A new narrative of the origin of the idea of natural human rights has been emerging in recent years. Three books stand out. Brian Tierney, in his 1997 publication The Idea of Natural Rights: Studies on Natural Rights, Natural Law and Church Law: 1150–1625, shows that the idea of natural human rights was explicitly formulated and often employed by the canon lawyers of the 1100s. John Witte, in his 2007 publication The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion, and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism, shows that the idea was employed almost incessantly by the early Calvinists. And the earlier 1979 publication by Richard Tuck, Natural Rights Theories: Their Origin and Development, goes some way toward filling in the gap between the medieval and early modern periods that Tierney and Witte focus on.
The old and still-popular narrative holds that the idea of natural human rights was created by the individualistic political philosophers of the Enlightenment, notably Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Those who espouse this narrative customarily add that the Enlightenment was a secular, anti-Christian movement. What the new counter-narrative shows beyond doubt is that the idea was given birth some six centuries earlier by medieval Christian thinkers, and that it continued to be used through the centuries by Catholic writers and, once Protestantism arose, by Protestant writers as well. Hobbes and Locke inherited the idea from their Christian forebears.
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