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Jul 04 2015

Human Rights and Revolutions

Revolutions involve a rejection of government and usually, some form of overthrowing an existing government and establishing a new one. Most revolutions are fueled by the idea that an existing governing force has exceeded appropriate limits to it’s power and has encroached upon human rights.

A factor that was mostly unique to the American Revolution of 1776 was the idea that the human rights being protected are precedent to the formation of government instead of being granted by that government. During the “enlightenment” period of European history, the philosopher, John Locke, wrote that there are natural rights that cannot be denied, taken away, or transferred. These included:

  • The right to life and to preserve that life through self defense
  • The liberty to make choices about how to live, as long as it does not interfere with the liberty of others
  • The right to self ownership and possession of property, including personal well being and the pursuit of happiness

The American Declaration of Independence further established that the individual is sovereign over these rights and may decide to grant certain powers over them to a governing group in order to secure them. Thus, the government may derive specific and just powers when the governed offer their consent. But the government never created the rights, cannot take them away, and may even lose the consent of the governed for the powers granted to them if they govern poorly and fail to protect the rights of the individual, which is their basic purpose.