US: Unalienable Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy

Mr. Pompeo is U.S. secretary of state.

America’s Founders defined unalienable rights as including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” They designed the Constitution to protect individual dignity and freedom. A moral foreign policy should be grounded in this conception of human rights.

Human-rights advocacy has lost its bearings and become more of an industry than a moral compass. And “rights talk” has become a constant element of our domestic political discourse, without any serious effort to distinguish what rights mean and where they come from.

Yet after the Cold War ended, many human-rights advocates turned their energy to new categories of rights. These rights often sound noble and just. But when politicians and bureaucrats create new rights, they blur the distinction between unalienable rights and ad hoc rights granted by governments. Unalienable rights are by nature universal. Not everything good, or everything granted by a government, can be a universal right. Loose talk of “rights” unmoors us from the principles of liberal democracy.

That’s why I’m launching a Commission on Unalienable Rights at the State Department, chaired by Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon and populated with scholars, legal experts and activists. The commission’s mission isn’t to discover new principles but to ground our discussion of human rights in America’s founding principles.

Its members will address basic questions: What are our fundamental freedoms? Why do we have them? Who or what grants these rights? How do we know if a claim of human rights is true? What happens when rights conflict? Should certain categories of rights be inextricably “linked” to other rights?

This may sound abstract, but the work is urgent. The human-rights cause once united people from disparate nations and cultures in the effort to secure fundamental freedoms and fight evils like Nazism, communism and apartheid. We have lost that focus today. Rights claims are often aimed more at rewarding interest groups and dividing humanity into subgroups. Read more via Wall Street Journal