Preamble section 1:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,


  1. Where Do Human Rights Come From
  2. Religion
  3. Natural Law
  4. Natural Rights
  5. Legal Positivism
  6. Marxism/Socialism
  7. Controversy
  8. References

Natural Law

The scientific and intellectual achievements of the 17th century encouraged a belief in natural law and universal order. The theory of natural law is the belief that people, as creatures of nature and God, should live their lives and organize society on the basis of rules and precepts laid down by nature or God.

The concept of natural law originated with the Greeks and received its most important formulation in Stoicism. The Stoics believed that the fundamental moral principles that underlie all the legal systems of different nations were reducible to the dictates of natural law. The Stoics, Cicero and their jurists successor did not perceive natural law as a higher law invalidating and justifying disobedience to man-made laws that did not measure up, but as a standard for making, developing and interpreting law: law should be made and developed so that it correspond to nature.

Later the church christianized Roman ideas, rooted natural law in divine authority, and gave it the quality of highest law. Christian philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas perpetuated this idea, asserting that natural law was common to all peoples, Christian and non-Christian alike, while adding that revealed law gave Christians an additional guide for their actions.

Although some of this law was revealed, most of it was left to man to uncover and develop by his God-given "right reason" (Henkin, The Rights of Man Today).

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University