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.
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.