2.1 IN THE REALLY OLD DAYS…
In antiquity, as early as 300 BC, the Stoics (a group of Greek and Roman philosophers) said that “natural laws” existed that applied to all people, regardless of time, location and culture. All people were fundamentally equal because they were born with the same faculties of reason and conscience. Every human being was important and therefore “the natural laws and rights” should apply to everyone. Nonetheless, it is incorrect to say that the Roman’s “natural” rights were the same as our time’s human rights. They also saw namely slavery as part of the “natural” order of things.
Right up until around the 1500s the organisation of European societies was based on big differences between people. In the Middle Ages (500-1300 AD), the church gained a great deal of political power – often greater than the realms of the princes and kings. The church believed that God wanted people to be placed in groups above and below each other, and that the social system should therefore not be changed. In the 1300s, philosophers, theologists and scientists started to readopt the concepts of individual people’s natural liberty and dignity. From this time the Middle Ages’ social system with its strict stratification slowly but surely began to change. People would no longer primarily be members of groups with duties, but individuals with rights. This new era was called the Renaissance (1300-1600 AD).
The ideas of philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) became important to the argument about why the individual should have some fundamental rights. He believed that it was the state that should ensure that the people’s right to life and liberty was observed: the state should work for the people, not the other way round. Society should be regulated by laws, not by the people in power at any given time. The law should be superior to the people in power and apply to them too.