I am continuing a series of blogs on human rights that I began in December: “Towards Human Rights.” The purpose of this blog series is to make the case for the implementation and acceptance of human rights as a global values system. It is based on my Human Rights: Towards a Universal Values System?
“…recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
Towards Human Rights as a Global Values System, part 22
By Dr. Denise R. Ames
A History and Philosophy of Human Rights, England in the Middle Ages: The Magna Carta The Magna Carta is often cited as contributing to the development of human rights and the rule of constitutional law. It was an English charter first issued in 1215 and written because of a disagreement about the rights of the king, the Catholic Church, and wealthy English landowners. In a bold move, the Magna Carta required the king to give up certain rights and abide by the law that would bind his actions.
It also protected certain rights of the people and enumerated what later came to be thought of as human rights. Among them was the right of the church to be free from governmental interference and the rights of all free citizens to own and inherit property and to be protected from excessive taxes. It established the right of widows who owned property to choose not to remarry, and established principles of due process and equality before the law. It also contained provisions forbidding bribery and official misconduct.
The Magna Carta influenced the development of English Common Law and many constitutional documents, such as the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. Common Law refers to the legal system developed through decisions of courts called case law, rather than through laws passed by legislatures or by executive action. Judges create and fine-tune common law over the years. The Magna Carta has become an important foundation for the freedom of the individual against arbitrary authority.
European Renaissance and Humanism
Humanism started in Europe during the Renaissance in the 14th century. Influenced by ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, humanism is an educational and philosophical outlook that emphasizes the personal worth of the individual and the central importance of human values, as opposed to only religious belief. There were and still are both Christian humanists and secular (non-religious) humanists. It began as an educational program called the humanities that were in keeping with Christian teachings. By the middle of the 16th century, humanism had won wide acceptance as a popular educational system.
The idea of humanism eventually developed into the belief of the dignity of humanity. For humanists, humans are unique in God’s creation and they have a special relationship to God. From its beginnings, the purpose of the humanist education program was to prepare students to participate in public life for the common good.
Out of educational humanism came a strain of humanism called civic humanism. The civic humanists emphasized political science and political action, while educational humanists emphasized grammar, rhetoric, and logic. According to civic humanists, citizens should be responsible for one another and should define themselves primarily in relation to their duties to their family and their government. This idea glorified participation in public affairs.
About the Author:
Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA provides books, resources, and services with a holistic, global- focused, and perspective-taking approach for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.
For more information about the topic of human rights see Dr. Ames’ book Human Rights: Towards a Global Values System, $17.95, 225 pgs. Also available on Amazon.