away with it". Montgomery goes on further to say "The Condoterri of Machiavelli's time, Burckhardt tells us, enjoyed the game of rolling boulders from their castles down onto their peasants working in the fields; since they feared neither God nor man, they did what pleased them, in total disregard of any principle of universalisation".
Also in Dostoyevsky's classic novel "Crime and Punishment" the protagonist Raskolnikov's idea is put forward by Porfiry, bearing a similarity to that mentioned in Machiavelli's time, he says ".......all men are divided into 'ordinary' and 'extraordinary'. Ordinary men have to live in submission, have no right to transgress the law, because, don't you see, they are ordinary. But extraordinary men have a right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way, just because they are extraordinary..."
Here is where the problem lies in the theory of the imperative – it appeals to something not all men regard; a conscience. In both examples, there was no regard for any principle of loving my neighbour as myself on principle. It shows up the other problem which Human Rights must consider, the human heart. I must want to love my neighbour as myself, as per the part mentioned in Bonar's hymn "the inward equivalent law"; I have to want to do it.
We could list theory after theory and they would come up short. If man is the arbiter of rights, then why should one view be held as superior? If the state, then how does one explain a Nuremberg, where the Nazis were tried for crimes they committed; unless of course, there is a law all other laws must submit to. Whose law is that? If these theories come up short, which one stands towering above the rest?
In Part 3 we will conclude by putting forward a Human Rights Framework that I believe can be justified.
Paul Lewis is a Staff Worker for Inter School's Christian Fellowship in Kingston Jamaica, where he also resides. He has aspirations of becoming a Christian Apologist and he loves reading especially topics like: History, Philosophy and Theology. You can follow him on twitter @VeritasDeiVinci
Paul Lewis' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/paul-lewis.html