Universal Human Rights and the Sovereignty of Humanity:How the Earth Constitution embodies the true foundations of both human rights and legitimate law protecting them.


Conference on World Constitution and Human Rights, January 7-9, 2022

Government Law College, Mumbai, India

The broadest function of legitimate law is to protect individual human rights (freedom and dignity) within the framework of the common good of the whole.  Human beings are both an “I” and a “WE.”  We are not only individuals who have infinite dignity that must be protected and respected by government, but all of us necessarily and integrally embody the WE of humanity. The holistic vision that the world has only begun to comprehend since the late 20th century, distinguishes the I from the WE, but does not separate them.

We are all human beings and bound to one another and our surrounding planet as such. The primary legitimate function of law is to protect the “I” within the framework of the common good of the WE. I will show in this paper why both dimensions of this function require ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth (2010). I will show why neither of these dimensions can be effectively realized under the present system of sovereign, militarized nation-states.

So-called “natural law theorists” from the time of Aristotle through St. Thomas Aquinas to contemporary philosophers such as Lon Fuller (1969) and John Finnis (1980) emphasized that law overlaps with moral obligation. These thinkers argued that law reflects the moral dimension in various ways and forms a necessary feature in the actualization of that dimension. Human rights themselves are rationally recognizable moral principles—and the fact that each person has rights means that all others have duties toward that person. If I have the right to life, then your duty is to respect and honor my right to life (cf. Nelson 1956).

Still other thinkers, such as those linked with Russian philosophy deriving from Eastern Orthodox religious thought, or Indian philosophers like Sri Aurobindo, or western evolutionary thinkers like Teilhard de Chardin, attempted to show that the moral dimension, valid as it may be, arises from the deep mystery of the divine Oneness, imminent within the multiplicities of the cosmos. The existential realization of this Oneness reveals an infinite depth to human life, and an emergent evolutionary imperative within human life that must be recognized if we are to organize ourselves under law for a true flourishing and fullness in human existence.

Three generations of human rights been developed as humanity has better come to understand their meaning. The first generation articulated political rights such as freedom to participate in government, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. The second generation involved social-economic rights, such as the rights to a living wage, to social security, and to health care.  The third generation, that has come to broad awareness only during the last half of the 20th century, involves planetary rights such as the rights to world peace and a protected planetary environment (Wacks 2008, 149-50).

These planetary rights are integrally related to the emerging consciousness of our situation as beings who are inherently communally constituted (arising together from the evolutionary process as a common human phenomenon). The vast paradigm shift that has taken place in all the sciences throughout the 20th and 21st centuries has revealed the integral interdependence of wholes and parts throughout the scale of nature. Human beings are part of the living Earth System (Lenton 2016; Martin 2021), and we are all one as an emergent species aware of the divine telos directing us to ever-greater self-realization (Teilhard de Chardin 1959).

The ancients of all traditions had already recognized that each person is a microcosm of the macrocosm. The dimensions of the universe and the divine live in each of us. Each of us is an integral synthesis of body, mind, and spirit (cf. Panikkar 2008). For this reason, human beings everywhere are not simply a collection of innumerable “Is.” We are not simply a collection of nearly eight billion individuals. We are at the same time one “We,” made in the image and likeness of the integral Life of the Cosmos. The “I” carries universal human rights precisely because at the same time it is a living “WE” (cf. Martin 2021). How has this understanding become embodied within human history?

Russian philosopher Valdimir Solovyov observes that a great step forward in human self-realization took place in the 18th century with the French Revolution and its declaration of the rights of man. He writes that: “The principle of human rights was extremely important and new for the whole world at that time” (1950, 51).  However, he observes that the universality of this principle was compromised when the French revolutionary forces framed this idea as the “rights of man and the citizen.” 

Because “citizen” is a limited category that excludes those who are not citizens.  Universal human rights are immediately compromised as soon as they are limited to being citizens of this or that republic, excluding others who are foreigners, who are not so protected by laws applying only to citizens. Since that time, because of this compromising of the universality of the principle of human rights, those who are considered not citizens (both within nations and worldwide) have often been subject to terrible abuses of their universal human rights.

Can law protect universal human rights?  Where does the constituent power to make law come from?  And where does the proper power of the law to truly protect universal human rights lie?   Both lie with our universal humanity, with the people of Earth as an integral whole, with the WE of human existence. This issue was also dramatized by the French Revolution.

Before that time, tradition going back many centuries held that the King, divinely appointed by God and sanctioned by the Holy Roman Catholic Church, held the right to make and enforce laws, and these ideas were widely held throughout Europe at the time. However, some 17th century thinkers such as Althusius and Spinoza in the Netherlands, held that the constituent power to make legitimate laws came from the people themselves, not from the divine right of kings. The monarchies called such ideas “traitorous,” but the French Revolution was based on just such ideas: the constituent power to make laws came from the people as a whole, not from some divinely sanctioned inheritance of royalty.

