The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“‘Unalienable Rights’ Made America Great”: Josh Craddock in Newsweek

JWI Affiliated Scholar Josh Craddock lauded the recent draft report of the State Department’s Commission on Human Rights in a new article for Newsweek. He broke down the distinction between the American tradition of natural rights and the progressive preoccupation with pragmatic positive rights. Craddock roots the American rights tradition in the Declaration of Independence and the notion of unalienable rights applicable for all peoples at all times and derived from an objective, scrutable human nature. He contrasts this with positive rights guaranteed by specific nations in accordance with their preferences and customs, such as the so-called “right” to an abortion or the “right” to government-subsidized healthcare. According to Craddock, progressive internationalists at the United Nations seek to blur the lines between positive rights and natural rights, but the State Department’s draft report is a helpful clarification that will aid the US in addressing the abuse of unalienable rights around the world.

Some quotes from the article:

“…the Declaration of Independence is among the greatest expressions of natural rights doctrine. For the first time in human history, that document invoked ‘the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God’ to establish a political community based on the self-evident truth that ‘all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.'”

“…The New York Times warns that the report’s distinction between unalienable rights and positive rights ‘could reverse the country’s longstanding belief that ‘all rights are created equal.” The Times makes the strange claim that ‘all rights are created equal’ without attribution, perhaps because it has no basis in either the American Founding or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

“The genius of the Declaration is not the assertion that all rights are created equal, but rather that all men are created equal. Rejecting time-bound historicism, Abraham Lincoln called the Declaration ‘an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times.’ It was to this truth that Lincoln, standing at Gettysburg, re-consecrated the American experiment in self-government. And it is this truth that makes America exceptional.”

Read the whole article here.

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Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790