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Natural Rights and Human History

Natural Rights and Human History

Mini Teaser: A set of rights based on human nature--and with some qualifications--might not be such a bad idea after all.

by Author(s): Francis Fukuyama

Terms like sanctity remind me of animal rights. Who gave a dog a right? This word right gets very dangerous. We have women's rights, children's rights; it goes on forever. And then there's the right of a salamander and a frog's rights. It's carried to the absurd.

I'd like to give up saying rights or sanctity. Instead, say that humans have needs, and we should try, as a social species, to respond to human needs--like food or education or health--and that's the way we should work. To try and give it more meaning than it deserves in some quasi-mystical way is for Steven Spielberg or somebody like that. It's just plain aura, up in the sky--I mean, it's crap.1

James Watson

IF JAMES Watson, Nobel laureate, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, and one of the towering figures of twentieth-century science, should become a bit impatient with the injection of the word "rights" into the discourse of his particular domain of genetics and molecular biology, we might well excuse him. Watson is famous both for his temper and for his often unguarded and politically incorrect remarks; he is, after all, a hardheaded scientist and not a scribbler on political and social matters. Moreover, he is correct in his central observation about contemporary rights discourse: it is a lot of crap. His remark is reminiscent of the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who famously commented that the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen's assertion that rights were natural and imprescriptible was "nonsense upon stilts."

The problem, however, does not end there, because we cannot in the end dispense with serious discussion of rights and talk only of needs and interests. Rights are the basis of our liberal democratic political order and are key to contemporary thinking about moral and ethical issues. And any serious discussion of human rights must ultimately be based on some understanding of human ends or purposes, which in turn must almost always be based on a concept of human nature.

It is here that Watson's field, biology, becomes relevant, because the life sciences have been making important discoveries about human nature in recent years. So, much as natural scientists would like to maintain a wall of separation between the natural "is" that they study and the moral and political "ought" engendered by discourse on rights, this is ultimately a dodge. The more that science tells us about human nature, the more implications there are for human rights, and hence for the design of institutions and public policies that protect them. These findings suggest that contemporary capitalist liberal democratic institutions have been successful because they are grounded in assumptions about human nature that are far more realistic than those of their competitors.

Rights Talk

OVER THE PAST generation, the rights industry has grown faster than an Internet IPO in the late 1990s. In addition to the aforementioned animal, women's and children's rights, there are gay rights, the rights of the disabled and handicapped, indigenous people's rights, the right to life, the right to die, the rights of the accused, victims' rights, as well as the famous right to periodic vacations that is laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The U.S. Bill of Rights is reasonably clear in enumerating a certain set of basic rights to be enjoyed by all American citizens, but in 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade manufactured a new right out of whole cloth, based on Justice Douglas' finding in the earlier Griswold decision of an "emanation" from the "penumbra" of the similarly shadowy right to privacy. Constitutional scholar Ronald Dworkin comes up with an even more novel argument: Since having an abortion involves a major life decision on a par with making a religious commitment, the right to abortion turns out all along to have been protected by the First Amendmen t's guarantee of religious liberty.2

Rights on an international level are in no better shape. As Mary Ann Glendon has described in her book, A World Made New, [3] the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was hammered out in 1947 as the result of a heroic diplomatic effort that sought to bridge ultimately irreconcilable Western and Soviet views in the shadow of a deepening Cold War. Later international human rights documents added new layers of economic and social rights demanded by socialists and social democrats to the fundamental liberal rights favored by Americans. If you want to amuse yourself, pick up a copy of the Brazilian constitution, ratified in 1988, and read through its enumeration of individual rights: the section is as long as the telephone book of a small city, and contains not just the right to the pursuit of happiness, but to happiness itself.

Given this monumental confusion, why do we not follow James Watson's advice, abandon talk of rights altogether, and simply speak of human "needs" or "interests"? Americans more than most peoples have tended to conflate rights and interests. By transforming every individual desire into a right unconstrained by community interests, one increases the inflexibility of political discourse. The debates in the United States over pornography and gun control would appear much less Manichaean if we spoke of the interests of pornographers rather than their fundamental First Amendment right to free speech, or the needs of assault weapon owners rather than their sacred Second Amendment right to bear arms.