The French revolutionary ideal, like the American revolutionary ideal that took place in this same era, involved the understanding that the people are sovereign and the true source of legitimate law and governmental authority—the authority that binds any authentic community into a common WE under universal laws ideally directed to the common good of the whole.  The “common good” means that the WE are a collective reality that supersedes the I if that I egoistically wishes to assert itself in violation of the good of the whole or of other members of the community.

But who is this “WE”?  Why do we assume that this WE must suddenly end just one inch over some artificial boundary line, excluding those across this boundary from being part of the constituent power?  In his famous book The Anatomy of Peace, Emery Reeves wrote, “A picture of the world pieced together like a mosaic from its various national components is a picture that never and under no circumstances can have any relation to reality, unless we deny that such a thing as reality exists” (1946, 22).  The reality is that we are all part of one human community living on one, precious planetary home. The WE that is the sovereign source of legitimate law is all of us. Yet historically human beings have sliced the WE up and militarized it to the point where we are in danger of making our very existence extinct.

The essential ideas of democracy, of the democratic revolutions of the 18th century, were two-fold—the universal human rights of all people and the inherent sovereignty of all people to generate the laws and government under which they must live.  But the qualifier added to rights during the French revolution (because it mistakenly limited the concept of “citizen”) continues to this day to interfere with the divinely inspired self-realization of humanity. The French revolutionaries declared the universal rights of man and the citizen, and yet from that day to the present there has never been any significant recognition of universal citizenship.

From the 18th century recognition of the people as the true, legitimate constituent power, to the crises of the 21st century involves a two hundred year long, complex development. But one thing is clear—the 18th century recognition of the people as sovereign was framed within a parochial view of the world as divided into races (along with slavery), nation-state power centers with absolute boundaries, male domination of women, the genocide of indigenous peoples, and pervasive religious discrimination.  When Thomas Jefferson penned the great words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” he was expressing the foundations of the constituent (and revolutionary) power in an ideal form. The reality on the ground was fragmentation and extreme inequality, including the division of “all men” into antagonistic, militarized, national entities.

The constituent power to make and enforce laws in the early United States was formed by wealthy, white, property-owning males (hardly “we the people”). Women, blacks, the poor, indigenous people, and other excluded groups had to fight for the next two centuries to have their share in the constituent power recognized through voting rights. But why did this fight arbitrarily stop at national boundaries?  The constituent power properly resides with all the people of Earth.

The legitimate authority of government derives from this fact of the global community. The “I” that bears universal human rights is inseparable from the “WE” that underlies the legitimate constituent power of government. Each of us embodies the whole. We are not only incarnations of personal dignity; we are mirrors, incarnations of the whole of humanity and the divine ground of Being.

Authentic citizenship can only be global, and therefore coextensive with universal human rights. The constituent power of the sovereign WE must then be delegated to a world authority, under a world constitution, and from there to national authorities, then to regional and local authorities. This is the only legitimate hierarchy of democratic laws. Legitimate law-making power arises from the people, from the sovereignty of the people of Earth, and only from there can it be delegated to local and national authorities.

The Preamble to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights correctly states that: “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”  But what does the word “recognition” mean here?  Is it merely lip service?  Or must this recognition be institutionalized by an Earth Constitution? The institutions of militarized sovereign nation-states, like unregulated capitalism, destroy the protection of human rights at every turn (cf. Donnelly 2003). Imperial nations like the United States declare that the UN Universal Declaration is “merely symbolic” and carries no force of law, allowing them to invade, overthrow, assassinate, or blockade other nations at will.

Today, governmental authority worldwide continues to exist in practice with so-called “sovereign nation-states.”  Each state is ruled by a small group dominated by the wealth and power of a few. Each state claims a separate constituent power for itself (nearly 200 separate constituent powers), independent of the rest of humanity.  The result is chaos, ceaseless war, internecine struggle, pervasive suspicion, unbridled competition, environmental destruction, hate, fear, and endless human rights violations. As human rights scholars have pointed out, under this situation there can be no single set of enforceable laws protecting universal human rights. It is up to each nation to protect (or not) universal human rights, and the facts on the ground show that security concerns, as well as the economic priorities of nations, routinely trump the idea of universal human rights (ibid. Donnelly 2003).

The chaos and violation of human rights worldwide today is most fundamentally a consequence of the failure of the people of Earth to clearly recognize the second universality that emerged from the revolutionary struggles of 18th century Europe: that the people are sovereign. To truly recognize this as the correct universal principle of law would be to make perfect sense of the French Declaration of the “Rights of Man and the Citizen.”  Just as human rights are universal, so is the constituent power to make and enforce laws. The only legitimate sovereignty is that of the people of Earth.

