H. G. Wells (1866—1946) had been dead for more than two year when most of the nations in the United Nations organization gave their approval to the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” that is to say, the agreement about the rights of persons. Though less is covered by the “Declaration” than Wells had been hoping, it might not have come into existence at all but for his work, from 1939 on, in putting before an international public the idea that such an agreement had to be part of any attempt at building a better earth-wide society. “The Rights of Man” was put into Basic English by C. K. Ogden with Wells’ help and approval in 1941.
In little more than a hundred years a complete change has taken place in the material conditions of existence. Invention and discovery have made it possible for men and news to get so much more quickly round and about the earth that the distances which kept nations and governments separate have almost been overcome. At the same time there has been such a great development of machine-industry, freeing men for work in other directions, that our powers of working with or against one another, and of using, wasting, or increasing the fruits of the earth are on a new scale, and it is hard even to make a comparison with earlier times. All through the past thirty years the rate of this process of change has been increasing and it is now not far from a danger-point.
The greater dangers and chances of these new conditions have made adjustments necessary in our ways of living and in the structure of society. We are being forced to the organization of harmony among the separate governments which have so far been the instruments of man's political purposes.
At the same time, in economics, we have to keep the good things of the earth safe from the waste and destruction which have been caused by the sudden expansion of business undertaken for profit and by the increasing power of money over men and things.
Public control in the political field, in trade, in industry, and in society generally, is being forced on us.
Our reaction to these new conditions is without direction; chances of greater well-being are being wasted for ever.
Government is getting into the hands of one group which takes power from the rest, or is being given over to organizations in trade or industry which have been strong enough to put an end to competition.
Religion, education, and the newspapers are ruled by groups and persons who are not representative of public opinion, while men of science and letters, and a number of other, workers in the arts of peace, which have so far had a free and natural development, are experiencing the effects of this massing of power.
Governments and the great organizations of industry and banking, as we now see them, were not designed to have such powers; their growth was the outcome of the needs of earlier times.
Under the new conditions, men have the feeling that they are less safe and there is an increase in the wrong or cruel use of authority; we become less free, specially in thought and in public talk. By slow degrees those badly-working Governments and controls are limiting that free use of the mind which keeps men happy and able to do their work well.
By acting quickly and secretly, controlling organizations are for a time in a position to get things done at the price of a deep and ever more serious undermining of the structure of a good society.
When men and nations no longer have the feeling that they are free and responsible, they first let themselves be crushed by their rulers and then give way to violent outbursts against law and order. Belief in a good future and the power to make balanced decisions give place to loss of self-control, loss of interest, and work of poor quality.
Everywhere war becomes more serious in its effects and the grip of the money-makers becomes stronger, so that those very same increases of power and chances of further development which have given men the idea of an unlimited future, with more than enough of the good things of the earth for all, may go under again, possibly for ever, in a violent destruction of society ending all hope of better things.
It becomes clear that this process will only be stopped by a new order of society, stretching to the ends of the earth, in which political, trade, and business interests are united for a common purpose.
All men would do well to give attention to the history of the nations of the West.
In the past, whenever it has been necessary to put power into the hands of one man or a small group of men, it has been the way of what are named the Democratic or Parliamentary countries make once again a strong and clear statement or Declaration of the rights of man.
Never before has the need for such a Declaration been so important as at present.
We of the Parliamentary countries are clear that an organization of society based on control by all in the interests of all is necessary and will come about, but, as in the past, we put forward that belief together with a Declaration of Rights, so that as the outcome of the great changes now taking place we may get not an attempt made in the dark to put things straight, but a reasoned design for the future, worked out in the full light of day.
To that instrument then, which has been marked out by history for the purpose, a Declaration of Rights, we now come back once more, but on a scale which will take in all the countries of the earth.
1. Right to ExistenceThe word ‘man’ in this Declaration is used for every living person, young or old, male or female.
Every man is a part-owner of all the goods and natural materials, and of the powers, inventions, and chances of development which have come down to us from the men of earlier times.
Inside the limits of what there is for distribution, all men of every sort or color, whatever their beliefs or opinions, have the right to the food, cover, and medical care needed for the full development of mind and body from birth to death. However different and unequal their qualities may be, all men are to be looked on as completely equal in the eyes of the law, and as having an equal right to the respect of other men.
2. Care of the YoungThe right and natural persons to be responsible for those who are not old enough to take care of themselves are their fathers and mothers.
Where it is not possible for this care, or any part of it, to be given, society, taking into account the family conditions of the boy or girl, will be responsible for their safe-keeping by other persons.
3. Work for SocietyIt is the business of every man not only to have respect for the rights of all other men in every part of the earth, but to give those rights his support and take steps to put them into effect.
In addition, it is his business to do his part of any necessary work, which the rewards in operation in a free society do not take into account, so as to make certain that such work gets done.