It is here that Watson's field, biology, becomes relevant, because the life sciences have been making important discoveries about human nature in recent years. So, much as natural scientists would like to maintain a wall of separation between the natural "is" that they study and the moral and political "ought" engendered by discourse on rights, this is ultimately a dodge. The more that science tells us about human nature, the more implications there are for human rights, and hence for the design of institutions and public policies that protect them. These findings suggest that contemporary capitalist liberal democratic institutions have been successful because they are grounded in assumptions about human nature that are far more realistic than those of their competitors.

Rights Talk

OVER THE PAST generation, the rights industry has grown faster than an Internet IPO in the late 1990s. In addition to the aforementioned animal, women's and children's rights, there are gay rights, the rights of the disabled and handicapped, indigenous people's rights, the right to life, the right to die, the rights of the accused, victims' rights, as well as the famous right to periodic vacations that is laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The U.S. Bill of Rights is reasonably clear in enumerating a certain set of basic rights to be enjoyed by all American citizens, but in 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade manufactured a new right out of whole cloth, based on Justice Douglas' finding in the earlier Griswold decision of an "emanation" from the "penumbra" of the similarly shadowy right to privacy. Constitutional scholar Ronald Dworkin comes up with an even more novel argument: Since having an abortion involves a major life decision on a par with making a religious commitment, the right to abortion turns out all along to have been protected by the First Amendmen t's guarantee of religious liberty.2

Rights on an international level are in no better shape. As Mary Ann Glendon has described in her book, A World Made New,3 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was hammered out in 1947 as the result of a heroic diplomatic effort that sought to bridge ultimately irreconcilable Western and Soviet views in the shadow of a deepening Cold War. Later international human rights documents added new layers of economic and social rights demanded by socialists and social democrats to the fundamental liberal rights favored by Americans. If you want to amuse yourself, pick up a copy of the Brazilian constitution, ratified in 1988, and read through its enumeration of individual rights: the section is as long as the telephone book of a small city, and contains not just the right to the pursuit of happiness, but to happiness itself.

Given this monumental confusion, why do we not follow James Watson's advice, abandon talk of rights altogether, and simply speak of human "needs" or "interests"? Americans more than most peoples have tended to conflate rights and interests. By transforming every individual desire into a right unconstrained by community interests, one increases the inflexibility of political discourse. The debates in the United States over pornography and gun control would appear much less Manichaean if we spoke of the interests of pornographers rather than their fundamental First Amendment right to free speech, or the needs of assault weapon owners rather than their sacred Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Arguably, the same inflexibility appears when rights are invoked at an international level. A country that makes human rights a significant element of its foreign policy tends toward ineffectual moralizing at best, and unconstrained violence in pursuit of moral aims at worst. Counties that think of themselves as having only national interests, on the other hand, can pursue a policy of realpolitik that, it is said, is safer both for the country in question and for the international system as a whole. As Henry Kissinger might have explained in A World Restored, the reckless Alexander I was a proponent of rights, while the prudent Metternich, architect of the Congress of Vienna, proceeded in terms of interests.

The Necessity of Rights

SO WHY not abandon what Glendon labels "rights talk" altogether? The reason we cannot do this, either as a theoretical or practical matter, is that the language of rights has become, in the modern world, the only shared and widely intelligible vocabulary we have for talking about ultimate human goods or ends, and, in particular, those collective goods or ends that are the stuff of politics. Classical political philosophers like Plato and Aristotle did not use the language of rights--they spoke of the human good, and of human happiness and the virtues and duties that were required to achieve it. The modern use of the term "rights" is more impoverished, because it does not encompass the range of higher human ends envisioned by the classics. But it is more democratic, universal and easily grasped. The great struggles over rights since the American and French revolutions are testimony to the political salience of this concept. The word "right" implies moral judgment (as in, "What is the right thing to do?") and is our principal gateway into a discussion of the nature of justice and of those ends we regard as essential to our humanity.

