Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Bartolomé de las Casas and the Long, and Very Long, Short, and Very Short History, of Human Rights

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Political theorists, legal historians, and activists who are interested in the publication and promotion of the regime of human rights that has developed out of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and those who criticize the regime, have presented a wide variety of historical accounts of the rise of the concept of human rights. Some date the concept of human rights from ancient western and non-western cultures, while others claim that it is uniquely modern and western, or even a contemporary political discourse of U.S. foreign policy. In this paper I will use some of the works of Bartolomé de las Casas to determine whether a conception of human rights can be found in his various defenses of the rights of the peoples of the New World. In doing so I will be guided by some of Cary Nedermans contributions to the historiography of political thought, especially in his works World of Difference: European Discourses on Toleration c. 1150-1550 (2000) and The Lineages of European Political Thought: Explorations along the Modern/Medieval Divide from John Of Salisbury to Hegel (2009). The world Las Casas inhabited was not organized into 193 nation-states, the governments of which were members of a United Nations. Nevertheless, his arguments do entail an argument for a concept of human rooted in Ciceros works and the medieval tradition of natural law.

Conference Name

Paul Cornish

Conference Location

Western Michigan University

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