How to be a citizen of the world.

(Learning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights one article at a time.)

(Article 1.)

  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Obviously we must begin by amending the article to include women, so I will translate “brotherhood” as “solidarity.” Feel free to interject your own term.

The first lesson of universal human rights is that all people deserve freedom and equality. In other words, just because someone happened to be born to poor parents or on the other side of a boundary does not make them fair game for the rest of us.

Thomas Jefferson translated the principle thusly:

“All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man (translate“ universal human rights”). The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind (humankind) has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.”

“Freedom” and “equality” are the poles of justice. Just as some forms of socialism made the mistake of seeking equality without freedom, so some forms of capitalism make the mistake of seeking freedom without equality. Our first principle is that all people are born deserving both.

The first article also expresses a respect for reason. So long as cultures try to unify the world based on some religious or political revelation they will fail because reason and common humanity are the only foundations for solidarity. This first principle means that all of us must place our special claims to knowledge, privilege or power aside for the sake of this conversation.