Watson is in effect advocating a utilitarian approach with his advice simply to try to satisfy human needs and interests without reference to rights. But it runs into the typical problem of utilitarianism: the question of priorities and justice when those needs and interests conflict. You are a powerful and important community leader in need of a new liver because of a drinking problem; I am an indigent, terminally ill patient in a public hospital, on life support but with a healthy liver. Any simple utilitarian calculation that seeks to maximize the satisfaction of human needs would dictate that I be involuntarily removed from life support so as to harvest my liver for the sake of the important leader and the people who depend on him. The fact that no liberal society permits this to happen reflects a view that innocent people have a right not to be involuntarily deprived of life, no matter how many important needs may be satisfied as a result.

Rights trump interests because they are invested with greater moral significance. Interests are fungible and can be traded off against one another in a marketplace; rights, while seldom absolute, are less flexible because it is hard to assign them an economic value. I may have an interest in a pleasant two-week vacation, but that cannot compete with another person's right not to be held as a chattel slave and work someone else's fields. The slave's right to freedom is not just a strong interest on the slave's part; a disinterested third party might say that the condition of servitude is unjust because it is an affront to the slave's dignity as a human being. The slave's freedom is somehow more basic and fundamental to his status as a human being than my interest in a pleasant vacation is to mine, even if I assert my interest more passionately than the slave does his.

Political systems enshrine certain kinds of rights over others, and thereby reflect the moral basis of their underlying societies. The United States was founded on the principle stated in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal", and that "they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." That principle, as Abraham Lincoln explained, was violated by the institution of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation and passage of the Fourteenth Amendment corrected this grave inconsistency and laid the basis for subsequent American democracy.

So if rights prioritize human ends or goods and set some above others as the foundation of justice, where do they come from? The reason that there is a constant inflation in the scope of rights is precisely because everyone wants to raise the relative priority of certain interests over others. In the cacophony of rights talk, how do we decide what is genuinely a right and what is not?

THERE ARE in principle three possible sources of rights: divine rights, natural rights, and what one might call the contemporary positivistic view of rights as located in social law and custom. Rights, in other words, can emanate from God, Nature and Man himself.

Rights derived from revealed religion are not today the acknowledged basis of political rights in any liberal democracy. John Locke begins his Second Treatise on Government with an attack on Filmer and the doctrine of divine right; the very essence of modern liberalism was to eliminate religion as the explicit basis of political order. This was based on a practical observation that religiously-based polities were constantly at war with one another because there was not sufficient consensus on religious first principles. The background for Hobbes' description of the state of nature as a war of "every man against every man" was the sectarian violence of his time.

None of this, of course, prevents private individuals in liberal societies from believing that Man is a creature created in God's image, and that basic human rights therefore come from God. Scientists like Watson or Richard Dawkins become extremely impatient when people with religious convictions talk about the "sanctity of life", but they need to learn to be more tolerant; such views are very deeply held, and are not going to go away as a result of greater education, rationality and the like. Such views become problematic only when rights presumed to derive from God are asserted as political rights, as in the abortion controversy For they then run into the same problem recognized by Locke: It is extremely difficult to achieve social consensus on issues involving religion.

The second possible source of rights is nature, or, more precisely, human nature. Despite Jefferson's invocation of the Creator in the Declaration, he, like Locke and Hobbes, believed that rights needed to be grounded in a theory of human nature. A political principle like equality had to be based on empirical observation of what human beings were like "by nature"; since, as he said in a letter to Roger C. Weightman on June 24, 1826, it was not the case that some men were born with saddles on their backs, slavery was in principle contrary to nature and therefore unjust.4

It is this tradition of natural right that Robin Fox attacks in his recent article in this magazine.5 Fox points out that the concept of human nature has undergone a major revival in recent years as a result of new research in the life sciences, and that it can now be given a "real content." The problem, he argues, is that much of that content is not very pleasant to behold, and would serve poorly as a basis for political rights. Evolutionary biology, for example, has given us the theory of kin selection or inclusive fitness, which asserts that human beings seek to maximize their reproductive fitness by favoring genetic relatives in proportion to their shared genes. This leads, in Fox's view, to implications like a natural or human right to revenge, or a right of a murder victim's family member to impregnate the perpetrator's females, since these are all behaviors that occur naturally in both human and animal societies.

