Self-Defense and Human Rights

A Canopy Forum Thematic Series
June – July 2020

This series features Dr. David Little’s unified theory of human rights based upon the personal and collective right of self-defense. Little’s central claim is that that key words in the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights point to the right of self-defense “against tyranny and oppression” as the moral and legal foundation of human rights, and account for the “organic unity” of the formative instruments: the Universal Declaration and the two Covenants on political, legal and economic, social, and cultural rights.  The series features learned responses from several leading scholars in international law, human rights, and law and religion that raise important questions about the implications and possible alternatives to Little’s theory.  Together, these discourses open a robust conversation about what international human rights law means, where it comes from, what it demands of the community of nations, and what alternative frameworks may be available by reference to non-Western normative traditions. 

The Right of Self-Defense and the Organic Unity of Human Rights
Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV

David Little
June 8, 2020

“These days, there exists a potent two-pronged attack on human rights, one political and the other academic. Authoritarian governments including Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia are making a concerted effort to undermine the credibility and effectiveness of human rights. At the same time, prominent scholars in the US and UK are posing harsh challenges to its grounding, coherence, and durability…”

A Non-Theoretical Justification of Human Rights: A Response to David Little’s The Right of Self-Defense
Part IPart II

T. Jeremy Gunn
June 16, 2020

“David Little’s essay, “The Right of Self-Defense,” correctly recognizes that human rights are under mounting assault by dictatorial regimes at the same time that the foundations of human rights are being questioned within academe. With human rights under threat both by ill-intentioned autocrats and well-meaning academics, Little proposes an innovative intellectual justification…”

Response to David Little on Self-Defense

David Yoon-Jung Kim
June 22, 2020

“It is difficult to deliberate on human rights and the right of self-defense, the rule of law as a safeguard against tyranny and anarchy, and the legal doctrines of necessity and emergency without reflecting on the headlines dominating the news…”

Human Rights, Human Dignity and Personal Autonomy: A Reflection on David Little’s Theory of Self-Defense and Organic Unity

Mark Hill QC
June 24, 2020

There are few people better placed to contribute to Canopy Forum than David Little, a leading authority on the history of religious freedom, ethics and human rights, who I first met a quarter of a century ago and whose company I have enjoyed many more times in the intervening years on both sides of the Atlantic. His essay, released in sequential sections rather like the early novels of Charles Dickens, provides a rich resource for those interested in human rights…”

The Moral Logic of Self-Defense and Identifying Rights of Urgent Moral Concern

Christian Rice
June 29, 2020

I am grateful to have the opportunity to respond to David Little’s important essay, The Right of Self-Defense and the Organic Unity of Human Rights. David’s contribution to the theoretical foundations of human rights has been of immense value…”

The Right to Self-Defense as the Grundnorm for Human Rights: A Response to David Little

John Witte, Jr.
July 6, 2020

David Little has pioneered the study of religion, human rights, and religious freedom during 60 years of distinguished scholarly work at Yale, Harvard, Virginia, Georgetown, and the United States Institute of Peace. He has traced cardinal human rights principles from antiquity until today — with a special focus on the prescient contributions of Protestants, like his heroes John Calvin and Roger Williams, to modern ideas of human rights…”

The Right of Self-Defense in Confucianism

Ping-cheung Lo
July 6, 2020

This piece contributes to David Little’s claim that the right of self-defense is universally acknowledged by analyzing the subtle idea of self-defense in the book of Mencius, a Confucian text named for its author. This treatise was influential in premodern Japan and Korea, as well as in Chinese thought then and now…”

Self-Defense and Human Rights: David Little Responds:
Part IPart IIPart III

David Little
August 24, 2020

“It makes sense to start with Jeremy Gunn, not only because he is first in line, but also because he poses the sharpest challenge to my entire endeavor. If he is right, there is no reason to proceed further since “human rights do not need, and have never needed, philosophical, theoretical, moral, religious, or ideological foundations.” “Human rights conventions, in short, are not the outcome of articulated philosophical norms, but of political realities…”