PETER HITCHENS: There’s no such thing as Human Rights
Human rights do not exist. They are an invention, made from pure wind. If you’re seriously interested in staying free, don’t rely on these windy, vague phrases to help you.
They are in fact a weapon in the hands of those who want to take your freedom and transform society, although this is probably an accident. Only in the past 50 years have radical judges realized that these baseless statements can be used to (for example) abolish national borders or give criminals the right to vote.
You can agree to this policy. But shouldn’t such things be decided by an elected parliament? That is not the view of the new wave of activist lawyers who have come to dominate the courts since the Blair government’s revolutionary committee on judicial appointments began transforming the judiciary in 2005.
Real guarantees look very different. While they often miss the grandiose wording of “human rights” documents, they do one important thing. They limit the power of the state. They say what the government cannot do. Article 39 of the Magna Carta, Britain’s great freedom charter, is worth more than a page full of human rights violations.
The article says, and it still states that: ‘No free man shall be taken captive, or imprisoned, or taken from his property, or of his liberties, or of his free customs, or be forbidden, or exiled, or in any way destroyed, neither shall we act against him by force or against him with weapons, but by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.’
On those words hangs the presumption of innocence, which protects us from arbitrary punishment. Therefore, a copy of this document is kept in a vault, surrounded by inert gas to prevent it from decay, in the US National Archives.
King John is shown signing the Magna Carta (1215). Undated illustration, after a painting by Chappel
Cynical nobles wrested it from King John 807 years ago. And it is why countries that have inherited English law and government are a thousand times more free than countries that have not.
The same is true of the English Bill of Rights of 1689, and the near-twin, Scotland’s Claim of Right, of the same year. I got to hold the original Bill of Rights, engraved on parchment, and to my surprise found myself trembling in awe.
It is the guarantee of our freedom, the very thing my ancestors fought to obtain and then keep, the first thing that an intruder would have canceled by decree, had an intruder come here.
This document, like Magna Carta, was squeezed from the Crown by brandy-soaked mud-spattered squires, who had learned not to trust the word of princes. It’s a long list of things the state may not do, based on hard experience of what it does when uninhibited.
A century later, the American revolutionaries copied most of it. What the English Bill of Rights says is that parliament, not the king, is sovereign, and men can only be punished by the courts.
It requires frequent parliaments, guarantees freedom of speech in those parliaments, and gives MPs ultimate power over levying taxes and setting up or disbanding the military. It was the envy of Europe for a century. It’s still guarding us.
But the French revolutionaries of 1789 had a deeper purpose. They believed they could start all over the world. They were not hard-core cynics, but idealists who wanted to replace Christianity with a new belief in man. To give a voice to this nonsense, they created a ‘Declaration of Human and Citizens’ Rights’.
Sovereignty was taken from God and the king and given to the nation and people instead.
UK Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab to make a statement on the Bill of Rights in the House of Commons in London, UK, on June 22, 2022
The document was displayed on stone tablets in gold letters, decorated with secular angels and a mysterious eye looking out from a golden pyramid. It stated that everyone would have “freedom, property, security and resistance to oppression”, a likely story.
The Declaration urged the presumption of innocence, something that everyone agrees on, but few actually do. But it contained no practical way of enforcing this. That would require impartial, independent juries of wise, experienced men and women, immune to state pressure. Most countries do not have these.
Take Articles 10 and 11: ‘No one may be disturbed about his views, including his religious views, provided that their expression does not disturb the public order established by law.
‘The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious human rights. Any citizen may speak, write and print accordingly – but will be responsible for abuses of this freedom as provided by law.”
Look at that ‘but’.
This is light-hearted idealism without hard guarantees, with slippery words that make it possible to nullify the supposed ‘right’ when it suits the state – fine in theory, useless in practice. And all this ended in the howling Revolutionary Terror, piles of severed heads around the crowded guillotine, mass drownings and farcical trials.
The same futile approach was tried again in Weimar Germany, whose 1919 constitution was considered the most liberal in the world at the time. But as usual it contained many escape clauses, most notably Article 48 which allows the suspension of vital freedoms.
Thus it was that Adolf Hitler came to power, crushed German freedom and ruled for 12 terrible years, without having to replace this supposedly democratic document.
Stalin, too, was much praised by gullible Western leftists for his 1936 Soviet Constitution, which included “rights” of freedom of speech and religion.
Within a year, the USSR was rocked by a wave of unbridled secret police terror in which people were locked up for making anti-regime jokes, had no human rights, or were safe from torture, sudden death, or lifelong slavery.
Unlearning of this, a group of wimpy idealists led by the militant liberal Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of President Franklin Roosevelt, set out after World War II in search of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In part, this was an attempt to devise a cause for the victorious Allies — clumsy, since the blood-stained Stalin was part of the winning coalition.
PETER HITCHENS: ‘Let’s get rid of these useless human rights, which protect us for nothing and give power to those who don’t deserve it’
Still, the document was swooned and approved as if it mattered—and it’s been that way ever since. Read it now and wonder how many UN member states are implementing its well-intentioned demands.
And about the same time came the European Convention on Human Rights, which was never intended to be directed against this country.
It was drafted in an effort to prevent the nations that had become tyrannies, or had been subdued by tyrannies, from sinking back into darkness. Did it do that? Will it do that?
It didn’t make much sense against the Covid crackdown on mass house arrest, travel bans and regulation that swept Europe almost unchallenged and unopposed.
Why should it be of any use against the worse things that could happen when the economic crisis and raging politics once again creep up on the continent?
Let’s get rid of these useless human rights, which protect us for nothing and give power to those who have not earned it. And let’s relearn to appreciate, cherish, and follow the great English documents that have, in fact, kept us free for centuries.