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Human Rights Are Not a Western Discovery

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 September 2018

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Who discovered human rights, not as a U.S. policy, but as a fundamental aspiration of human beings everywhere, to which all are entitled? If the challenging thrust of President Jimmy Carter's human rights policy is meeting resistance in his own country, is it perhaps because of conveniently comforting doubts about the universality of human rights—for instance, the notion that in too many places on this planet, rights have not yet been “discovered“?

I call this collection of doubts and fears the BHK syndrome, because it is suggested by three principal sources, the first two predictable—William Buckley, Jr., and William Randolph Hearst, Jr.—the third not quite expected—George F. Kennan.

The BHK syndrome would begin by dismissing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, that inventory of the rights of man that is the total substance of democracy, as a document not quite fully understood by people from its non-Western signatories.

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Copyright © Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs 1978

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