Absolutism vs Human Rights

Absolutism vs Human Rights

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Human Rights have developed over time and the rights of citizens and democracies have now become the focus of world’s debate. With the United Nations, it has become a global issue. Rights have existed throughout the history of man. One development of the concepts of the citizen’s rights and democracies came after the debate of the monarchy’s absolute power over a single nation. This absolute power is known as absolutism. After the debate of the king’s power, revolutions occurred and gave rise to democracies like the United States. These democracies granted rights to the individual citizens and political power, after the rejection of divine rights of kings. There were rights granted to individuals throughout history, but these rights were limited and the population was not completely at liberty with personal freedoms. With the promotion of democracies, rights have now become a global issue.
The concept of human rights has evolved through the years. It has grown into the focus of many governments and nations. Democracies have made rights of its citizens their primary concern in governing. There have always been rights and laws written into codes of government documents. There have also been other governments, which did not grant these rights to the individual. When monarchies formed in Europe after the fall of Rome, there came philosophies called divine rights and absolutism. This form of government is similar to a dictatorship. The rebellion against this form of government produced a new way of thinking. This new way of thinking developed a new form of government called democracies, which granted individual freedoms and rights to the civilian population. These proclaimed inalienable rights of man. In 1822, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “nothing… is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.” (Kamenka vii, 1).
Early Laws and Rights
Before getting into the rights of kings and Nature Law, we must first look at the history of rights throughout man’s existence. It is not possible to explain every step in man’s existence pertaining to rights. Almost all civilizations had written laws or codes guiding its citizens in everyday life. One instance was the Code of Hammurabi. It is not viewed as humane today, but in its time, concepts of law and justice were established and it was an enlightened document. From its teachings we gather, “The strong shall not oppress the weak.” From this and other civilizations, the story of human rights begins and laws or codes protecting rights began to be established.

