I’ve just finished a little pamphlet by HG Wells on the Rights of Man, written back in 1941 at the height of the Second World War. I borrowed it from the Lit and Phil and hadn’t realised how prolific a writer he was. Among his more famous novels he wrote a lot of political works.
There is a story as to why I ended up reading this. If you have been reading my blog for some time you may know that I am involved with Postcrossing, a scheme whereby you send and receive postcards to and from members of the scheme all over the world. Anyone involved is always looking for interesting postcards to send and so, when I was up in Alnwick I came across a rich vein of old postcards, unsent, with pictures of penguin classic books. I bought a handful and among them was the cover of the Rights of Man.
Back when the pamphlet was written the world was in turmoil and the rights were an attempt by Wells and a small group of people to give some reason to what the war was for. The aim was to define a better world which would come out of the ruins of the global conflict.
I have shortened the rights to fit them into the blog but they are, a right to:
- Adequate nourishment, housing and medical care
- Decent education
- Own personal property
- Adequate protection from libel and slander
- Be employed in lawful occupation
- Free movement
- Buy and sell what is legal
- Fair treatment if imprisoned
- Be free from enforced mutilation or sterilisation.
Wells goes on to describe how each of these rights should be more fully defined in a global legal code. Who would enforce these rights he doesn’t say.
Here we are, 80 years after the pamphlet was written and the world is once again teetering on the edge of turmoil. We are lurching from crisis to crisis. Countries are at war, people’s rights are being removed and the earth will soon be too hot to sustain humanity.
This isn’t the world we were supposed to be living in. The Rights are as valid today as they were when Wells wrote them down and it seems it’s going to be a long time before everyone can enjoy them.
Don’t give up the fight.