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Peter Berkowitz Illustrates the Beauty of Natural Rights


Published September 14, 2021

When writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson included the principle that everyone has certain unalienable rights. These natural rights include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The beauty is that in America, these rights are available to all people at all times.

Additional Resources:

  • Watch “Endowed by the Creator: Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Perter Berkowitz on Our Unalienable Rights,” an episode of Uncommon Knowledge. Available here.
  • Watch “The Debate Between Karl Marx and John Locke on Natural Rights,” with Peter Berkowitz. Available here.
  • Read “Commission on Unalienable Rights: Lessons Learned,” by Peter Berkowitz and Mary Ann Glendon via RealClear World. Available here.
View Transcript

Jefferson inserted into a revolutionary document an abstract principle applicable to all men—by which he meant all human beings at all times. What is this abstract principle? That all human beings, by their nature, inherently, as human beings, are endowed with certain unalienable rights. Among these, the declaration says, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And also religious liberty. The founders believed that prominent also among those unalienable rights were the right to property which they understood very broadly. Not just material goods and land. What do you have to do to qualify for these rights? That’s the beauty of it. Nothing.