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TOP 500 REVIEWERon December 21, 2012
Rights From Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights by Alan M. Dershowitz
"Rights From Wrongs" is a very interesting book on the source of our rights from a welcomed secular point of view. Preeminent legal scholar and renowned criminal lawyer, Alan M. Dershowitz provides the readers with a lucid, engaging account on the secular origin of rights. Despite being broken out into three parts this book is really about two: the first half focuses on the origins of rights while the second half is the application of said theory of rights to specific controversies. This enlightening 274-page book is composed of twenty chapters and is broken out in the following three parts: I. The Sources of Rights, II. Some Challenges to Experience as the Source of Rights, and III. Applying the Experiential Theory of Rights to Specific Controversies.

Positives:
1. A well-written, well-researched book that is accessible to the masses.
2. A fascinating topic in the hands of a preeminent legal mind.
3. A welcomed and more compelling secular point of view. Engaging, coherent, well reasoned book.
4. This book addresses to satisfaction the question, "Where do rights come from?"
5. A direct challenge to the approach to rights taken by both classical natural law and legal positivism. Throughout the book, Dershowitz states a who's who behind the classical approaches and provides a fair treatment of their perspectives. He also proposes a third approach, one based on human experiences.
6. Thought-provoking book. The author weaves a fine web of legal brain teasers.
7. The implications of rights being a product solely of human invention. A recurring theme, human experiences as the source of rights.
8. Provides a thorough debunking of the notion of "God-given" and natural rights. "There are no divine laws of morality, merely human laws claiming the authority of God".
9. Great quotes throughout, "The complex relationship between the "is" of nature and the "ought" of morality must be mediated by human experience. The history of rights illustrates this complexity".
10. The function of rights. Great stuff.
11. Pressing the hot button topics with glee, Dershowitz style: gun ownership, abortion, gay marriage, censorship, the separation of church and state, the right to emigrate, animal rights, .
12. Learning from past injustices. Many great examples provided: slavery and the Holocaust to name a couple.
13. The notion that there may be multiple rights in a given situations...interesting.
14. Rights as they relate to restriction on governmental power. Basic rights.
15. A welcomed perspective on morality. The interplay between morality and experience. Very good examples including slavery.
16. The purpose of the Bill of Rights. The original intent of the framers.
17. A very good chapter on organ donation. What needs to be done.
18. Lessons for the future.

Negatives:
1. Not an in-depth book. Many topics get the quick over. As an example, the issue of separation of church and state.
2. Drives the main thesis home repeatedly. Rights come from wrongs.
3. Sometimes the author purposely leaves the reader hanging.
4. A couple of minor formatting issues.
5. No formal bibliography.

In summary, I really enjoyed this book and in fact wanted more. Dershowitz does a wonderful job of making this complex topic accessible to the masses and does so with the panache that characterizes him. This is not an in-depth tome and at times can be repetitive. That being said, this is a welcomed secular narrative. In a nutshell, the main premise of this book is that the best way to build an effective foundation of rights is on agreed-upon wrongs of the past that we should avoid. In other words, from human experiences. If you are looking for a worthwhile concise book on the origin of rights, you won't find many books better. I highly recommend it!

Further suggestions: "Congress Shall Make No Law Respecting an Establishment of Religion" by Robert Boston, "The Conservative Assault on the Constitution" by Erwin Chemerinsky, "The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court" by Jeffrey Toobin, "Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans" by David Niose, "What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets" by Michael J. Sandel, "Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View" by Stephen Breyer, "Matter of Interpretation : Federal Courts and the Law" by Antonin Scalia, "The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice" by Sandra Day O'Connor, and "America's Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By" by Akhil Reed Amar.
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on February 21, 2006
Mr. Dershowitz has a secular theory of how our ideas of human rights evolved over time. He rejects the idea that "rights" can be derived from natural law, divine law, logic, or even human jurisprudence. He posits that "human rights" come from experience with "human wrongs," those events that we all agree have gone very badly. In other words, human rights evolved as sort of a trial-and-error golden rule: stop doing unto others what we really wouldn't want to be done unto us. He calls this approach "working from the bottom up, from a dystopian view of our experiences with injustice..."

The first half of the book deals primarily with where our rights come from. (from experience, he argues) The second half of the book switches gears to contemporary issues and controversies. Here he offers no answers, but rather argues that the answers will change depending on how the argument is framed. There are points at which the author comes across as arrogant, but hey, he's a lawyer. The arguments are compelling and well-crafted, and most readers will find that they agree with some points and disagree with others.

Overall, this book is well-written and at times it is even engaging. If you have any interest in legal, political, or ethical theory, this book is worth reading. If you are a Social Darwinist or an Ethicist of any religious stripe, you may be interested in learning about how "the other guy" thinks.
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on October 19, 2007
This book is like 'stepping into an elevator with a suicide bomber'. Alan Dershowitz is a second-rate scholar and a third-rate mind. It is remarkable that his inane liberal prejudice, which masquerades as legal thought and into which he has perversely yet obviously sublimated his secular Jewish identity, has been able to secure him the accolades of his peers and the vaunted status of Harvard emeritus. I picked up this book wondering whether a man of Dershowitz's reputation would suceed in establishing a secular basis for rights (a daunting task). Needless to say, he does not. Dershowitz merely shifts the problem of the essence of 'rights' to the recognition of 'wrongs' so as to avoid the implication of God. Rights emerge from a desire to avoid wrongs, says Dershowitz. The author does not, however, ever really explain how 'wrongs' are recognized by men in the first place; yet this capacity for a priori moral recognition is the lynchpin of his entire argument. A bad parlour trick. Laughable. Jejune. Smug. Narcissistic. Neurotic. Self-absorbed. Hysterical.
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