For militarized sovereign nation-states, the universal declaration of rights is necessarily “merely symbolic,” since the institutional reality requires that they exploit one another economically and threaten one another militarily, both of which systematically violate human rights. This false idea that sovereignty of the people can be endlessly divided into some 200 sovereign nation-states recognizing no enforceable laws over themselves, is not only wrong.

It is a product of madness. It has hopelessly fragmented 20th and 21st century humanity into an omnicidal race toward Armageddon through nuclear or biological weapons as well as climate destruction.  The plain reason for this madness is that a humanity fragmented into some 200 competing slices can in no way represent the true constituent power.

If my government has missiles ready and aimed at some rival national entity, then it is already denying their right to life, liberty, and security of person.  If my government taxes its own citizens to build and deploy these “defensive” missiles (money that could be spent on ending poverty or protecting the environment), then it is also denying its own citizens the right to life, liberty, and security of person. To protect or promote the war-system in any way violates not only universal human rights but the principle of the sovereignty of the whole, the community of Earth.

The Constitution for the Federation of Earth is the instrument or vehicle for activating the sovereignty of the people of Earth to exercise their law-making authority. It is founded on the principle of unity in diversity (embracing all human diversities, genders, nations, cultures, and races). It embraces the principle of universal dignity (cf. Kirchhoffer 2013) as well as the principle of the common good interfaced with the individual good.

Law is only fully legitimate as world law, and law at regional and local levels is fully legitimate when it is understood as authority delegated from the world law level to the local constituencies everywhere on Earth. Proper government is always both top-down and bottom-up. The people as sovereign elect governors (from the bottom up) to operate within a constitutional framework (as a top-down unifying principle embracing and protecting the diversity of all). They establish government to represent them in its dual function of protecting both the I and the WE: the universal rights of each within the common good of all.

Legitimate law cannot be constructed from a bottom-up law-making process that refuses to recognize the sovereignty of the whole.  This piecemeal approach was that of the League of Nations and now the United Nations, both utter failures in keeping the peace or protecting human rights.  This is why so-called international law is unworkable and unenforceable. The parts cannot create legitimate law through treaties or voluntary agreements, for this path refuses to recognize the true a priori legitimacy and priority of the whole. 

You do not add up the collection of single human beings to get universal human rights. Rather, you recognize the a priori dignity and infinite worth of all human persons as such.  Similarly, you do not add up a collection of claimed individual sovereignties to get a legitimate constituent authority. Rather, you recognize the priority to the whole (the all-embracing WE of unity in diversity) in relation to its parts.

This is precisely the significance of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth and its active manifestation in sessions of the Provisional World Parliament.  Supporters of the Earth Constitution today represent the sovereignty of the people of Earth who form the true constituent power for all law and governmental authority. Even though today the power to make and enforce laws remains with the elite-dominated, militarized nation-states, the Provisional World Parliament meets and votes and makes provisional world laws under the understanding that it truly represents the sovereignty of humanity. It represents the true constituent power, which lies with the people of Earth, a power that is rationally organized and manifested through the Earth Constitution.

That is why the Constitution for the Federation of Earth makes possible both authentic democracy for the Earth and the protection of universal human rights. Democracy means the sovereignty of the people as a WE and the protection of the universal human rights of each “I”. In other words, we cannot protect universal human rights unless there is also universal citizenship with its planetary constituent power. We need to make this happen rapidly because human beings, under the deranged, militarized system of national sovereign entities, are in real danger of making themselves extinct. Making ourselves extinct would mean, I submit, the ultimate violation of our universal human rights.

Works Cited

Constitution for the Federation of Earth: With Historical Introduction, Commentary, and Conclusion  (2010). Edited with commentary by Glen T. Martin. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Donnelly, Jack (2003). Human Rights in Theory and Practice. Second Edition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

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Fuller, Lon (1969). The Morality of Law. Revised Edition. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Kirchhoffer, David G. (2013). Human Dignity in Contemporary Ethics. Amherst, NY: Teneo Press.

Lenton, Tim (2016). Earth System Science: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Martin, Glen T. (2021). “The I, the WE, the IT, and the Third Estate.” Article in Academia Letters at Academia.edu | Search | The I, the We.

Martin, Glen T. (2021). The Earth Constitution Solution: Design for a Living Planet. Independence, VA: Peace Pentagon Press.

Nelson, Leonard (1956). System of Ethics. Trans. Norbert Guterman. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Panikkar, Raimon (2008). Opera Omnia, Volume I: Mysticism and Spirituality. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Reves, Emery (1946). The Anatomy of Peace. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Solovyov, Valdimir (1950, reprinted 2013). “The Idea of Humanity,” in A Solovyov Anthology, S.L. Frank, ED. Literary Licensing, LLC.

Teilhard de Chardin (1959). The Phenomenon of Man. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Wacks, Raymond (2008). Law: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.