In the 19th century, the idea and definition of rights was extended by calls for social and economic rights that came on the tail of rapid industrialization. This new era of rights was based upon the utilitarian idea of obtaining the greatest good for the greatest number of people. This included a discussion of property ownership, both private and common, and the ideas of public of rights and private responsibility (Nuncio).
By the 21st-century, the idea of rights has been transformed into a global political order based on constitutionalism and positive legalism. In a climate that supported the international will to maintain peace, the world's nations largely adopted a single agreement to ensure such rights. This agreement, the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was adopted in December of 1948 (Nuncio). This Declaration included provisions for both rights of nations, and the rights of individuals (Human Rights Web; a Summary). Declaration to upon the fundamental philosophical idea that there is each really universal moral code that is applicable across nations and cultures (Fagan). Notes Fagan, this universal moral order is based on a "legitimacy (that) precedes contingent social and historical conditions and applies to all human beings everywhere and at all times."
In 1976, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights became international law, after being ratified by 35 states. This marked and new and unprecedented move in legislating rights in the international arena (Human Rights Web; a Summary). Today, international human rights tribunals commonly attempt to ascertain whether governments or individuals have violated this Declaration, and have the power to assess penalties for such violations.
Today, the discussion of rights continues within the philosophical community. Contemporary philosophers like Rawls argue that several principles of justice are self evident, while Frohich argues that the principles, as outlined by Rawls, actually have little support (Sened).
Interestingly, Sened takes a fundamentally different approach to the origin of rights. He argues that the rights that we enjoy in modern society do not have their real basis in fundamental principles of justice, as we often assume. Instead, he argues that such rights "evolved as institutional remedies to social dilemmas arising from complex interactions among agents and authorities in society" (p. 12). Thus, Sened feels that individual and property rights have their origin in economic and political institutions, rather than in moral principles that are self evident (Sened).
In conclusion, our modern ideas of both the human rights and property rights have long legal and philosophical background. Our modern understanding of universal human rights, as well as our understanding of our legal rights, comes from great thinkers such as Hobbes and Locke, who created the philosophical basis for the idea of natural rights. Essentially, our right to have rights is based upon the acceptance of the idea of universal human rights that underlie documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In contrast, some philosophers, such as Sened, have argued that the origin of rights is based upon economic and political institutions, rather than moral basis. Nonetheless, our current understanding of human and legal rights is based more closely upon moral reasoning rather than upon more pragmatic explanations such as those of Sened.
Fagan, Andrew. Human Rights. in: The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, James Fieser, Ph.D., and Bradley Dowden, Ph.D., eds, 2004. 13 October 2004. http://www.iep.utm.edu/h/hum-rts.htm
Human Rights Web. A Summary of United Nations Agreements on Human Rights, 1997. Last edited on January 25, 1997. 13 October 2004. http://www.hrweb.org/legal/undocs.html
Human Rights Web. Short History of the Human Rights Movement, 1997. Last edited on January 25, 1997. 13 October 2004. http://www.hrweb.org/history.html
Nuncio, Rhod V., Prof. An ESSAY on the POWER DISCOURSE of RIGHTS: The History, Politics and End of Human Rights. Diwatao, Vol. 1 No. 1, 2001. 13 October 2004. http://www.geocities.com/philodept/diwatao/rights_discourse.htm
Prussen-Razzano, Linda a. The Declaration philosophy - Part I: The origins of rights. Enter Stage Right, web posted June 16, 2003. 14 October 2004. http://www.enterstageright.com/archive/articles/0603/0603decphil1.htm
Prussen-Razzano, Linda a. The Declaration Philosophy - Part II: The nature of rights. Enter Stage Right, web posted June 30, 2003. 14 October 2004. If Sened, Itai. The Political Institution of Private Property. Cambridge Press, 1997.