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Religion, sovereignty, natural rights, and the constituent elements of experience

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It is commonly held that the idea of natural rights originated with the ancient Greeks, and was given full form by more modern philosophers such as John Locke, who believed that natural rights were apprehensible primarily to reason. The problem with this broad position is three-fold: first, it is predicated on the presumption that the idea of rights is modern, biologically speaking (only twenty three hundred years separates us from the Greeks, and three hundred from the English liberals); second, it makes it appear that reason and rights are integrally, even causally, linked; finally, it legitimizes debate about just what rights might be, even in their most fundamental essence. In consequence, the most cherished presumptions of the West remain castles in the air, historically and philosophically speaking. This perceived weakness of foundation makes societies grounded on conceptions of natural right vulnerable to criticism and attack in the most dangerous of manners. Most of the bloodiest battles and moral catastrophes of the twentieth century were a consequence of disagreement between groups of people who had different rationally-derived notions of what exactly constituted an inalienable right ("from each according to his ability, to each according to his need"). If natural rights are anything at all, therefore, they better be something more than mere rational constructions. The adoption of a much broader evolutionary/historical perspective with regards to the development of human individuality and society allows for the generation of a deep solution to this problem—one dependent on a transformation of ontology, much as moral vision. Such a solution grounds the concept of sovereignty and natural right back into the increasingly implicit and profoundly religious soil from which it originally emerged, and provides a rock-solid foundation for explicit Western claims for the innate dignity of man.


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