Quote of the Week: Vladimir Solovyov on Human Rights

Quote of the Week: Vladimir Solovyov on Human Rights September 21, 2010

Long before the French Revolution, ancient states knew well the meaning of citizenship and the rights of citizens, but that did not provide the fundamental class of their population either civil or any other rights. Any definite or positive human right can be, in and of itself, taken away. To be a citizen is, in and of itself, only a positive right, and as such can be taken away without internal contradiction. But to be a human being is not a conditional right, but an essentially inalienable quality. Only that quality alone, accepted as the primal basis of all rights, can inform rights with a principle of inviolability or can place an unconditional obstacle to their withdrawl or arbitrary restriction. As long as there is one determining principle – human rights, then the inviolable rights of everyone is guaranteed, for you cannot declare that people of such and such a race, of such and such a creed, or such and such a class are not humans. All you need to do is place an artificial right – citizenship – alongside the natural, basic right of all people, and the broad possibility arises of granting this or that group of people exclusive citizenship, or, more accurately, a status outside citizenship, and to take away from them all human rights under the guise of civil ones. Thus, the raising up of the “citizen” to an independent principle alongside that of “human” turns out to be fatal for all civil rights. We owe factual credit to the French Revolution for the spread of civil rights to broad groups of people, to half or even all of whom had formerly been devoid of such rights in France: to landed peasants, to Protestants, and to the Jews. But having turned from the pure and clear tagging to the task of freedom on an unconditional basis (the worth of man as such) and mixing it into the conditional and indeterminate concept of the “good citizen,” the Revolution opened the doors to all manner of savagery in the future. Of course, in the revolutionary period all of the multitudes of human victims, the masses of the drowned, murdered, guillotined individuals suffered not because they stopped being people, but because they were deemed to be poor citizens, bad patriots, “traitors” (like here in Russia, the countless victims of Ivan IV).

— Vladimir Solovyov, “The Idea of Humanity in Auguste Comte” in Divine Sophia: The Wisdom Writings of Vladimir Solovyov. Trans. Boris Jakim, Judith Deutsch Kornblatt, and Laury Magnus (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009), 216-7.

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