It is only by taking part in such work that a man is able to make clear his right to a place in society.
No man is to be forced to undertake military or other work which is against his sense of right and wrong, but he who does no work whatever for society will be without political rights and under the control of others.
4. Right to KnowledgeIt is the business of society to give every man enough education to make him of as much use to others, as interested in his work, and as free as his powers make it possible for him to be; to put all knowledge before him; and to let him have whatever special education may be needed to give him the same chance as others for the development of his special powers as an instrument for helping his brother-men. The authorities are to see that lie is able to get quickly and readily at all facts necessary for forming an opinion on current questions and events.
5. Thought and ReligionEvery man will have the right to be quite free in talking and writing, in discussion, in joining with others, and in religion.
6. Right to WorkSo long as the needs of society are taken care of, a man may freely take up any work which is not against the law, and get payment in relation to the value of his work to society or to the desire of any private person or persons for his produce, his acts, or his further work.
He is to get payment for his work, and may make suggestions about the sort of work which, in his opinion, he is able to do.
A man may get profit from work done by himself. He may get payment for transporting, or giving news about, goods to others. But he may not do business so that he gets payment or profit through ‘speculation’ —- that is to say, not for work of any sort but simply because he has come between the worker or workers and those others who are in need of what the workers do or make.
7. Right in Private PropretyIn using his private property, if it is his by law, a man has the right to be kept safe from violent acts public or private; what is his may not be taken away from him, and he may not be forced, by fear or in any other way, to give it up.
8. Right of Moving AboutA man may go freely about the earth, if he makes all the necessary payments himself.
But only such persons as have been given authority by the law may go without the owner's approval into a private house or into any more or less limited space which has been shut off for his use. So long as in moving about he does not go on to the private property of any other man, and does not do any sort of damage to what is not his or make it of less use, and does not seriously get in the way of others, he may come and go anywhere, by land, air, or water, over any sort of country, mountain, waste land, river, inland water, or sea, and all the wide spaces of this, his earth.
9. Right to be FreeIf a man has not been said by a medical authority to be a danger to himself or to others through not being right in his mind—-and any such statement will have to be supported by another authority after not more than seven days and then be looked into at least once a year-— he is not to be kept under control for more than twenty-four hours without hearing what he has done which, in the eyes of the authorities, is against the law, and is not to be sent back to prison while the facts are further looked into for more than eight days without his agreement, or kept in prison for more than three months without being judged.
Before he is judged, he is to be given a statement in writing of what will be said against him, in time to make use of it.
At the end of three months, if he has not been judged by the normal process of law and given punishment or made free, he is to go free.
No man may be judged more than once for the same act.
Though the opinions which others have of any man may be given freely, he will have the necessary power of answering or going to law about any false statement which may be the cause of pain or damage to him.
Secret records, or ‘dossiers,’ may not be taken into account in law.
Such record is only a note for the use of the authorities; it is not to be used in law if a public statement is not made of the facts on which it is based.
10. Violent ActsNo man is to be made to undergo any operation on, or damage his body without his agreement freely given, or to be attacked or controlled by force when he himself is not being violent against others, or to be given punishment in the form of pain, by blows or any other physical act
No man is to be made to undergo pain of mind greater than that caused by being in prison, or to be put in any prison which is dirty or has been made unhealthy by animals, disease, or any other cause, or to be put into the company of persons with body-animals or diseases which he may get from them.
But it if he himself has a disease of this sort, so that he is a danger to others, he may be made clean or free from it, or be put in a separate place, or controlled so far as may be necessary to keep others safe from him.
It is clear that no one may be given punishment by the selection of others (as ‘hostages’), by their being put in prison, or by any sort of act against them.
11. Right of Law-MakingSociety is based on the rights named in this Declaration; they may not be given or taken away.
In questions of everyday control, or those about which there is general agreement, but in no others, it is clearly necessary for certain of these rights to be limited.
(For example, in such questions of general agreement as the rule of the road or laws against the making of false money, or in such questions of control as the organization of town and country building, or public hygiene.)
No man or group in society is to be forced to keep any law of this sort if it has not been made openly by a decision of the greater number of those interested or by the greater number of their representatives publicly sent to take their place in a body made responsible by law for government.
These representatives are to be the highest authority responsible for all laws made by organizations under their control and for detailed rulings on how the laws are to be given effect.
In questions of general agreement and decisions taken in the interests of any group or nation, men are to be ruled by the views of the greater number as fixed by the system of representative government, which gives effect to the desires of the different persons who make up a society. All laws are to be open to public discussion, and may be changed or put an end to by a representative government.
No international or other agreements may be made secretly in the name of any nation or nations or other groups of men with a common government.
Those responsible for making laws in a free society are all the men who make up that society, and because existence is handed on to new bodies of men and never comes to an end, no one body may give up or give away the power of making and changing laws, or any part of this power; such power now being necessary to man's well-being for all time.