Featured book: The Most Human Right

Heinze—an internationally recognized authority on free speech and human rights—argues that unless we treat free speech as the fundamental human right, there can be no others

What are human rights? For all the discussion surrounding this topic, the answer is not immediately clear. Are they defined by the points laid out definitively in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the US Bill of Rights? Are they items on a checklist—like dignity, justice, progress, standard of living, health care, or housing? And is there one that is most essential than all others?

Cover of The Most Human Right

In The Most Human Right: Why Free Speech Is Everything, Eric Heinze strives to answer this question. To begin, he explains why prior global human rights systems have failed: International organizations constantly report on how governments manage human “goods,” such as fair trials, humane conditions of detention, healthcare, or housing—but to appease autocratic regimes, experts have ignored the primacy of free speech. 

Rather, Heinze argues, these goods become rights only when citizens can claim them publicly and fearlessly—hence, in Heinze’s view, free speech is the fundamental right without which the very concept of a “right” makes no sense. People must be free to demand their rights openly and without fear, he contends. Where they cannot do so, they are not living under a system of rights at all. 

“Despite the recent controversies over free speech, few people have a clear idea of why it’s so fundamental,” said Steven Pinker, author of Rationality. “This insightful and penetrating analysis shows how free speech is not just another good thing we have a right to, like food and protection from abuse, but a prerequisite to the very concept of a ‘right.’”

In The Most Human Right, Heinze revisits the origins of the concept of rights at its most fundamental, exploring what it means for a nation to protect human rights and what a citizen needs in order to pursue them. He explains how free speech distinguishes human rights from other ideas about justice, both past and present. “Notions of justice are as old as humanity itself,” Heinze writes. “Many ancient systems certainly urge governments to treat their people with care, and human rights present another such system.” But, he asks, what do human rights do that no other system does?

The answer is complicated, but revealing: Rights systems offer an egalitarian way forward, in which all other rights can be claimed and demanded by all individuals openly, candidly, and without fear. 

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