Fox's argument, as stated in this piece, is reminiscent of what has been labeled the "naturalistic fallacy"6, a tradition that stretches from David Hume to twentieth-century analytical philosophers like G.E. Moore, R.M. Hare and others. Particularly strong in the Anglo-Saxon world, the naturalistic fallacy argues that nature cannot provide a philosophically justifiable basis for rights, morality or ethics.

Since the philosophical school dominant in contemporary academia believes that any attempt to base rights on nature has long since been debunked, it is understandable that natural scientists are quick to invoke the "naturalistic fallacy" as a shield to protect their work from unpalatable political implications. Many of the findings of contemporary biology in areas like cognitive neuroscience, genetics and evolutionary theory would seem to have controversial political implications in such areas as the heritability of intelligence, criminal behavior, homosexuality or natural differences between the sexes. Many of these findings would seem to support conservative views, since they suggest that there are natural limits to social constructionism and therefore to human freedom. Evolutionary biologists in particular have run afoul of feminists, since they have argued that many sex differences are based on biology rather than socialization. Since most natural scientists are either apolitical or else bien pensant lib erals, it is easy for them to evoke the naturalistic fallacy and argue, as Paul Ehrlich recently did in his book Human Natures,7 that human nature gives us absolutely no guidance as to what human values should be.

IT IS MY VIEW that the common understanding of the naturalistic fallacy is itself fallacious, and that there is a desperate need for philosophy to return to the pre-Kantian tradition of grounding rights and morality in nature. But before I can state this argument more fully and explain why the post-Kantian dismissal of natural rights is misguided, we need to look at the third source of rights, which might be labeled "positivistic." The weaknesses of the third, positivistic approach to rights are indeed what necessitate the effort to resurrect the concept of natural rights.

The most readily available way of determining the source of rights is to look around and see what the society itself declares to be a right, through its basic laws and declarations. In his response to Fox in the Spring issue of this magazine, William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International, argues that contemporary human rights advocates have long since dropped any notion that human rights can or should be based on nature or natural law. Instead, according to him, "'human rights' refer to 'humans' rights', 'the rights of humans', something that human beings possess or can claim, but not necessarily something derived from the nature of the claimant." Human rights are, in other words, whatever human beings determine they are.

As a political strategy for negotiating documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there is no doubt that Schulz is correct in saying that rights are whatever you can get people to agree they are, and that there will never be consensus on a set of natural rights. There can be procedural refinements to make sure a positive right actually reflects the will of the society that declares it, such as rules that require ratification of bills of rights by supermajorities (as in the case of the U.S. Constitution). The First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion may or may not be ordained by nature, but they are ratified as part of a constitutional process. But this approach means that rights are essentially procedural: if you can get a supermajority (or whatever) to agree that all people have a right to walk around in public in their underwear, then that becomes a fundamental human right along with freedom of association and freedom of speech.

So what is wrong with a purely positivistic approach to rights? The problem, as any human rights advocate will know in practice if not in theory, is that there are no positive rights that are also universal. When Western human rights groups criticize the Chinese government for jailing political dissidents, the Chinese government responds that for its society, collective and social rights outweigh individual rights. The emphasis of Western organizations on individual political rights is not an expression of a universal aspiration, but rather reflects the Western (or perhaps Christian) cultural biases of the human rights groups themselves. The Western human rights advocate might respond that the Chinese government has not followed the correct procedure, insofar as it has not consulted its own people in a democratic manner. But if there are no universal standards for political behavior, who is to say what the right procedure is?

And what does an advocate of a positivistic approach like Schulz have to say in response to another, culturally different society that follows the right procedures and yet promotes abhorrent practices like suttee or slavery or female circumcision? The answer is that no response is possible, since you have declared from the outset that there are no transcendent standards for determining right and wrong beyond whatever any particular culture declares to be a right.

