This week's Economist provides an extended survey of the prevalence of rape in wartime:
SHORTLY after the birth of her sixth child, Mathilde went with her baby into the fields to collect the harvest. She saw two men approaching, wearing what she says was the uniform of the FDLR, a Rwandan militia. Fleeing them she ran into another man, who beat her head with a metal bar. She fell to the ground with her baby and lay still. Perhaps thinking he had murdered her, the man went away. The other two came and raped her, then they left her for dead.
Mathilde’s story is all too common. Rape in war is as old as war itself. After the sack of Rome 16 centuries ago Saint Augustine called rape in wartime an “ancient and customary evil”. For soldiers, it has long been considered one of the spoils of war. Antony Beevor, a historian who has written about rape during the Soviet conquest of Germany in 1945, says that rape has occurred in war since ancient times, often perpetrated by indisciplined soldiers. But he argues that there are also examples in history of rape being used strategically, to humiliate and to terrorise, such as the Moroccan regulares in Spain’s civil war...
Congo’s horrors are mind-boggling. A recent study by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Oxfam examined rape survivors at the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, a town in North Kivu province. Their ages ranged from three to 80. Some were single, some married, some widows. They came from all ethnicities. They were raped in homes, fields and forests. They were raped in front of husbands and children. Almost 60% were gang-raped. Sons were forced to rape mothers, and killed if they refused...
In the Sudanese region of Darfur, rape and other forms of sexual violence have also been a brutally effective way to terrorise and control civilians. Women are raped in and around the refugee camps that litter the region, mostly when they leave the camps to collect firewood, water and food. Those of the same ethnicity as the two main rebel groups have been targeted most as part of the campaign of ethnic cleansing. According to Human Rights Watch, rape is chronically underreported, partially because in the mostly Muslim region sexual violence is a sensitive subject. Between October 2004 and February 2005 Médecins Sans Frontières, a French charity, treated almost 500 women and girls in South Darfur. The actual number of victims is likely to be much higher...
But in Congo the court system is in pieces. There have been fewer than 20 prosecutions of rape as either a war crime or a crime against humanity. The American Bar Association, which helps victims bring their cases to court in eastern Congo, has processed around 145 cases in the past two years. This has resulted in about 45 trials and 36 convictions based on domestic legislation, including a law introduced in 2006 to try and address the problem of sexual violence. Those who work with the survivors of rape in Congo have mixed feelings about the 2006 law. It has pricked consciences and made people more aware of their rights, concedes [Hillary] Margolis, [who runs the International Rescue Committee's sexual-violence programme in North Kivu]. It creates a theoretical accountability that could help punish perpetrators. But for women seeking justice, it has yet to have much impact. “There is still a glimmer of hope in people’s eyes when they talk about the law. But the judicial and security systems need to be improved so that it can be applied better, or people may lose confidence in it,” Ms Margolis says.
Now, I want to make a pedestrian point, namely, that the good guys here are animated by a concern to protect human rights. This doesn't come as a surprise to anyone. It's the perennial dog-bites-man story of humanitarianism: atrocities are happening somewhere, human rights groups are trying to help the victims and to awaken the world's conscience to do more.
And this raises the question: what do people who don't believe in rights, like Alasdair MacIntyre, or maybe Professor Steven Smith, whose article I deal with in my last post (although it's not clear from his article whether he believes in rights or not, for a reader might suspect that he does believe in them but wants to persuade his interlocutor to accept a providentialist worldview in order to provide a basis for his belief in rights) think that human rights groups are doing? Do they approve of them? I presume so, but why, if they think these groups' basic moral concept is misguided? Would they try to offer an alternative account of how "human rights" groups should think about, and justify, their work, and if so, what would it be?
It is not so easy. Though MacIntyre-- I'll focus on him since his ethical position is more clearly stated, and Professor Smith seems to be influenced by him-- would not embrace a utilitarian view, since this is an obvious alternative, we should consider it. And to put it bluntly, it is not even clear, from a utilitarian perspective, that rape is wrong. As a matter of biology, it pleasures both perpetrator and victim. Presumably for the victim the pain exceeds the pleasure, but for the perpetrator we may make the opposite presumption, and so the effect on the "greatest happiness of the greatest number" is ambiguous. Even if, for a particular transaction of this kind, we judge the balance to be negative, one must take into account the broader effects. If the act brings children into the world, what is the balance of the pleasure and pain the children will experience? Also, since a license for rape may serve as a means of compensating soldiers, what are the broader military effects of this? If we think rape is, on balance, harmful in itself, might it be justified if it enables the more beneficent side in a civil war to recruit enough soldiers to procure victory?
