Politics in Minutes (2016)

Rights: civil and natural

The concept of rights, especially as a factor in the social contract, was central to Enlightenment political philosophy. Several thinkers suggested that there are certain basic expectations of life to which every individual is entitled. Hobbes argued that in a ‘state of nature’, it is every man for himself so these rights could only exist with a strong government. Locke’s view, however – later echoed in the US Declaration of Independence – was that there are certain natural, inalienable rights which could not be surrendered to governments, including the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But as well as these natural rights, which some saw as God-given, there are other rights granted by man-made laws. These civil rights include the right to own property, to participate in the political process by voting and to have access to a court of law. Both natural rights and civil rights may be specified in the formal constitution of a state, or in a separate bill of rights, and are together considered as human rights recognized by individual states and international conventions.

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Frontispiece of Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes’s influential book published in 1651 following the English Civil War.