The notion that people have inalienable rights – the right to free speech and association, or the right not to be tortured – simply by virtue of their existence as human beings: that notion is, of course, a fiction. Actually people are merely sacks of meat on sticks. Such, it seems, is the ironclad certainty that grounds most tyrannies all over the world – anything their subjects are or have, they sustain or retain at the whim of the regime.

Indeed, the notion of absolute rights inhering in human beings by virtue of their humanity initially arises as a wild assertion in the face of eons of stark evidence to the contrary. But it is a magical assertion. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness...."

The truly revolutionary realization in that passage from America’s Declaration of Independence is contained not so much in the words "truths" or "self-evident" or "created equal" or any of the rest: rather, it's in the calm self-certainty of those first two words: "We hold...." Note how the text doesn’t launch out with "It is manifestly self-evident that...," or any similar construction, as logic might dictate. In fact, the self-evidence of the assertion remains fugitive, immanent until some people insist upon it, mutually pledging their Lives, Fortunes, and Sacred Honor, in the process. It is holding such truths to be self-evident that first makes them so – and more specifically, doing so in concert, alongside others.

Over fifty years ago, the UN’s General Assembly proclaimed a "Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Most UN member states, however, instantly dismissed the document’s assertions as so much dead letter. It was left to individual citizens, often through public stances of preposterous courage, to realize that document’s basic premises.