Thursday, 1 June 2017

The Rights Of Man by H G Wells

The Rights Of Man by H G Wells
First published in the UK by Penguin in 1940. Republished with an introduction by Ali Smith in 2015.

One of my Essential General Election Reads 2017, my 1940s book for the Goodreads / Bookcrossing Decade Challenge and my Book Of The Month for June 2017

I registered my copy of this book at BookCrossing

How I got this book:
Won a copy from Penguin Think Smarter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

H. G. Wells wrote The Rights of Man in 1940, partly in response to the ongoing war with Germany. The fearlessly progressive ideas he set out were instrumental in the creation of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the EU's European Convention on Human Rights and the UK's Human Rights Act.

When first published, this manifesto was an urgently topical reaction to a global miscarriage of justice. It was intended to stimulate debate and make a clear statement of mankind's immutable responsibilities to itself. Seventy-five years have passed and once again we face a humanitarian crisis. In the UK our human rights are under threat in ways that they never have been before and overseas peoples are being displaced from their homelands in their millions. The international community must act decisively, cooperatively and fast. The Rights of Man is not an 'entirely new book' - but it is a book of topical importance and it has been published, now as before, in as short a time as possible, in order to react to the sudden and urgent need.

With a new introduction by award-winning novelist and human rights campaigner Ali Smith, Penguin reissues one of the most important humanitarian texts of the twentieth century in the hope that it will continue to stimulate debate and remind our leaders - and each other - of the essential priorities and responsibilities of mankind.

H G Wells wrote this short treatise in 1940 as a response to the question 'what are we fighting for?' which was, of course, a vitally important national preoccupation at the time. The Europe-wide rising of fascism and corporate divisiveness makes it just as important now. The ten basic ideas Wells puts forward were seen as remarkably progressive at the time, although they were later instrumental in the creation of Human Rights legislation for the UK, the EU and the UN. What surprised me however was (and is) how anyone could Not want these rights for themselves, their families, their nation, their species. How are these protections still seen as something to be fought for rather than just basic common sense? Wells doesn't beat about the bush in putting forth his declarations and his clarity of expression is refreshing. I had no problem understanding his points of view or his thought processes and discussions in coming to his conclusions.

For me, reading Wells' words now, over 75 years after they were written, was a profound experience. I want to pass this book on to everyone I meet as it so perfectly explains the ideals in which I believe. The thought that many people, even in Britain, still don't even enjoy the basic rights of adequate nourishment and shelter is a shocking indictment of not only the leadership of this country, but also of the general heartless and inhumane attitudes fostered by our money-centered capitalist ideology. The existence of the Human Rights Act in Britain was seriously threatened as recently as 2015 and no doubt further attempts will be made to water it down should we see a Tory victory next week.

In my opinion The Rights Of Man is one of the most important 20th century texts. I wish I had read it far sooner - why is it not debated by teenagers in social studies lessons? - and am grateful to have done so now. There are many scarily prescient quotes which got me thinking and I was tempted to litter this review with examples. However I then thought experiencing all Wells' words together, in context, would be more satisfying for other readers so I will just end with one:

"unless we can keep our heads and our courage, so as to re-establish a candid life, our species will perish, mad, fighting and gibbering, a dwindling swarm of super-Nazis on a devastated earth."

Etsy Find!
by Angela Federico in
London, England

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Books by H G Wells / Sociology / Books from England


  1. Sadly, I question the same thing nowadays. How anyone could argue about social, political, religious, gender, and racial liberties and equality are beyond me. It doesn't help that everything nowadays isn't as black and white as they were before.

    1. Sometimes it feels as though we are just going around in circles