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With Liberty and Justice for All

Oct 13, 2008
With a preamble and 30 articles, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which is 60 years old this month, is considerably shorter, at 1,773 words, than the U.S. Constitution’s 4,449. Though Article 16, Paragraph 3 states “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society...,” the UDHR actually enshrines the individual as the primary unit, insulating them even from the occasional tyrannizing of the family.

It only takes about ten minutes to read the UDHR and we should all read it at least once a year, if only to remind ourselves that human society and its institutions—its governments, its laws, its economic systems—exist to serve the individual and that all individuals must enjoy equal access to, and equal rights in, the services of those institutions. Too often, in reality, are we instead called upon to serve them, too often enslaved by tyrannies, too often exploited by oligarchies.

This is what has bothered us about JFK’s exhortation in his 1961 inaugural speech practically since we first heard it: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”1 No, no, no. Our country exists to ensure and protect our liberty and equality; it is a reflection of our collective will, and it is a fundamental fraud upon the public to imply our “country” requires anything of us except our constant vigilance in ensuring it perform its proper role.

To that end, we would recommend the establishment of a University Declaration of Human Responsibility to accompany and bolster the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our declaration is in the singular, as it would only consist of one Article:

Article I. That every human being on the planet will engage in substantive lifelong action to realize the goals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and will not rest until those goals are met.
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1 The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition, 2002 (Accessed October 11, 2008)
tags: Human Rights

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