Why the Naturalistic Fallacy Is Fallacious

THE PROBLEM of cultural relativism brings us back to reconsider whether we might have been premature in discarding an approach to human rights based on human nature, since the existence of a single human nature shared by all the peoples of the world can provide, at least in theory, a common ground on which we can base universal human rights. Belief in the naturalistic fallacy runs so deep in contemporary Western thought, however, that resurrection of a natural rights argument remains a formidable task.

The idea that rights cannot be grounded in nature rests on two separate, though often interrelated, arguments. The first is attributed to David Hume, one of the fathers of British empiricism, who is widely believed to have proven once and for all that it is impossible to derive an "ought" from an "is."8 That is, a statement of moral obligation cannot be derived from an empirical observation about nature or the natural world. When natural scientists assert that their work has no political or policy implications, they usually have in mind the Humean "is-ought" dichotomy; because human beings are genetically inclined to behave in certain species-typical ways does not imply that they should behave in that manner. Moral obligation comes from some other shadowy, ill-defined realm distinct from the natural world.

The second strand of the naturalistic fallacy would argue that, even if we could derive an "ought" from an "is", the "is" is ugly, amoral or indeed immoral. Nietzsche put the idea much more forcefully than any bone-dry British analytical philosopher ever could in Beyond Good and Evil:

'According to nature' you want to live? O you noble Stoics, what deceptive words these are! Imagine a being like nature, wasteful beyond measure, indifferent beyond measure, without purposes and consideration, without mercy and justice, fertile and desolate and uncertain at the same time; imagine indifference itself as a power--how could you live according to this indifference?9

Robin Fox presents us with an up-to-date version of this line of thought based on contemporary sociobiology: nature commands that we get our genes into the next generation by killing off rival males and impregnating their mates.

To rebuild an argument in favor of natural right, we need to take on each of these arguments in turn, beginning with the "is-ought" distinction. More than forty years ago, Alasdair MacIntyre pointed out that Hume himself neither believed in nor abided by the rule commonly attributed to him that one could not derive an "ought" from an "is."10 At most, what the famous passage from the Treatise said was that one could not deduce in a logically a priori way moral rules from empirical fact. But like every serious philosopher in the Western tradition before him since Aristotle, Hume believed that the "ought" and the "is" were bridged by concepts like "wanting, needing, desiring, pleasure, happiness, health"--that is, by the goals and ends that human beings set for themselves. He gives the following example of how one is derived from the other: "If I stick a knife in Smith, they will send me to jail; but I do not want to go to jail; so I ought not (had better not) stick a knife in him."

There are, of course, a huge variety of human wants, needs and desires that can produce an equal diversity of "oughts"; it is at this point that human nature enters the picture. For virtually every pre-Kantian philosopher had an implicit or explicit theory of human nature that set certain wants or needs above others as being more fundamental to our humanness than others. I may want my two-week vacation, but your desire to escape slavery is based on a more universal and more deeply felt longing for freedom, and therefore trumps my want. Hobbes' assertion of a basic right to life (which is the precursor to the right to life enshrined in the Declaration of Independence) is based on an explicit theory of human nature that posits that the fear of violent death is the strongest of human passions, and therefore produces a right more basic than, say, the assertion of religious orthodoxy.

THE RADICAL break in the Western tradition comes not with Hume but with Kant, who with the categorical imperative sought to detach morality in its entirety from any concept of nature.11 It was Kant who argued that true moral choice implied freedom of the will, which meant in turn freedom from any form of natural causality: moral agents routinely defy the laws of physics by choosing not what their material bodies tell them they want, but what reason dictates to be right. Kant expressed in philosophical terms a view that was embedded in Protestantism: that human nature was sinful, and that moral behavior required rising above or suppressing our natural desires.

Much of subsequent Western philosophy has followed the Kantian route toward so-called "deontological" theories of right, i.e., theories that try to derive a system of ethics that is not dependent on any substantive assertions about human nature or human ends. Many deontological theories elevate moral autonomy to be the chief if not the only human good, a view that has become embedded in a good deal of contemporary U.S. constitutional law.

