Rights From Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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." These rights are as cherished today as when Thomas Jefferson enumerated them 231 years ago, but traditional faith isn’t doing as well (witness Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens). If God goes, do our rights go with him? Not according to Alan Dershowitz, who in Rights from Wrongs proposes the theory that they come not from God (theists have no monopoly on moral behavior), nature (whose first rule is selfishness), or the law itself (Dershowitz is no fan of legal positivism). Rather, he argues that, in a sense, two wrongs do make a right: that our rights are built from the ground up, in the manner of the common law: we "agree upon the least desirable ways of life and seek to protect against those evils." Dershowitz is likely to lose some readers, especially those who trend toward the right, in the book’s second half, where he begins to apply his theory to issues including organ donation, separation of church and state, animal rights, and immigration. Regardless, Rights from Wrongs is a fine companion piece to the "atheist trilogy": well-argued, thought-provoking, and likely to appeal to those interested in politics and philosophy as well as religion and law. --Benjamin Lukoff
Where do our rights come from? Does "natural law" really exist outside of what is written in constitutions and legal statutes? If so, why are rights not the same everywhere and in all eras? On the other hand, if rights are nothing more than the product of human law, why should we ever allow them to override the popular will?
In Rights from Wrongs, renowned legal scholar Alan Dershowitz puts forward a wholly new and compelling answer to this age-old dilemma: Rights, he argues, do not come from God, nature, logic, or law alone. They arise out of particular human experiences with injustice.
Rights from Wrongs is the first book to propose a theory of rights that emerges not from a theory of perfect justice but from its opposite: from the bottom up, from trial and error, and from our collective experience of injustice. Human rights come from human wrongs.
"[Dershowitz’s] underlying theory is one that can be neutrally applied by people residing at all positions within the political spectrum.... Perhaps if his views were understood by more people, there would be both a toning down of the political rhetoric." -Tampa Tribune
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