Updated: Jan 24, 2019
An excerpt from Benedetto Croce's 1947 contribution to the UN Symposium on rights. Croce expresses a measured hope for rights, but is under no illusion about the philosophical problems natural rights pose.
Declarations of Rights (of the natural and inalienable rights of man, to quote the French Declaration of 1789) are all based upon a theory, which criticism on many sides has succeeded in destroying: namely, the theory of natural right, which had its own particular grounds during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, but which has become philosophically and historically quite untenable. Nor can we argue from the moral character of such rights, for morality recognizes no rights which are not, at the same time, duties, and no authority but itself - this is not a natural fact but the first spiritual principle.
This, moreover, is already implied in the report you have sent me, when it says that these rights vary historically; thereby abandoning the logical basis of those rights regarded as universal rights of man, and reducing them to, at most, the rights of man in history. That is to say, rights accepted as such for men of a particular time. Thus, they are not eternal claims but simply historical facts, manifestations of the needs of such and such an age and an attempt to satisfy these needs. As an historical fact the Declaration of 1789 had its importance, since it expresses a general agreement which had developed under European culture and civilization of the 18th century (the age of Reason, of Enlightenment, etc.) concerning the certain, urgent need of a political reform of European society (including European society in America).
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