by IHE Fellow V. Bradley Lewis
Seventy years ago last month the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). That document has since become a touchstone for the moral evaluation of political regimes around the world as well as for the continuing development of international law. Its passage was clearly part of the world’s reaction to the catastrophic destruction caused by the Second World War.
The document was also extraordinary for addressing the continuing division of the world by radically different moral, political and religious views. The issuing of the document led the great Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain to make his now-famous comment on human rights. When Maritain was asked how such agreement on the rights protected in the UDHR was achieved, he replied that we can agree on which rights to protect, “provided no one asks us why.” In this we can see both the promise of the UDHR and the international human-rights movement more generally, but also their perils and limitations.
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V. Bradley Lewis is an associate professor of philosophy. Dr. Lewis specializes in political and legal philosophy. He has written articles on the political thought of Plato and Aristotle and on some figures in the neo-Thomist tradition, as well as on the topics of public reason and religious freedom.
Originally published on 8 January 2019 at the National Catholic Register.