The strong have never been noted for their concern for the rights or the plights of the weak. Throughout the complex and varied history of the human race there is an impressive consensus among those who are able to dominate others that the interests of the rulers come first.

I am not denying that now and then there have been splendid examples of altruism. Every race has its stories of great men and women who selflessly served others, even at the expense of their own interests. I almost wrote “legends” instead of “stories.” For all too often this is not so much what happens as what we like to think happens. So we create our legends and try to persuade ourselves that they are fact.

It is therefore interesting that the United Nations has accepted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights; it is a document that sets forth some rights that even our cynical generation believes belong to every man. Of course, setting out these rights in a document and making them a reality in lands where oppression is rife are two quite different things. But at least the Declaration exists. It points to what we all like to think is being done throughout the world. And it is a document to which reformers can always appeal.

But in the years since 1949 we have all come to realize that signing a declaration and making its contents effective are not the same thing. Most nations are painfully aware that other nations are not doing what they should about human rights (though they manage to turn blind eyes to their own shortcomings).

The fact is that in the most egalitarian and idealistic of societies some people are more equal than others. And those who are by nature or position at the top of the heap all too often tend to pursue their own interests and neglect ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.