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  • David Little (a1)

Disputes over the nature, basis, and enforceability of human rights go back to early 1947, when the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) first began. Nor were the disputes limited to the drafting process. Intense arguments emerged among social scientists, philosophers, religious leaders, legal thinkers, and public figures around the world over the very idea of human rights, namely, the notion that human beings possess legally enforceable entitlements to certain protections and opportunities simply because of their common humanity.

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1 Philpott Daniel and Shah Timothy Samuel, “In Defense of Religious Freedom: New Critics of a Beleaguered Human Right,” Journal of Law and Religion 31, no. 3 (2016) (this issue).

2 Merriam-Webster Dictionary online, s.v. “authoritarian,” accessed December 13, 2016,

3 Landman Todd, Protecting Human Rights: A Comparative Study (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2005), 168–69.

4 Landman Todd, Human Rights and Democracy: Precarious Triumph of Ideals (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 131–39.

5 Philip Alston (Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights), Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, U.N. Doc. A/70/274 (August 4, 2015).

6 Ibid., 2. For details on World Bank studies, see ibid., 8–9, paras. 23–28.

7 Ibid., para. 59, quoting Easterly William, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor (New York: Basic Books, 2013).

8 Moyn Samuel, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010).

9 Morsink Johannes, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting, and Intent (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999). In The Last Utopia, Moyn calls Morsink's book “a fine drafting history,” but completely ignores it, and Posner seems unaware of the book. It does not appear on his list of volumes that “played a role in my thinking.”

10 Moyn, The Last Utopia, 51. See Little David, “Critical Reflections on The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History by Samuel Moyn,” in Essays on Religion and Human Rights: Ground to Stand On (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), chapter 2, for an extensive rehearsal and critique of Moyn's discussion of human rights language.

11 Morsink, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 27, 91, 300.

12 Ibid., chapter 2.

13 G.A. Res. 217 (III)A, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Dec. 10, 1948), preamble.

14 See Little, “Critical Reflections on The Last Utopia,” 72–76; David Little, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: Civil Rights, Human Rights, and Peace” (unpublished lecture).

15 Moyn mistakenly states that the words appear in the preamble (Moyn, 153).

16 Nurser John S., For All Peoples and All Nations: The Ecumenical Church and Human Rights (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2005), 165 (paraphrasing Malik's speech).

17 Morsink, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 263.

18 Beitz Charles R., “Human Dignity in the Theory of Human Rights: Nothing but a Phrase?,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 41, no. 3 (2013): 259–90.

19 Ibid., 297.

20 See Nurser, For All Peoples and All Nations, chapters 2, 8–10.

21 Ibid., 99.

22 Ibid., 171n27.

23 “Extracts from the Minutes of the First Full Meeting of the Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, May 6, 1942,” in ibid., appendix C, 190.

24 Adrian Melanie, Religious Freedom at Risk: The EU, French Schools, and Why the Veil Was Banned (New York: Springer, 2015).

25 Paxton Robert O., The Anatomy of Fascism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), 217 .

26 Asad Talal, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, and Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003).

27 Philpott and Shah, “In Defense of Religious Freedom.”

28 Little, Essays on Religion and Human Rights, 99.

29 U.N. Human Rights Committee, CCPR General Comment No. 22: Article 18 (Freedom of Thought, Conscience or Religion) CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4 (July 30, 1993), in Religion and Human Rights: Basic Documents, ed. Stahnke Tad and Martin Paul (New York: Center for the Study of Human Rights, 1998), 92 .

30 Morsink, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 272.

31 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights art. 27, Dec. 19, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 172.

32 See, for example, John Weeks, “A Rising Authoritarian Wave,”, February 3, 2014,; Odugbemi Sina, “Authoritarianism Goes Global,” People, Spaces, Deliberation (blog) (Washington, DC: The World Bank, August 6, 2015),; Manu Bhagavan, “We Are Witnessing The Rise of Global Authoritarianism on A Chilling Scale,” Quartz, March 21, 2016; Pippa Norris, “It's Not Just Trump. Authoritarian Populism Is Rising across the West. Here's Why,” Washington Post, March 11, 2016; Cooley Alexander, “Authoritarianism Goes Global,” Journal of Democracy 26, no. 3 (2015): 4963 ; Diamond Larry, Plattner Mark F., and Walker Christopher, eds., Authoritarianism Goes Global: The Challenge to Democracy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016).

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Journal of Law and Religion
  • ISSN: 0748-0814
  • EISSN: 2163-3088
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