Human rights and global law

This post is related to the global brain research.

In Law as a Social System, Luhmann wrote,

Among the most important indicators of global legal system is the increasing attention paid to the violation of human rights. (482)

There was no functionally differentiated legal system (or political, economic, or any other autonomous function system) as such under stratification. Or if there were any such systems, they were overruled by stratification.

We can look at the usage history of terms such as human rights to see how the legal system and the global brain have evolved. One could argue that increased communication on the topic human rights indicates the growth of the global legal system as well as the evolution of the global brain.  The reasoning here is that the moment we speak of “human rights,” we step beyond the nation-state.

The Oxford English Dictionary shows that the English term human rights was first used in the 17th century:

human rights  n. rights possessed by humans; spec. the set of entitlements held to belong to every person as a condition of being human; (in sing.) an entitlement of this kind.

Earliest uses:

1629   W. Crosse tr. Sallust Warre of Iugurth ix, in tr. Sallust Wks. 315   Those former times delight you more then these, in which..all diuine and human rights [L. divina et humana omnia] were in the power of some fewe.

1690   N. Tate Pastoral Dialogue 14   Where Rome bears sway, bid Laws Divine farewell, And Human Rights t’assert, is to Rebel.

1758   Prisoner 6   Of human rights ammerc’d, and human aid.
1791   T. Paine Rights of Man 110   The representatives of the people of France..considering that ignorance, neglect, or contempt of human rights, are the sole causes of public misfortunes..have resolved to set forth..these natural, imprescriptible, and unalienable rights.

We can also search the Google Books, but this only starts in the year 1800. Here is a set of Google Books Ngrams for the term human rights in English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish. They all show a rise after 1940. The main factor is probably the establishment of The United Nations in October 1945.




French–droits de l’homme


Italian–dritti umani

diritti umani.PNG

Spanish–derechos humanos
derechos humanos

We can also look at use of the term humanitarian, which is associated with the development of the Geneva Conventions:







The German graph is vastly different than the other graph. This is odd because the trend lines for the German term for human rights is consistent with the other languages. I may be using the wrong word. But the other term I tried, menschenfreundlich, shows a similar downward trend.





History of Geneva Conventions:

The Swiss businessman Henry Dunant went to visit wounded soldiers after the Battle of Solferino in 1859. He was shocked by the lack of facilities, personnel, and medical aid available to help these soldiers. As a result, he published his book, A Memory of Solferino, in 1862, on the horrors of war.[2] His wartime experiences inspired Dunant to propose:

  • A permanent relief agency for humanitarian aid in times of war
  • A government treaty recognizing the neutrality of the agency and allowing it to provide aid in a war zone

The former proposal led to the establishment of the Red Cross in Geneva. The latter led to the 1864 Geneva Convention, the first codified international treaty that covered the sick and wounded soldiers in the battlefield. For both of these accomplishments, Henry Dunant became co-recipient of the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.[3][4]

If we interested in the legal system, however, the issue with the word humanitarian is that it’s hard to tease out of the influences of morality (as a traditional universal system that arose before functional differentiation) and the legal system. Humanitarianism is associated with religion, as in the life of Albert Schweitzer.


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