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It is always fashionable to quote French philosopher and theologian Jacques Maritain when discussing the birth of the international human rights movement, specifically, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights forged in 1948. Acknowledging the plurality of opinion during that exercise, Maritain differentiated between the “what” and the “why” of human rights. The strength of that document is anchored in the agreement as to the “what,” but, as Maritain came to realize, “with the ‘why’, the dispute begins.”
The “dispute” was ameliorated when the rationale for human rights, for all intents and purposes, was put aside. Political expediency, the art of the possible, carried the day. But as most knowledgeable observers of that founding document would agree, today's environment for human rights would likely not allow even the “what” of this document to be written and approved. The Universal Declaration has been consigned to selective implementation at best and, at worst, lip service within the international community. This begs the question: is the vagueness of the rationale for human rights a contributor to the uneven and, at times, ineffective presentation of these rights today? Does the lack of a “why” dilute the power of the “what?”
Insofar as this was a mistake in formulating human rights agreements in the past, it is one that can be, and must be, avoided in this book.
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