A thought occasioned by Charlottesville

So why all the fuss about human rights, the rule of law and stuff like that? Are they really that important?

Democracies do not become Nazi countries in one day. Evil progresses cunningly, with a minority operating, as it were, to remove the levers of control. One by one, freedoms are suppressed, in one sphere after another. Public opinion and the entire national conscience are asphyxiated. And then, when everything is in order, the ‘Führer’ is installed and the evolution continues even to the oven of the crematorium.

It is necessary to intervene before it is too late. A conscience must exist somewhere which will sound the alarm to the minds of a nation menaced by this progressive corruption, to warn them of the peril and to show them that they are progressing down a long road which leads far, sometimes even to Buchenwald or to Dachau.

Pierre-Henri Teitgen, one of the three founding fathers of the ECtHR, addressing the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe in September 1949.

Or this:

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

Eleanor Roosevelt, first Chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, addressing the United Nations in New York on 27 March 1958.

Comment is almost superfluous, except perhaps to say that it’s in Eleanor Roosevelt’s “small places” that they might be most under threat.

Photo by Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share via Reuters

Update: for anyone who might think that Pierre-Henri Teitgen was being unduly alarmist, the International Business Times reports that James Alex Fields, who has been charged with the murder of Heather Heyer after allegedly ploughing his car into the crowd protesting against the white supremacist rally at Charlottesville, had previously been on a school trip to Dachau. According to people on the trip, Fields allegedly commented: “This is where the magic happened.”

Frank Cranmer & David Pocklington

[With thanks to @AdamWagner1 for reminding us of the Teitgen quote]

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