Duties & Rights

This post attempts to continue the global brain research.

Under stratified social order, duties are far more important than rights. In stratified society, duties come along with social strata, as the nobility were obligated to protect the peasants, among other duties. Noblesse oblige, “nobility obligates,” is supposed to balance privilege with responsibility. The commoners, in turn, owed their allegiance to their lord or sovereign.

Human rights did not become a topic of communication until the 17th century, and the topic did not really take hold until the 18th century. Rights come into play with the functional differentiation of the legal system. Rights gradually increased in importance from the 1840-60s. This English-language Google ngram shows that the rights overtook duties in 1875.


This is also the time when human rights and humanitarianism emerged, thanks to people such as Henry (or Henri) Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross.

If we look at three words (duty, duties, obligation) in comparison with the rights, we get this graph:


The comparison with duties and rights is less clear in other languages. But for German, if we combine two terms for duty (Pflicht+Schuldigkeit), we get


But in French, if we enter devoir+obligation+responsabilité, we don’t get much of a trend:


It terms of international law or the global legal system, it might be interesting to compare civil rights and human rights, first in English:

Human rights surpasses civil rights in about 1978. Civil rights are associated with the nation-state, but human rights are global.

In French, if we compare droits civiques and droits de l’homme, we see that droits de l’homme takes off in about 1973. So this is similar to the English graph in terms of the rise of human rights, although droits civiques stays flat.

droits civiques


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