Rousseau and Human Rights

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1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Rousseau stated in his Social Contract that “Man is born free—and everywhere he is in chains.”[footnoteRef:2] The insistence on man’s nature right of freedom from the Enlightenment Era philosopher helped pave the way for the French Revolution with its insistence on liberty, fraternity and equality. A century and a half later, those same ideals would still hold significant appeal for the Western nations, especially following two World Wars in the 20th century that decimated Europe and parts of Asia. Liberalism was the main driver of the UN’s declaration of human rights—but the coming Cold War, the onset of which was very much in the minds of world leaders immediately following the carve-up of Europe between the unlikely Allies (capitalists in the West, Communists in the East), also played a part in the declaration: the West was anxious to promote itself as the standard bearer of liberal ideals—freedom, democracy, equality, brotherhood, human rights—i.e., the natural rights of man, as defined by the Enlightenment Era thinkers like Rousseau and Locke, whose ideas had come to be enshrined in modern Western politics. [2: Rousseau, Social Contract, 1.]

Locke was opposed to the idea of the “divine right of kings”[footnoteRef:3]—just as Rousseau had been (their antipathy towards anything smacking of Old World ways or values routinely informed their writing).
This opposition to kingship was heralded by the American Revolutionaries and noted in the Declaration of Independence, infused as it was with the spirit of Thomas Paine, a virulent anti-monarchist. The monarchy represented the Old World power structure and what was left it following the Protestant Reformation and the splitting apart of Christendom, which had held distinctly different ideals than the ones that Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire and others proposed. [3: Locke, J. Two Treatises on Government. ISR: Google Books.]

By reaffirming its stance towards promoting human rights, equality, liberty and so on, the Western nations, through the mouthpiece of the EU were showing the Eastern nations that they essentially opposed their ideology. Stalin was basically a monarch in Soviet Russia—lacking all but the title to go with his unquestioned power. Mao in Communist China would essentially become the Chinese version of Stalin—and both opposed the West’s liberal influence. The East held collectivist views and promoted the concept of everyone contributing to the whole, as opposed to the concepts of individualism, individual liberty, and equality for all.….....

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Bibliography

Locke, J. Two Treatises on Government. ISR: Google Books, 2009.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. Bartleby.com.

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