FOUNDATION: Unit II. What Are Human Rights and Where Do They Come From? 14 of 15

Rights for Peace, Not Just Dignity

Immanuel Kant

The movement for internationalization of human rights favored the idea that war could become a thing of the past if only all peoples in all societies of the world were equally free. This idea comes from Enlightenment thought, specifically from the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant argued in his influential essay, Perpetual Peace, that “free” societies tend not to go to war with one another.

Kant believed that if free states came together to form a kind of global federation, then their fates would be shared and war would cease to exist as an instrument of foreign policy. The advent of international human rights raised hope for a world in which societies live together in perpetual peace. All states would be equally free, having adopted in their national laws and constitutions the rights listed in the UDHR. Kant’s vision could become a reality.

UN Emergency Force Supervising Ceasefire
in Sinai between Egypt and Israel, 1973

The internationalization of human rights through the UDHR is more than an effort to change the way abusive governments treat their people. It’s an effort to bring about peace among all states of the world. As it stands, states still have primary responsibility under international law to abide by international standards and implement these norms within their own societies. Human rights norms have been established, but the world is still developing means to enforce and apply these norms and laws.

How possible is it for people in all societies to become equally free, and how would this accomplishment impact the human practice of war?

Britannica: Kant
Philosophy of Immanuel Kant
Kant’s Works