If the last paragraph sounds like a peculiarly wicked and digusting abuse of the faculty of reason, it is. But that's the point. Respect for human rights is an indispensable element of moral reasoning, and to discard it makes one liable to stumble into monstrous conclusions.
However, we are arguing not with the utilitarians but with MacIntyre. What would he offer to human rights groups as a substitute for their moral errors, in order to justify continuing their good work? Or can we suspect MacIntyre, if not of personally condoning these atrocities, of holding a meta-ethical position which would tempt, or even compel, him to condone them, or at least make him incapable of providing grounds for objecting to them?
Alas, as painful and shocking as this last suggestion is, I fear there are more reasons that we cannot dismiss it. And let me preface this by saying that MacIntyre's After Virtue is one of my favorite books on ethics, one which I both admire and to which I am much indebted. Yet I think it must be acknowledged nonetheless that there are reasons to have grave doubts about MacIntyre. As evidence, let me first cite the very end of After Virtue:
If my account of our moral condition is correct... what matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are not waiting for a Godot, but for another-- doubtless very different-- St. Benedict.
Now, I am the last person to discourage calls to monasticism. In the last chapter of Principles of a Free Society, I go so far in extolling the heroic historical role of monasticism that a reader might wonder for a moment whether there is any credit left over to give to anyone else for the achievements of civilization. And in a sense it is always correct to view ourselves as seeking refuge in the midst of a world that is falling apart, for we are all doomed to die, and only by turning away from ourselves and seeking refuge in God can we hope to pass safely through the dark age that awaits us when the soul is separated from the body.
Considered as a historical analogy, however, MacIntyre's conclusion is absurdly inapt. I tend to think, with Rodney Stark, that the fall of a Roman Empire was much less of a disaster than it has generally been held to be, indeed for some, perhaps for many, it may have been a liberation and a blessing. But it was a setback for civilization in many ways, e.g., literacy and education. There was a lot of violence; I think there were major declines in population. Some arts and luxuries declined or were lost.
Our own times are just the opposite. When MacIntyre published After Virtue in 1981, the post-World War II boom had raised living standards sharply in the West, virtually ending hunger, and bringing TVs and refrigerators and washing machines and air conditioning and all sorts of other new technologies, not only to the elite, but to the broad majority of the population. Not only was literacy not in retreat, but college education was becoming commonplace for an unprecedentedly large share of the population. But perhaps MacIntyre's words are meant as a prediction for the future? If so, they are if anything even less apt. In 1981, while such intense gloom about Western civilization was indefensible, much of the rest of the world was subject to tyranny and totalitarianism, and the 1970s in particular had been a decade of atrocities in Idi Amin's Uganda, Cambodia, China and so on. Since then, a freedom and prosperity much like that attained by the West have come within reach of more and more people's including the countries of central and eastern Europe formerly under communism and the Pacific Rim of Asia; and in the last decade Latin America and India have also been booming. The end of hunger and illiteracy worldwide no longer seems like a utopian dream, but will be achieved within the next few decades if current trends continue. Dark ages indeed!
I believe that MacIntyre was, at the time of writing, a former Marxist. In the context of academia, one is doubly disinclined to condemn him for that, since (a) Marxism is common enough in academia (except economics) that one has to learn to regard it tolerantly, and (b) the fact that he left Marxism makes anti-Marxists want to congratulate and welcome him, and encourage him to refute his old comrades. Still, at this point I don't think any doubt can really be admitted, in light of communist history, that ever to have been a Marxist was a huge error of judgment on anyone's part, and it is a reason to regard MacIntyre warily. Just because your friend seems sincerely penitent about the drunken car crash he got in last week, doesn't mean you shouldn't be especially careful to ask him how much he's had to drink before he drives home. As a Marxist, MacIntyre once thought capitalism is so bad that that it ought to be overthrown by revolution. That's insane. Are there any signs in After Virtue that a similar intellectual malady lingers on in his thinking? And here I would draw attention to what MacIntyre has to say about Edmund Burke:
We are apt to be misled [in thinking about tradition] by the ideological uses to which the concept of a tradition has been put by conservative political theorists. Characeristically such theorists have followed Burke in contrasting tradition with reason and the stability of tradition with conflict. Both contrasts obfuscate. For all reasoning takes place within the context of some traditional mode of thought, transcending through criticism and invention the limitations of what had hitherto been reasoned in that tradition; this is as true of modern physics as of medieval logic. Moreover when a tradition is in good order it is always partially constituted by an argument about the goods the pursuit of which gives to that tradition its particular point and purpose.
