NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 2, 2008

Rights, properly understood, are moral entitlements embodied in law to protect all people. They are not earned.  This principle was most eloquently enunciated in the Declaration of Independence's assertion that we are all created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Now, these rights have been overtaken by an extreme environmentalism that seeks to grant equal rights to nature, says Wesley Smith, senior fellow with the Discovery Institute.

These "nature rights" have just been embodied as the highest law of the land in Ecuador's newly ratified constitution pushed by the country's hard-leftist president.

The new Ecuadorian constitution reads:

  • Nature is subject to those rights given by this Constitution and Law; meaning that nature, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.
  • This goes way beyond establishing strict environmental protections as a human duty; it's a self-demotion of humankind to merely one among the billions of life forms on earth.

And this concept seems to be spreading, says Smith:

  • The Socialists and Greens in Spain are on the verge of granting the rights to life, liberty and freedom from torture to great apes and devolve humans into a "community of equals" with chimpanzees and gorillas.
  • The European Court of Human Rights recently accepted a case out of Austria that appeals a ruling that refused to declare chimpanzees legal persons.
  • Switzerland has constitutionally established the intrinsic dignity of individual plants, based on the many similarities they share with us at the molecular and cellular levels.

But consider this: the central importance of human life is the fundamental insight undergirding Western civilization.  This tenet is now under energetic, and increasingly successful, attack.  If such antihumanism prevails, we won't have to worry about nature having rights, but about human beings losing them, says Smith.

Source: Wesley J. Smith, "Why We Call Them Human Rights," The Weekly Standard, November 24, 2008.

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