The Right to Self-Defense as the Grundnorm for Human Rights: A Response to David Little
“The Right to Self-Defense as the Grundnorm for Human Rights: A Response to David Little,” Canopy Forum (July 6, 2020) https://canopyforum.org/2020/07/06/the-right-to-self-defense-as-the-grundnorm-for-human-rights-a-response-to-david-little/
9 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2021
Date Written: July 6, 2020
This Article analyzes and evaluates the integrative theory of human rights developed by Calvinist theologian and political theorist David Little. Little argues that the founding principle or Grundnorm of all modern human rights is the rights to self-defense for the individual and the group. This right to self-defense was separately enumerated in earlier drafts of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights but was then shifted to the preamble of the Declaration. This signals the more foundational status of the right to self-defense in the international bill of rights, Little argues even more basic than the familiar principles of human dignity and fraternity. Little argues that this right grounds not only the rights of the Universal Declaration, but also their elaboration in the 1966 Covenants on civil, political, social, cultural, and economic rights. Little’s argument rests on an impressive and innovative reading of the text and the travaux préparatoires of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also adduces earlier formulations of rights by Calvinist and liberal writers whose teachings Little distills into his integrative framework. While questioning the historical warrants for Little’s argument in the Calvinist tradition, this Article applauds his efforts to defend modern human rights norms. Jacques Maritain famously said that the diverse world of 1948 could agree on the diverse provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “so long as we did not ask why.” David Little wants to show why and how a universal consensus on human rights was and is possible.
Keywords: Law, Religion, Law and Religion, David Little, human rights, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, right to self-defense, Calvinist rights tradition, resistance, democratic revolution
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