So when an institution-- a university, say, or a farm, or a hospital-- is the bearer of a tradition of practice or practices, its common life will be partly, but in a centrally important way, constituted by a continuous argument as to what a university is and ought to be or what good farming is or what good medicine is. Traditions, when vital, embody continuities of conflict. Indeed when a tradition becomes Burkean, it is always dying or dead.
The individualism of modernity could of course find no use for the notion of tradition within its own conceptual scheme except as an adversary notion; it therefore all too willingly abandoned it to the Burkeans, who, faithful to Burke's own allegiance, tried to combine adherence in politics to a conception of tradition which would vindicate the oligarchical revolution of property of 1688 and adherence in economics to the institutions of the free market. The theoretical incoherence of this mismatch did not deprive it of ideological usefulness. But the outcome has been that modern conservatives are for the most part engaged in conserving only older rather than later versions of liberal individualism. Their own core doctrine is as liberal and as individualist as that of self-avowed liberals.
For an American conservative who reads MacIntyre as a presumptive intellectual ally, this passage is discombobulating. Conservatives usually lionize Burke. Even liberals tend to like him, since his insight that the French Revolution must lead to military dictatorship displays a wisdom that anyone who wants to defend liberty and prevent tyranny must envy and emulate. One would expect MacIntyre, as a critic of the Enlightenment and an advocate of tradition, to appeal to the wisdom of Burke and regard as an ally or even a hero. Bizarrely, his attitude is one of almost contemptuous dismissal.
Again, MacIntyre's verdict on "the oligarchical revolution of property of 1688... and the institutions of the free market" seems almost wholly negative. How can this be? The Anglo-American democracies, whose origins lie in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, have carried the standard of liberty triumphantly in good times and bad for three centuries, making a successful stand against the proto-totalitarian Napoleon and the monstrous tyrannies of Hitler and Stalin. The liberal constitution of England had its flaws, no doubt, but surely it must be recognized as a force for good. But MacIntyre's words suggest the opposite.
And the claim that "when a tradition becomes Burkean, it is always dying or dead," is even more bizarre. Not only was the tradition of English liberty (and property) not dead when Burke defended it in the late 18th century, but it has since gone from strength to strength, thriving, spreading its influence over the globe, vanquishing one rival ideology after another. Even in the culturally alien environment of India, British traditions took root to the extent that India still lives by British institutions of the common law and representative government to this day. MacIntyre's historical analysis here is as bizarrely inapt as his prediction, or diagnosis, of "the new dark ages that are already upon us." How is one to account for these huge errors of judgment in a man so obviously intelligent?
I think one reason for it is MacIntyre's former Marxism. MacIntyre let his mind be poisoned by propaganda against the capitalist order, and he retained indefensible prejudices against it even after he outgrew belief in the Marxist system, which blinded him to the merits of Burke, and which made him look regard the triumph of liberal capitalism as a "new dark ages," in the face of overwhelming evidence of 20th-century capitalism's beneficent impact on the human condition. In short, MacIntyre was a sore loser. Now, God knows how to work good even out of man's folly, and in this case there is an element of higher insight even in MacIntyre's bitter grumbling, for compared to the City of God, even these most beneficent of all human polities in history which we Westerners of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are privileged to inhabit, are as unjust and miserable as MacIntyre's Marxist prejudices caused him to regard them. MacIntyre's fans, like myself, are free to read him from that perspective and continue to admire him. But that shouldn't cause us to be any less contemptuous of some of his historical judgments, as such.
Another reason, I think, for MacIntyre's low opinion of democratic capitalism, is that he's a snob. If you fancy yourself a member of an intellectual elite, you might well be inclined to take a dim view of the age of mass college education. It is notable that the various moralities that MacIntyre attacks and dismisses, particularly those of Kant and the utilitarians, are egalitarian, and those among which he leaves standing and between which at one point he offers readers a choice as the only viable alternatives-- "Nietzsche or Aristotle?" is the title of Chapter 9-- are both highly aristocratic or elitist. And we may here make a connection to the theme with which we began, rape, or to make it more general, slavery, the coercive use of others for one's pleasure. For purposes of this post, I wish I knew the writings of Aristotle and Nietzsche much better, but I'll do my best, and others may correct me.