I believe that this broad turn away from human nature-based theories of right is flawed for a number of reasons that, due to space limitations, cannot be fully explicated in this article. Perhaps the most revealing weakness is the fact that virtually all philosophers who attempt to lay out a deontological theory of rights end up reinserting various assumptions about human nature into their theories. The only difference is that they do it covertly and dishonestly, rather than explicitly, as in the earlier tradition from Aristotle to Hume.

An example of this is John Rawls, whose theory of justice explicitly sidesteps any discussion of human nature and seeks to establish a set of minimal moral rules that would apply to any group of rational agents based on the so-called "original position." As critics of Rawls have pointed out, the original position itself and the political implications Rawls draws from it in fact contain numerous assertions about human nature, in particular his assumption that human beings are risk-averse. William Galston has pointed out similar flaws in the thinking of post-Rawlsian legal theorists like Ronald Dworkin and Bruce Ackerman, who try to define the rules of a liberal society while eschewing any reference to priorities among human ends or, in more contemporary language, between possible lifestyles.12

What about the other leg of the naturalistic fallacy argument, which says that even if rights were derivable from nature, that nature is violent, aggressive, cruel or indifferent? Human nature at a minimum points in contradictory directions, toward competition and cooperation, toward individualism and sociability; how can any particular "natural" behavior be the basis of natural rights?

The answer, I believe, is that while there is no simple translation of human nature into human rights, the passage from one to the other is ultimately mediated by the rational discussion of human ends, that is, by philosophy. That discussion does not lead to a priori or mathematically provable truths; indeed, it may not even yield substantial consensus among the discussants. It does, however, allow us to establish a hierarchy of rights, and it allows us to rule out certain solutions to the problem of rights that have been politically powerful in the course of human history.

Take for example the human propensity for violence and aggression. Few people would deny that this is somehow grounded in human nature; there are virtually no societies free of murder or that have not experienced armed violence in some form. But what we notice in the first instance is that random violence against other members of the community is prohibited in every known human cultural group. This is no less true among man's primate cousins: a troop of chimpanzees will occasionally experience violent aggression from a younger male that, like the Columbine High School shooters, is lonely, peripheral or otherwise seeking to make a point.13 But the older members of the community will always take measures to control and neutralize that individual because community order cannot tolerate such violence.

Primate violence, including human violence, is legitimated primarily at higher social levels, that is, on the part of in-groups that compete with out-groups. Warriors are treated with respect and honor in a way that school shooters are not. Hobbes' war of "every man against every man" is in fact a war of every group against every group. In-group social order is driven by the need for competition against out-groups, both over evolutionary time (there is a great deal of evidence that human cognitive capabilities were shaped by these group-oriented competitive needs14) and in the course of human history.15 There is a sad continuity from non-human primates to hunter-gatherer societies to contemporary ethnic and sectarian violence as (primarily) male-bonded groups compete against one another for dominance.16

This might be taken to be confirmation of the naturalistic fallacy, and thus the end of the story, but for the fact that human nature encompasses a great deal more than male-bonded violence. It also encompasses the desire for what Adam Smith called "gain", the accumulation of property and goods useful to life, as well as reason, the capacity for foresight and the rational ordering of priorities over the long term. When two human groups butt up against one another, they face a choice between engaging in a violent, zero-sum struggle for dominance, or else in a peaceful, positive-sum relationship of trade and exchange. Over time, the logic of this choice (what Robert Wright labels "non-zero-sumness"17) has driven the boundaries of human in-groups to ever larger communities of trust: from tiny kin groups to tribes or lineages, to states, nations, broad ethnolinguistic communities and eventually to what Samuel Huntington labels cultures, that is, communities of shared values encompassing many nation-states and hundreds of millions if not billions of people.

There remains a significant amount of violence at the boundaries of these ever larger groups, made more deadly by the simultaneous advance of military technology. But there is a logic to human history that is ultimately driven by the priorities that exist among natural human desires, propensities and behaviors. Human violence over the past 100,000 years or so has become increasingly controlled and pushed to the outer boundaries of these ever larger groups. Globalization--a world order in which mankind's largest in-groups no longer violently compete with one another for dominance but trade peaceably--can be seen as the logical culmination of a long-term series of decisions in favor of positive-sum competition.

