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11 Const. Comment. 163 (1994-1995)
The Gospel According to Dworkin

handle is hein.journals/ccum11 and id is 173 raw text is: THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO DWORKIN
Michael I. Perry*
The conception of human rights, based upon the assumed
existence of a human being as such, broke down at the very
moment when those who professed to believe in it were for
the first time confronted with people who had indeed lost all
other qualities and specific relationships-except that they
were still human. The world found nothing sacred in the ab-
stract nakedness of being human.'
This brief commentary is a fragment of a longer work in pro-
gress. In the longer work, I address the question whether the
idea of human rights is ineliminably religious.2 The idea of
human rights is complex. For present purposes, it suffices to say
that the idea of human rights is the idea that because every
human being, simply as a human being, is sacred (has inherent
dignity, is an end in himself, or the like), there are certain
things that ought not to be done to any human being and certain
other things that ought to be done for every human being.3 (For
some certain things, the ought or the ought not may be
presumptive rather than unconditional or absolute.) The convic-
tion that every human being is sacred is thus an essential, even
foundational, constituent of the idea of human rights.
* Copyright © 1994, Michael J. Perry. Howard J. Trienens Chair in Law, North-
western University.
1. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism 299 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
1973) (emphasis added).
2. I have addressed the meaning of religious in Michael J. Perry, Love and
Power: The Role of Religion and Morality in American Politics 66-82 (Oxford U. Press,
1991) (Love and Power).
3. See, e.g., Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) (Preamble) (the dig-
nity and worth of the human person); International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (1976) (Preamble); International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural
Rights (1976) (Preamble) (rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human per-
son). These three documents together make up The International Bill of Rights. See
also American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (1948) (the essential rights
of man are not derived from the fact that he is a national of a certain state, but are based
upon attributes of his human personality); American Convention on Human Rights
(1978) (Preamble) (same) ; African [Banjul] Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights
(1986) (Preamble) (fundamental human rights stem from the attributes of human

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