It seems clear that Nietzsche would be an enthusiastic fan of military rape. I don't know whether he ever said so explicitly, but his vague glorification of heroes, his contempt for ordinary morality, his extreme sexism, his desire to find in evolution a source of a new ethics (and if the source of morality lies in the evolutionary imperatives of one's selfish genes then no action is more meritorious than rape) all point inexorably to this conclusion. Not surprisingly, the Bolsheviks and Nazis, who answered Nietzsche's call to throw out the old moral order and create a new higher man, practiced military rape on a large scale.
To digress a bit, I regard it as a scandal and a serious stain on the character of the philosophical profession that Nietzsche is regarded with respect as an important philosopher. Philosophers often come to pretty crazy conclusions, and it seems likely that a historical survey of these "lovers of wisdom" would reveal that in their conclusions they exhibit a good deal less wisdom than ordinary people who, making less effort to reason clearly, just accept most of what common sense tells them. But philosophers are legitimated by the presumption that they adhere to high epistemic standards, that they reason and argue in a careful and systematic way, and that even when they come to crazy conclusions, they have good reasons for them, and state them, and that they are ready to abandon their positions if refuted in argument, and thus serve as a stimulus to common sense to better articulate and defend itself. But Nietzsche does not adhere to high epistemic standards, does not reason and argue in a careful and systematic way, does not give reasons for his views and expose himself to refutation. His writing consists mostly of a few wild claims, a vague vision which however is never made very clear or argued for, and reams of sneering, albeit with an erudite, subtle, and poetic flavor, against moral philosophers he despises, namely almost everyone.
So why is Nietzsche regarded, by philosophers and therefore by the public which accepts the canon approved by the specialists, as an important and venerable philosopher? Let me ask a perhaps parallel question. Suppose that the top twenty most-read authors among mathematicians included, amidst logicians and geometers and graph theorists, one pornographer. I don't think we would conclude that this pornographer is a great mathematician. It would just lower our opinion of the moral character of mathematicians. Now suppose that a pornographer appear among the top twenty most-read authors for great literary critics. In this case, we might suspect that this particular pornographer possessed, for his trade, unusual literary merit, which enabled him to appeal to literary critics. However, we would probably not be inclined to rank him with Shakespeare and Tolstoy, because we would suspect that the critics' main motive was still the stimulation of lust and not literary enjoyment properly speaking.
I think the reason for Nietzsche's popularity among philosophers is similar, namely, his writing is to snobbery as pornography is to lust. He is extremely artful in stimulating pride and vainglory in his readers. Philosophers like him, partly because he is erudite and subtle and poetic, but that by itself gives no one the right to regard him as a philosopher, and partly because they are prone to snobbish vainglory and elitism, and Nietzsche gratifies this vice. The public should not tolerate it. When a philosopher mentions Nietzsche, we should say, "Excuse me, you're paid to argue, to reason, to exchange arguments with other philosophers, that is, other devotees of reasoning and argument. If you read that trash in your spare time, that's your problem, but we need to maintain standards here. Find another way to make your point."
But anyway. Aristotle. I know that he endorsed slavery, regarding some people as natural slaves. To endorse slavery is prima facie to endorse rape, since if a master is to make decisions for his chattels and command them by force if necessary, it would seem to follow that he can make decisions about whom they'll sleep with. There might be ways to avoid this conclusion by arguing that the rights of masters did not extend to sexual matters, and perhaps Aristotle said so, I don't know. But slavery, including slave-concubinage, was widely practiced in ancient Greece and Rome. I'm pretty sure Aristotle endorsed the enslavement of captives in war. So as far as my limited knowledge goes, and I hope others will correct me if I am wrong, Aristotle would effectively have endorsed, or at least would not have condemned, practices much like those against which Human Rights Watch and Hillary Margolis of the International Rescue Committee are struggling in Congo. And Aristotle's most famous student, Alexander the Great, seems to have committed, and incited his army to, rapes of Persian women on a large scale.