Violence, in other words, may be natural to human beings, but so is the propensity to control and channel violence. These conflicting natural tendencies do not have equal status or priority; human beings reasoning about their situation can come to understand the need to create rules and institutions that constrain violence in favor of other natural ends, like the desire for property or gain, that are more fundamental.

Human nature is best at providing us with guidance as to what political orders will not work. Robin Fox makes fun of the idea that the contemporary evolutionary theory of kin selection or inclusive fitness could constitute the basis for rights. But a better understanding of this theory would have led us to predict the bankruptcy and ultimate failure of communism, due to its failure to respect natural inclinations to favor kin and private property.

Karl Marx argued that man is a species-being, that is, that human beings have altruistic feelings toward the human species as a whole. The policies and institutions of real-world communist states--like the abolition of private property the subordination of the family to the party-state, and commitment to universal worker solidarity--were all predicated on this belief. (Visitors to Moscow in the days of the USSR may remember the statue there to Pavel Morozov; a little monster celebrated by Stalin for turning his parents in to the secret police.)

There was a time when evolutionary theorists like V.C. Wynne-Edwards postulated the existence of species-level altruism, but modern kin selection theory denies the existence of strong group-selection pressures.18 It postulates instead that altruism arises primarily out of the need of individuals to get their genes passed on to successive generations. Human beings will by this account be altruistic primarily to family members and other kin; a political system that forces them to spend their Saturdays away from their families working on behalf of the "heroic Vietnamese people" will meet very deep resistance.

Human Nature and Politics

THE PRECEDING example demonstrates the ways in which human nature and politics are intertwined: kin selection indicates that a political system that respects the right of people to follow their own individual self-interests and attend to family and close friends before they attend to strangers halfway around the world will be more stable, workable and satisfying than one that does not. Human nature does not dictate a single, precise list of rights; it is both complex and flexible as it interacts with various technological environments. But it is not infinitely malleable, and our underlying shared humanity allows us to rule out certain forms of political order like tyranny as unjust. Those rights that speak to the most deeply felt and universal human drives, ambitions and behaviors will be a more solid foundation for political order than those that do not. This helps explain why there are a lot of capitalist liberal democracies around the world at the beginning of the twenty-first century, but very few socialist dictatorships.

Does this then mean that capitalist liberal democracy of the sort practiced in the United States is an ideal political system because it is optimally consistent with our underlying natures? And if so, does this further imply that we need to predicate our foreign policy on the extension of American-style rights to all peoples around the world? Here the answers become necessarily more nuanced and complex.

Robin Fox is on much firmer ground when he argues that there are many aspects of contemporary American society that are in some sense profoundly unnatural, such as our hyperindividualism, the impersonality of most of our social connections, and our imposition of antinepotistic rules that force us to hire qualified strangers before family members. There are many traditional, non- or preliberal societies that better respect group identity, face-to-face community and kinship than the United States. Rigid insistence on our part that all societies around the world respect human rights as we understand and institutionalize them risks being simultaneously arrogant, naive and politically imprudent.

But the kinds of political and economic institutions we now have are the by-product of the interaction of our underlying human desires and aspirations with the possibilities afforded us by science, technology and the economic horizon that the latter creates. Individualism and rules against nepotism are dictated by the requirements of a modern capitalist economy, whose economic benefits satisfy latent longings of our underlying natures. Most Americans are willing to give up a more natural kind of face-to-face community, where we are surrounded primarily by kin and close friends, for the more diverse, wealthy, entertaining, technological and necessarily impersonal world that constitutes modern urban life.

But the important point is, so is virtually everyone else in the world, because ultimately they are human beings with very similar sorts of underlying preferences. There are, of course, plenty of people who continue to live in a variety of traditional societies and seem to be quite contented doing so. But that is often the case because they cannot figure out how to transform their society into a more modern one, or else because they simply have not heard what modern societies are like. The moment they find out, they usually decide they like what they see, which explains why there is a massive flow of migrants or would-be migrants from less developed to developed countries, and virtually no one making the journey in the opposite direction.

