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Jacques Maritain, Christian New Order, and the Birth of Human Rights

Moyn, Samuel

This paper traces some changes in Catholic political theory eventually taken up and extended during World War II by Jacques Maritain, who became the foremost philosophical exponent of the idea of "human rights" on the postwar scene. It shows that the invention of the idea of the "dignity of the human person" as embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights occurred not in biblical or other longstanding traditions, but instead in very recent and contingent history. The conclusion speculates on what the restoration of Maritain's route to human rights to its proper contexts might suggest about the cultural meaning the idea had in postwar Continental Europe, which became its homeland.



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April 27, 2010


Published as "Jacques Maritain: le origini dei diritti umani e il pensiero politico cristiano," in Dialogo interculturale e diritti umani: la Dichiarazione universale dei diritti umani: genesi, evoluzione e problemi odierni (1948-2008), ed. Luigi Bonanate and Roberto Papini (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2008), pp. 97-124.