Thomas Hobbes argued for the formation of a sovereign political body, which eventually evolved into the modern state. According to him, humans couldn’t survive in a state of nature due to their inherently provocative instincts that lead to conflicts.
He proposed empowering the authority with executive, legislative, and arbitral roles within its jurisdiction. In the event of failure, Hobbes suggested establishing an overriding force to replace the failed system, whether through force or peaceful means.
John Locke, known as the father of modern democracy, further clarified the same and specified that the rights were to be surrendered before that authority in consideration of security.
He opined that the authority should be endowed with the power to look after the main three rights: the right to life, the right to property, and the right to liberty. By elaborating on liberty, he included every freedom, stretching from civil, economic, political, and human rights into its ambit. The authority is to be granted the powers mentioned by Hobbes in his masterpiece, Leviathan.
The views of medieval political and legal philosophers were heavily influenced by the tumultuous situation in medieval Europe. Princely states and feudal confederacies, existing under the church’s supervision, engaged in wars. Boundaries and rulership changed rapidly as powerful groups ousted existing ones. In response, people proposed the “Treaties of Westphalia,” a set of peace treaties, as they realized the need to address real issues rather than rely solely on fate.
The effort to prioritize human life and dignity dates back to Hammurabi, the king of ancient Babylon, who enacted the Code of Hammurabi in 1753 BC. This code specified compensatory punishments for various crimes against free men, free women, slave men, and slave women, ranging from seven to thirty shakkal, the currency of that time weighing between seven to fourteen grams.
As different religions, particularly Islam, emerged, they played a significant role in changing the course of history by eliminating differences and hierarchical castes. The last sermon of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in 632 AD is often regarded as the first human rights charter.
In 1215 in England, people sought to establish the principles of justice, enshrining the three essentials of the rule of law: Audi altrum paltrum (Nobody shall be convicted without being heard), judges (arbitrators) should not preside over their cases, and everyone should be treated equally before the law.
Continuing this trajectory, the 1676 Bill of Rights in England became law, further extending rights from politico-socio to religio-economic domains. Similarly, the American Bill of Rights in 1789 included fifteen rights, with three removed by Jeffersonian federalists. They argued against enshrining laws in the constitution that the state couldn’t enforce, including those favoring the abolition of slavery.
Despite these debates, the most sacred document in human civilization is considered the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It marked the first global agreement on principles to protect individuals. Numerous Geneva Conventions and human rights organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, have since aimed to improve conditions for people facing gross human rights violations.
All these laws, integrated into international law, unequivocally prioritize human rights and human dignity as the highest concern for states. This emphasis underscores that the population is the foremost and primary priority for the state. People themselves established states, formed organizations, and created groups and communities to safeguard broader rights in consideration of their rights and interests.
However, the evolution of the state, unlike civilization, transformed the state into a behemoth that began asserting itself as the goal rather than a means to the goal of safety. Consequently, the state ensured the subjugation of its subjects, indoctrinating its people to be for the state, rather than the state existing for the individual. This shift in the state’s perspective crushed the fundamental idea of the state, which was meant to be the protector of the rights of its subjects.
In his masterpiece, “Theory of Justice,” John Rawls criticized the notion of laws based on utilitarianism. Simply put, any law benefiting the majority is acceptable to the minority only if it doesn’t trample upon their rights. In such cases, minorities would possess the moral and legal authority to overthrow the ruling regime, justifying their actions by highlighting the regime’s neglect of their rights.
Similarly, Hans Kelsen, a prominent legal scholar and pioneer of the “pure theory of law,” argues that revolution can only be justified within or beyond the bounds of the political order, namely the state when the state neglects its authorized duties and resorts to subjugating the masses. However, in the modern world, states have deviated from prioritizing their masses—their recognized population—and have assumed the status of being the foremost authority for them.
This perception of being the highest need for humanity has transformed states into monsters rather than protectors, exhibiting a belief in cannibalism when threatened by the people or the idea of failing to justify their existence. When unable to justify their rule, states resort to labeling any voice for justice or calls for the redress of infringed rights with names like traitors, sponsored entities, proxies, and more.
The fundamental concept of safeguarding the population as the main purpose has been disregarded, leading to actions where populations are bulldozed, crushed, and bombarded under the pretext of state protection. In the guise of national security and sovereignty, states have created turmoil globally by perpetrating acts against civilians and populations.
No ideology, whether centered around the state or the protection of national interests, can ethically justify the killing of human beings. The world must reconsider the definition of the state about its national interests and sovereignty. These concepts are frequently employed by states to rationalize the illegitimate exercise of their authority, resembling the authoritative figures depicted by George Orwell in his book, “1984.”