So where does this leave MacIntyre? It's less and less clear what resources he could draw upon if he wants to support Human Rights Watch et al. He is dismissive of the liberal capitalist order in the context of which military rape, a scourge through much of history, has ceased to be a practical danger for so many women in today's world. The moral philosophers he lionizes, Nietzsche and especially Aristotle, could not help him and seem to be on the other side. The fact that he is still under lingering Marxist influences puts him in some very bad company, e.g., Mussolini, Pol Pot. But the main charge is what it was from the first: that he rejects the principle, human rights, which animates campaigns against military rape today and, before that, against slavery.
Why does MacIntyre reject natural/human rights? At one point in After Virtue (pp. 67ff.), MacIntyre writes:
It is first of all clear that the claim that I have a right to do or have something is a quite different type of claim from the claim that I need or want or will be benefited by something. From the first-- if it is the only relevant consideration -- it follows that others ought not to interfere with my attempts to do or have whatever it is, whether it is for my own good or not. From the second it does not.
Well said, except that MacIntyre seems to state this as if it something odd, when he has only articulated a most mundane truth which is operative in practice every day. I am at a party, and my friend starts smoking. I do not think that she needs to, or that it will benefit her. On the contrary, I think it is bad for her. She does want to do it. But the reason why "I ought not to interfere" is that she has a right to do it. Hence I would not rip the cigarette out of her mouth. Neither would MacIntyre, I presume. By contrast, if she got drunk and angry and began trying to break the host's plates, she once again (a) does not need to, (b) will not benefit from it, but (c) wants to. In those respects, her breaking plates is the same as her smoking. But as she does not have a right to break plates as she does to smoke, it is perfectly appropriate for me to interfere and try to stop her, even by restraining force. MacIntyre would no doubt accept this, but he argues:
Claims to the possession of rights presuppose... the existence of a socially established set of rules. Such sets of rules only come into existence at particular historical periods under particular social circumstances. They are in no way universal features of the human condition... Those forms of human behavior which presuppose notions of some ground to entitlement, such as the notion of a right, always have a highly specific and socially local character, and... the existence of particular types of social institution or practice is a necessary condition for the notion of a claim to the possession of a right being an intelligible type of human performance. (As a matter of historical fact, such types of social institution or practice have not existed universally in human societies.)
At best, MacIntyre's argument depends on an appeal to a historical claim. It is far from clear that his claim is true. As far as I can tell from my certainly far from comprehensive (and no doubt inferior to MacIntyre's) knowledge of the history of morals, the idea of violence, which I say in Principles of a Free Society "may be defined as any violation of the habeas corpus principle" (or natural right of self-ownership), seems to be universal. Even if MacIntyre's historical claim is right, his argument is not necessarily compelling, as MacIntyre seems is aware:
It would of course be a little odd that there should be such rights attaching to human beings simply qua human beings in light of the fact... that there is no expression in any ancient or medieval language correctly translated by our expression 'a right' until near the close of the middle ages: the concept lacks any means of expression in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, or Arabic, classical or medieval, before about 1400, let alone in Old English, or in Japanese even as late as the mid-nineteenth century. From this it does not of course follow that there are no natural or human rights; it only follows that no one could have known that there were. And this at least raises certain questions. But we do not need to be distracted into answering them, for the truth is plain: there are no such rights, and belief in them is one with belief in witches and in unicorns. (After Virtue, p. 69)
MacIntyre's argument is incomplete by his own confession, even if his historical claims are conceded. "From this it does not of course follow... but the truth is plain..." seems to be an appeal to intuition. And that intuition is heavily conditioned by the apparently impressive claim he has just made that no one could have known that there were rights before 1400 because there wasn't a word for them, or more precisely, "there was no expression... correctly translated by our expression 'a right'." But is MacIntyre's semantic finickiness appropriate here? If there was no word with exactly the same meaning, doubtless there were words and phrases with similar meanings. In any case, while doing research for Principles of a Free Society I read (much of) The Idea of Natural Rights, by a philosophical medievalist, Brian Tierney, and I was struck by the brusqueness with which Tierney dismisses MacIntyre:
MacIntyre has deplored the "deep lack of historical consciousness" that infects much of modern moral philosophy, but he does not udnerstand the history of the rights theories that he criticizes. (Tierney, Kindle Edition, Locations 60-66)
Moreover, MacIntyre's critique of rights is part of his general demolition of the Enlightenment project to provide a rational basis for morality, but this demolition job obviously must be followed by an attempt at reconstruction of some kind of morality, and when MacIntyre gets around to that, he creates an opening to reintroduce the theory of rights. MacIntyre argues that the virtues can be understood in the context of a 'practice,' by which he means "any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized," e.g. architecture, music, chess, war. This leads MacIntyre to:
a partial and tentative definition of a virtue: A virtue is an acquired human quality the possession and exercise of which tends to enable us to achieve those goods which are internal to practices and the lack of which effectively prevents us from achieving any such goods. (After Virtue, p. 191)
One of the virtues is "justice, [which] requires that we treat others in respect of merit or desert according to uniform and impersonal standards" (p. 192), or as he says elsewhere, "giving what is due." To become a philosopher, for example, one must initially "give what is due" to the established canon of philosophers, reading and respecting and emulating them. I can't do justice to MacIntyre's argument here. Suffice it to say that I think he does what he sets out to do, finding a basis for ethics that lies outside, and is not vulnerable to the critiques of, the spurious pleasure-pain calculus of the utilitarians and the dangerously contentless categorical imperative of Kant, and from which, as it were, a desiccated moral landscape can be re-irrigated.
