cover image RIGHTS FROM WRONGS: The Origins of Human Rights in the Experience of Injustice

RIGHTS FROM WRONGS: The Origins of Human Rights in the Experience of Injustice

Alan M. Dershowitz, . . Basic, $24 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-465-01713-3

The double meaning in Dershowitz's title indicates just one of the insightful thoughts that mark the well-known Harvard law professor's latest work. In tracing the evolution of rights, he argues forcefully against any concept of natural rights deriving from religion and from law. Defining himself as a pragmatist, Dershowitz asserts that human rights derive from the world's experience with "wrongs," i.e., injustice. Only after seeing genocide, for example, did the notion develop that this was a violation of human rights. Dershowitz (Supreme Injustice ) has a rare ability to develop complex ideas in readable prose. In the book's first half, he carefully examines the rationale for an experiential approach to rights; the second half applies this approach to some of today's hot-button issues. Dershowitz is often on the liberal side: for instance, he has little stomach for literal interpretations of the Constitution—what he calls the "dead constitution" approach. But he can surprise: he argues, for instance, that Justice Scalia's "dead constitution" approach led him to a firmer defense of individual rights than other justices in the recent Hamdi case. Whether conservative or liberal, absolutist or relativist, readers will find areas of disagreement, but most will concur that a talented and creative legal mind is at work. Agent, Helen Rees Literary Agency. (Nov. 12)