Chapter 12: Some Reflections on the Rights of Man

The Future of Mankind
by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Chapter 12: Some Reflections on the Rights of Man

As first proclaimed, in 1789, the Rights of Man were primarily an expression of the individual will to autonomy -- ‘Everything for the Individual within Society’ -- implying that the human race was designed to unfold and culminate in a multiplicity of units achieving, each in itself, their maximum development. This seems to have been the ruling preoccupation and vision of the eighteenth century humanitarians.

Since then, however, owing to the increasing importance of the various forms of collectivity in human society, the nature of the problem has profoundly changed. We can no longer doubt this. For innumerable convergent reasons (the rapid increase of ethnic, economic, political and cultural links) the human individual finds himself definitely involved in an irresistible process tending towards a system of organo-psychic solidarity on earth. Whether we wish it or not, Mankind is becoming collectivized, totalized under the influence of psychic and spiritual forces on a planetary scale. Out of this has arisen, in the heart of every man, the present-day conflict between the individual, ever more conscious of his individual worth, and social affiliations which become ever more demanding.

But the conflict, if we think of it, is only one of appearance. Biologically, as we know, the human unit is not self-sufficing. It is not in isolation (as we might have supposed) but only in appropriate association with his fellows that the individual can hope to attain to the fullness of his personality, his energies, his power of action and his consciousness, more especially since we do not become completely ‘reflective’ (that is to say, ‘men’) except by being reflected in each other. Collectivization and individualization (in the sense of personality, not of social autonomy) are thus not opposed principles. The problem is so to order matters as to ensure that human totalization is brought about, not by the pressure of external forces, but through the internal workings of harmonization and sympathy.

It at once becomes clear, when we adopt this altered standpoint, that the purpose of a new Declaration of the Rights of Man cannot be, as formerly, to ensure the highest possible degree of independence for the individual in society, but to define the conditions under which the inevitable totalization of Mankind may be effected, not only without impairing but so as to enhance, I will not say the autonomy of each of us but (a quite different thing) the incommunicable singularity of being which each of us possesses.

We must no longer seek to organize the world in favor of, and in terms of, the isolated individual; we must try to combine all things for the perfection (‘personalization’) of the individual by his well-ordered integration with the unified group in which Mankind must eventually culminate, both organically and spiritually. That is the problem.

Thus transposed into the framework of an operation with two variables (the progressive, interdependent adjustment of the two processes of collectivization and personalization) the question of the Rights of Man admits of no simple or general answer. But we can at least say that any proposed solution must satisfy the following conditions:

a. The individual in a human society in process of collective organization has not the right to remain inactive, that is to say, not to seek to develop himself to his fullest extent: because upon his individual perfection depends the perfection of all his fellows.

b. Society, embracing the individuals which comprise it, must in its own interest be so constituted that it tends to create the most favorable environment for the full development (physical and spiritual) of what is special to each of them. A commonplace indeed: but one where it is impossible to lay down rules for particular cases, since they vary according to the level of education and the progressive value of the diverse elements to be organized.

c. Whatever measures may be adopted to this end, there is one major principle which must be affirmed and always upheld: in no circumstances, and for no reason, must the forces of collectivity compel the individual to deform or falsify himself (by accepting as true what he sees to be false, for example, which is to lie to himself). Every limitation imposed on the autonomy of the element by the power of the group must, if it is to be justified, operate only in conformity with the free internal structure of the element. Otherwise a fundamental disharmony will arise in the very heart of the collective human organism.

Three principles therefore:

The absolute duty of the individual to develop his own personality.

The relative right of the individual to be placed in circumstances as favorable as possible to his personal development.

The absolute right of the individual, within the social organism, not to be deformed by external coercion but inwardly super-organized by persuasion, that is to say, in conformity with his personal endowments and aspirations.

Three principles to be explicitly affirmed and guaranteed in any new Charter of Humanity.

Paris, 22 March, 1947. UNESCO 1949, pp. 88-9.