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(Hines 11, 15)
There were literally hundreds of kings on the British Isles before a single monarchy emerged. Maybe this is where a single monarchy entity emerged. Feudalism and kings produced a single head of state of the British Isle. Since its departure from Rome, Britain has always been headed by a monarchy. After the Magna Carta, kings issued their own set of liberties and rights. Rebellion from a king was seen as blasphemous and ungodly. Divine Rights became a way of life. Religious life and political life became intertwined. Divine Rights had a long history, it was central to the Egyptian civilization and there were also the Hebrew kings, who ruled under the notion of divine appointment. There was even the notion that some of these kings had supernatural healing powers. The kings were not only granted divine powers, but were themselves revered as Gods. Divine Rights and absolutism was rebuked by John Locke and others during the Age of Reason or the Enlightenment. Revolutions ensued and the world was changed from an existing world ruled by monarchies, to a world of democracies (Cannon 39, v, 125, 356, 415).
The practice of absolutism grew throughout Western Europe. These grew in protestant and catholic monarchies alike. With the rise of Protestantism came martin Luther and Calvinism. Then there came a protestant attack on absolutism. This was also a time of the protestants breaking away from the catholic church, with Henry the eighth forming his own Church of England. King James I was a prominent promoter of Divine Right. Kings, he said, “are breathing images of God upon earth.”(Sabine 362, 358, 375, 396)
Absolutism had a traditional social order, dominated by a class of wealthy landowners. In France it was characterized by the Old Regime. There was somewhat of a parliamentary system and individual rights already with the Estate system, but many laws and privileges only pertained to those in the upper class. These rights were not a free democracy and did not include all men, such as those in a modern state. The world’s first democracies came after the overthrow of these monarchies, who ruled by Divine Right. Absolutism became a system dominated by the privileged class and wealthy land owners. A system evolving from feudalism and religion (Beik 31, 117, 335)
The age of absolutism came to an end in the late 1700’s and a new age of democracies came. The period of 1660-1815 is called the “Age of Absolutism.” Napoleon played a role in the end of absolutism and an end to the monarchy’s dynasty of rule. He conquered much of Europe which included his own home of France. This put an end to many monarchies of Europe, including Spain. When the new governments were formed they included much of the rights that the Americans and French Revolution had included in their documents. The monarchies no longer had absolute control and documents like the Constitution and Declaration of rights of Man and Citizen gave rights to the population. The new forms of government gave power to other branches within the government (Beloff 19, 177, 178)
Through Divine Rights, kings acted as Gods representative. King James I once stated that kings are, “the supremest thing upon earth: for the kings are not only God’s lieutenants upon earth and sit upon God’s throne, but even by God himself, they are called Gods.” James expanded on this idea at every opportunity he had, in court and in parliament. From every pulpit, the priest preached Divine Right and duty to the king. After the revolutions in Europe, Divine Right had been abolished. Declarations of rights had been signed. Divine Right had been destroyed as a political concept. Parliaments made the laws of the land and had power over the crown (Fraser 315, 329-330, 384).
The Enlightenment
John Locke was the champion of both Natural Rights and the questioning of Divine Right of the King. He professed his philosophies on both these concepts in his writing Two Treatises of Government and An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The concept of rights had been around for a while, but Hobbes and Locke were the first to come up with the concept of Natural Law and Natural Rights. Locke then came up with the philosophy of Nature Rights. Hobbes was generally regarded as a supporter of Divine Rights. It was John Locke who pushed the concept of rights further. Thomas Paine then restated the idea in his writing The Rights of Man. These ideals were certainly influential in the revolutionaries of America and France. These concepts influenced democracies all around the world and even today’s concepts of rights and governments. What are now called Human Rights and Rights of Man were once called Natural Rights (Laqueur 6-10, 17).
There was already a bill of rights established after the Glorious Revolution in England. When the Americans gained independence, the rights stated in the English laws were restated in the Constitution. The French Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen, which came right about the same time, restated these rights as well. With the U.N. in later years, Human Rights became a global issue. Human Rights became campaign issues in foreign policy, from John Kennedy to Jimmy Carter. Over the last few decades, Human Rights have developed in international law. There is now an International Bill of Rights established in 1947 with the United Nations. The Magna Carta from King John in 1215 marked the beginning of these rights concepts. It embodied such concepts as trial by peers, no confiscation of property without compensation and especially equality of all under the law. After the Glorious Revolution in England, there was the introduction of a limited monarchy. (Laqueur 23, 25, 41, 45, 101).
Thomas Hobbes was a philosopher from the Enlightenment who was rather on the side of the crown and Locke’s opponent. In 1665, Thomas Hobbes published his magnum opus: the Leviathan. He was forced to “Fly to England for Refuge” after it had been printed. In 1666, parliament threatened action against Leviathan. In Leviathan, Hobbes argues that the sovern must have absolute control of the society in order to control the people and to protect the society. He uses the commonwealth of Britain as an example, as the sovern the head of the body and the people its body. He argues that the state of nature of man is a state of chaos and violence and man must make a social contract. The people must submit themselves to the authority and give up some of their freedoms. This in turn would be essential because of man’s state of nature (Adler 42, 84).
Locke in the Second Treatise of Government also refers to a state of nature. His rendition is a state of liberty and in this state , one may come into power over another. To understand political power we must first understand the state of man in nature. The concept of Natural Rights came from Locke as well; these are the citizen’s right to freedoms and personal property. That these rights exist in nature and these rights helped shape the constitution and Americans. The concept of rebelling from these monarchies originated with Locke and the Second Treatise of Government. “Revolt is the right of the people” - John Locke. “When the government is dissolved, the people are at liberty to provide for themselves by erecting a new legislative” (Gough 4-6, 109)
When Locke entered into Oxford, Oliver Cromwell and the puritans were in control of Britain. There was a movement towards conservatism. This occurred in the Americas as well. There at Oxford, Locke became interested in political philosophies. In A Letter Concerning Toleration, he promoted religious toleration of christians in profession of different beliefs in those conservative times. Again showing influence on the Americas and freedom of religion and religious toleration. Locke retired in 1691, but continued to work. He not only influenced the founding fathers of the Americas with some of his earlier writings, but also helped draft some state constitutions. He died in 1704 at his home while writing a fourth Letter on Toleration (Hutchins ix).
Hobbes says that in the State of Nature, “The notions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice have there no place.” A person must lay down his natural right to all things for his preservation. Man must therefore leave this state of nature, enter society and submit themselves to the governing. The difference thus, between Hobbes and Locke, is that Hobbes argues more that the person is obligated to submit to the authority to escape the state of nature. Locke argued for the right of the people to rebel against tyranny and form a new government. The two laws are not to be confused. Hobbes’s state of nature is a state in which man exists in nature that is corrupt and must submit to authority, because man is evil in this view, in the natural state. Locke’s Natural Rights are inalienable rights that man has. These are similar to the bill of rights of the constitution, but are rights that exist in nature or in man’s thinking. It is the reasoning of rights of man through empirical reasoning. Locke denies the legitimacy of absolute monarchies in his First Treatise of Government. He out right rejected an absolute monarchy as a civil government, comparing them to aristocracy and had a hand in some of the constitutions of the individual states in the Americas (Lemos 22, 25, 31, 69, 116, 117).
The Americans became champions of rights of citizens. Each figure promoted liberty and rights in their constitution. One of these was Thomas Paine. In Rights of Man, Paine says that it is a just cause for citizens to rebel on its government when it does not protect or uphold these Natural Rights. This was a response to the French Revolution. Both these revolutions had impact on the world and promoted democracies and philosophies which promoted rights of citizens. His pamphlet Common Sense was one of the most popular publications of the American Revolution. It rallied the Americans around the revolution and he became a prominent figure in early American history. With the Americans becoming a super power, the issue of rights and democracies became a global phenomenon. The writings of these philosophers became studied, as well. (Collins 12, 46)
The struggle for Human Rights has been present throughout the history of mankind. It is the relationship between man and his society. In what is known as the Social Contract, man has duties, responsibilities and rights of both the individual and society. These rights have evolved and are now included and guaranteed in documents. The allied powers after World War II took this human rights issue one step further with the United Nations, by making human rights issues international issues. (Hines vii, 2, 5)
Natural Rights came from John Locke. This in turn influenced the Americans and the French revolution in their democracies. Hobbes was Locke’s opponent and believed people must submit themselves to absolutism, because of what he called Natural Law. It is a state in which man exists without authority and resorts to violence. From these philosophers and revolutions, came these universal and natural rights. It is binding to all men. This law can only be followed if men are endowed with rights. The laws of community, which teach men to conduct themselves and become good members of societies. This would include “all men are created equal.” That these are “truths” stated in the constitution. This does not coincide with absolutism and divine rights. It is clear that they drew some inspiration from the previous revolutions and had impact on the future (Harding 14, 30, 32)



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