Human rights are universal, ascribed to all human beings. Civil rights are the rights accorded to the citizens of a particular society. There is no universal agreement on the extent to which human rights and civil rights are, or should be, the same.
The United States was the first nation to form the idea that all human rights should be civil rights, that the proper role of government was to guarantee that. Other nations which came to democracy later than the U.S., however, have also extended it farther, being far more comfortable with the role of government in assuring such human rights as the right to subsistence, education, and livelihood.
One of the dividing lines between what is called “liberal” and what is called “conservative” is over what human rights can and should be guaranteed by government as civil rights, and what are the province of other social institutions, such as the church or the family, to foster and protect.
Religious conservatives, and even some religious liberals, have historically given religious arguments for human rights, and even claimed that there are no grounds for human rights independent of religion. Most liberals, and even some conservatives, argue that in order for human rights to be universal, they must have a basis that all can agree on independent of religion, or any other cultural content that is not universal.
Another central question of our time, in a world of many different cultures interacting with each other, is what universal rights we can and should enforce.
All of these questions – what is the basis for human rights, what do they consist of, how should they be enforced, and to what extent – are related.
If human rights are truly universal, attributed to something that all human beings share in common, then all human beings who claim human rights are natural allies against all human beings who would deprive any of their human rights. All social institutions, including government, must respect and protect human rights; and if they do not, it is the responsibility of all human beings, even those of other nations, to reform them. Liberals tend toward this view.
If human rights are based on an element contained in only one culture, then only those who adopt that culture can exercise human rights, and no other culture can be expected to provide human rights for its people. Conservatives tend toward this view; they vary between those who feel that the culture that best promotes human rights (their own) should take care of its own and let others choose to join it or not; and those who believe that the culture that best pro motes human rights (their own) has a moral obligation to spread itself across the Earth.
What do you consider to be “human rights” and what do you consider to be “civil rights”? What is the basis for them? In what way can & should they be fostered and protected?
One of the central questions of the modern era has been what values to enforce universally in a world of many individual, and sometimes conflicting, cultures.
In my opinion, all freedom, all rights, all values, are created by affirmation. There is no value, no freedom, no right, inherent in material reality. We decide what we want, and then we make it possible. By our own actions, we open up new options, and close off others.
We are as free as we make ourselves.
The only way to really know that someone is free to do something is if somebody does it. If you want the freedom to travel, then you act on that, creating the means to travel, and overcoming obstacles to traveling where you wish to go. If you do not travel because of illness, because of lack of transport, because men with guns guard the border between you and where you want to go, or because you don’t want to go anywhere, the result is the same: you don’t travel.
Humans will have rights, if we choose to have them, and structure our society so as to make them possible. We will only have the rights, however, that we guarantee for everyone else.
We may structure our government so as to foster individual rights, or we may use some other social institution to do so. Since every human society is going to have some political process to resolve conflicts between us, decide what we shall do as a group, and define the accepted use of force, it seems to me fitting and necessary that the fostering and protection of human rights be a fundamental objective of that process.