Human rights as understood in contemporary liberal democracies, then, comes as part of a larger package. These rights express the moral aspirations and priorities of modern societies, that is, of societies based on the systematic employment of science and technology for the satisfaction of human needs. To seek to export only the human rights part of that package to societies that are either traditional, non-democratic or otherwise based on contrary political principles can often be counterproductive and, if the country in question is powerful, dangerous as well. Human rights can be said to be universal only in a developmental sense: they become explicit aspirations primarily of societies that are both economically and politically developed. They are, in other words, a by-product of History in the Hegelian-Marxist sense.

On the other hand, virtually everyone around the globe seeks development, and it is perfectly reasonable for the United States and other Western countries to embed a universalist human rights policy in a broader strategy designed to help them get there. American-style human rights may be foreign to traditional Chinese culture, but they are not necessarily foreign to educated and technologically-inclined Chinese who hope to integrate their country more fully into the global economy. Communist China cannot be forced to respect human rights, but it is not unreasonable to help guide an economically modernizing and politically liberalizing China toward institutions that will protect and extend human rights over time.

Anyone seeking to prove today that the signers of the Declaration of Independence were right in believing that human rights are based on human nature faces an uphill battle. But advocates of universal human rights need to reflect carefully on the importance of human nature to their cause. For if human beings are not in the end fundamentally similar under the skin, despite obvious differences in race, ethnicity, culture, wealth and education, then on what grounds can we demand that all governments treat their citizens with equal consideration? So too for the beleaguered notion that we have reached the end of History: an end to the historical process makes sense only if human nature provides a constant standard by which we can measure the suitability of our political institutions under a given technological horizon. Constant, that is, until such time as biotechnology gives us the ability to create new beings born, in effect, with saddles on their backs, and a new human nature comes to dictate a new set of post human rights.

1 Quoted in Gregory Stock and John Campbell, Engineering the Human Germline: An Exploration of the Science and Ethics of Altering the Genes We Pass on to Our Children (New York Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 85.

2 This argument is made in Dworkin, Life's Dominion: An Argument about Abortion, Euthanasia, and Individual Freedom (New York: Vintage Books, 1994).

3 Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: Random House, 2001).

4 Quoted in Adrienne Koch and Willam Peden, eds., The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Modern Library, 1944), pp. 729-30.

5 Fox, "Human Nature and Human Rights", The National Interest (Winter 2000/01).

6 Fox has noted to the author that in other of his writings, particularly Conjectures and Confrontations: Science, Evolution, Social Concern (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1997), he has explicitly argued against the naturalistic fallacy. I am seeking to respond to the argument he put forward in this journal; readers should consult other of his works for a fuller account of his views.

7 Ehrlich, Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2000).

8 Hume's exact statement is: "In every system of morality which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought or ought not expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it should be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it." Hume, Treatise on Human Nature, Book III, Part I, Section I (London: Penguin Books, 1985).

9 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (New York: Vintage Books, 1966), Section 9, p. 15.

10 MacIntyre, "Hume on 'Is' and 'Ought'", Philosophical Review (October 1959).

11 Hume has been wrongly interpreted as a kind of proto-Kantian, but in fact he falls squarely in the older tradition of deriving rights from human nature.

12 See Galston, "Liberal Virtues", American Political Science Review (December 1988).

13 For numerous examples of this, see Frans De Waal, Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989).

14 See my book, The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order (New York: Free Press, 1999).

15 "Defensive modernization" describes a process whereby the requirements of external military competition drive internal sociopolitical organization and innovation. There are many examples of this, from reforms in post-Meiji Restoration Japan to the Internet.

16 See my "Women and the Evolution of World Politics", Foreign Affairs (September/October 1998).

17 Wright, NonZero: The Logic of Human Destiny (New York: Pantheon Books, 2000).

18 The intellectual landscape on the issue of group selection has changed somewhat recently with the work of biologists, for example, David Sloan Wilson, who have made the case for multi-level (that is, both individual and group) selection. See Wilson and Elliott Sober, Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).

As of July 1, 2001, Francis Fukuyama will be Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. He is writing a book on the political consequences of biotechnology, from which parts of this article are drawn.

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