Rights from Wrongs: The Origins of Human Rights in the Experiences of Injustice

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This is a wholly new and compelling answer to one of the most persistent dilemmas in both law and moral philosophy: If rights are "natural"-if, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, it is "self-evident that all men are endowed...with certain inalienable rights"-where do these rights come from? Does natural law really exist outside the formal structure of humanly enacted law? On the other hand, if rights are nothing more than the product of human law, what argument is there for allowing the "rights" of ...

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Overview

This is a wholly new and compelling answer to one of the most persistent dilemmas in both law and moral philosophy: If rights are "natural"-if, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, it is "self-evident that all men are endowed...with certain inalienable rights"-where do these rights come from? Does natural law really exist outside the formal structure of humanly enacted law? On the other hand, if rights are nothing more than the product of human law, what argument is there for allowing the "rights" of a few people to outweigh the preferences of the majority?In this book, renowned legal scholar Alan Dershowitz offers a fresh resolution to this age-old dilemma: Rights, he argues, do not come from God, nature, logic, or law alone. They arise out of particular experiences with injustice. While justice is an elusive concept, hard to define and subject to conflicting interpretations, injustice is immediate, intuitive, widely agreed upon and very tangible.This is a timely book that will have an immediate impact on our political dialogue, from the intersection of religion and law to recent quandaries surrounding the right to privacy, voting rights, and the right to marry. More than that, it is a passionate case for the recognition of human rights in a rigorously secular framework.Rights from Wrongs will be the first book to propose a theory of rights that emerges not from some theory of perfect justice but from its opposite: from the bottom up, from trial and error, and from our collective experience of injustice.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The double meaning in Dershowitz's title indicates just one of the insightful thoughts that mark the well-known Harvard law professor's latest work. In tracing the evolution of rights, he argues forcefully against any concept of natural rights deriving from religion and from law. Defining himself as a pragmatist, Dershowitz asserts that human rights derive from the world's experience with "wrongs," i.e., injustice. Only after seeing genocide, for example, did the notion develop that this was a violation of human rights. Dershowitz (Supreme Injustice) has a rare ability to develop complex ideas in readable prose. In the book's first half, he carefully examines the rationale for an experiential approach to rights; the second half applies this approach to some of today's hot-button issues. Dershowitz is often on the liberal side: for instance, he has little stomach for literal interpretations of the Constitution-what he calls the "dead constitution" approach. But he can surprise: he argues, for instance, that Justice Scalia's "dead constitution" approach led him to a firmer defense of individual rights than other justices in the recent Hamdi case. Whether conservative or liberal, absolutist or relativist, readers will find areas of disagreement, but most will concur that a talented and creative legal mind is at work. Agent, Helen Rees Literary Agency. (Nov. 12) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465017133
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 11/1/2004
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Dershowitz is Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Known as a defense lawyer, he is also a litigator, columnist, lecturer, book reviewer, and prolific author. His recent books include Sexual McCarthyism, on the Starr investigation, and Reasonable Doubts, on the O. J. Simpson case. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : where do rights come from? 1
1 What are rights? 15
2 Is God the source of rights? 23
3 Is nature the source of rights? 29
4 Are there other "external" sources of rights? 39
5 Do constitutional democracies really need an external theory of rights? 49
6 Do we need to invent an external source of rights - even if it does not really exist? 59
7 Is natural law a helpful or harmful fiction? 67
8 What, then, is the source of rights? 81
9 Is there always a right answer? 99
10 If rights do not come from God or nature, how are they different from mere preferences? 111
11 Does the experiential approach confuse philosophy with sociology? 121
12 Can rights produce wrongs? 137
13 Is the debate over external sources of rights a liberal-conservative issue? 145
14 Can experiential rights check the abuses of majority rule? 155
15 Is there a right "to life"? 169
16 Is there a right not to be censored by government? 175
17 Is there a right to have church and state separated? 183
18 Is there a right to emigrate and/or immigrate? 187
19 Do animals have rights? 193
20 Do dead people have rights in their organs? 201
Conclusion : the future of rights 213
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2006

    Challenging, but Dershowitz is Right (and Left)

    This high level book on legal philosophy attempts to discover and explain the origins and future development of human rights and civil liberties. Legal scholar, Harvard law professor and author Alan Dershowitz makes no attempt to tutor readers. He starts from an expert philosophical perspective, and only goes deeper as he seamlessly navigates through contemporary, historical and judicial examples to present his theory about the origins of rights. Dershowitz is a masterful, machete-wielding guide through a dense, challenging forest of ideas laced with tangled vines of legal ideology. We recommend his book to readers with prior knowledge of the progress of human rights and U.S. civil liberties, as well as social and legal philosophy. It is a notch thick for good cocktail party conversation or easy undergraduate debate. However, it exemplifies Dershowitz¿s vivid thought process and powerful command of social philosophy. Dershowitz and other civil libertarians feel constantly compelled to challenge any court rulings or majority-held opinions that even remotely hint of infringing on real or perceived personal rights. This book fully explains why.

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