What MacIntyre does not do, and what greatly needs doing, is to codify the virtues into at least some prescriptive rules that ordinary people can live by. In this respect, MacIntyre remains essentially pagan. By situating the virtues in the realm of practices he seems to have designed an ethics for great chessplayers or musicians or warriors, perhaps for a Nietzschean artistic elite, which cannot obviously be transferred to, so to speak, "the bungled and the botched" who will never be masters of any craft, but who, one hopes, may still lead moral lives. Christianity, which exalts the humble, plays very little role in After Virtue. If one criticism of Aristotle's ethics is that is only for the wealthy (the "magnanimous man" clearly needs to have a lot of money), Alasdair MacIntyre's might be criticized as being only for college professors. The problem which he sets out to address in Chapter 1 is not a practical one like feeding the hungry, or educating the illiterate, or military rape, but a quintessentially professorly problem, that moral discourse is "shrill" and "interminable." In his conclusion, he wants to preserve "the intellectual and moral life," as if the two were of equal importance or even synonyms. But this kind of pagan virtue was quite consistent, historically, with exploiting slaves and enjoying concubines, and I think we can see why, for if justice consists in "giving what is due" to those who excel in the context of practices like music or architecture, it seems quite plausible that nothing, and in particular not the retention of her virginity, is due to a simple, unaccomplished girl taken in war.
Can we say that, if "giving what is due" in the context of a practice consists of recognizing the excellence of the authorities in one's field, there is also something that is due to every human being qua human being, namely that we respect their rights? Why can't we use MacIntyre's case for the virtue of justice to overturn MacIntyre's earlier dismissal of the idea of natural rights? If we can say this, it might not be a problem for our ethical theory that some societies have been much more successful than others in articulating and institutionalizing concepts of rights, any more than it's a problem for musical theory that not all civilizations have discovered the circle of fifths. And we should not be surprised that Human Rights Watch and International Rescue Committee can go to Congo and tell people about their rights and find their ideals quickly embraced by the local population (even if implementation is difficult) any more than we should be surprised to find that Chinese people can admire Beethoven.
Principles of a Free Society begins by suggesting a somewhat Aristotelian approach to grounding the idea of natural rights:
A human being is mind and body. The body has a particular telos, or peculiar flourishing, of which he have some natural understanding. Thus, we see the difference between a healthy body and a body wounded, injured, decrepit, or sick... To flourish, the body must have food, water, and air; must not be subjected to cold or heat too extreme or for too long; must not be pierced by sharp objects or crushed by heavy blows; must not be exposed to certain substances, certain types of radiation, certain intensities of sound; must be allowed a certain degree fo movement and a certain amount of sleep; should not spend too much time in water or darkness; and so forth. Each body is naturally subject to one human mind. To be subject to that mind is part of the body's telos. The means by which the body can be subjected to the power of other human minds-- it can be beaten, wounded, dragged in chains, and so on-- trespass against or violate the body's telos. (Principles of a Free Society, p. 1)
I think this expresses an ideal that the benevolent and humanitarian heroes of history have always held and sought to realize in the world, while the perpetrators and tyrants of history are those who ride roughshod over it. Its name is human, or natural, rights.