The Western Front

Inhuman Rights

Since the father of the French (and, by now, European) New Right, Alain de Benoist, sent me an inscribed copy of his most recent book, Au-Delà des Droits De L’Homme (Krisis, 2004), I read the text attentively.  Like him, I have wondered why natural rights (now called human rights) have become, in the words of Régis Debray, “the last to date of our civil religions, the soul of a world without a soul.”  Benoist has no trouble finding a swarm of self-styled consciences of humanity, from Elie Wiesel to papal spokesmen, who assure us that “human rights” represent a divine revelation and a religious mystery.  One author, Marcel Gauchet, who speaks of le sacre des droits de l’homme, may be on to something when he stresses the ritualistic nature of human-rights talk.  As Benoist properly observes, one can contextualize the phenomenon historically and sociologically, but it is hard to demonstrate that the abstract universals he analyzes are something more than a time-bound fiction.  Until about 20 years ago, despite the United Nations’ periodic enumerations of human rights, perceptive contemporary thinkers (including Alasdair Mac-Intyre, Hannah Arendt, and Raymond Aron) would have agreed with Edmund Burke, David Hume, Joseph de Maistre, and the German Historical School that natural and human rights are the inventions of misguided moralists.

Benoist...

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