The first classic principle of Catholic social doctrine is the principle of personalism, which can also be called the human rights principle. According to this principle, all right thinking about society-- in its cultural, ecnomic and political aspects-- begins with the inalienable dignity and value of the human person. Right thinking about society does not begin with the state, the party, or the tribe; neither does it begin with ethnicity, race, or gemder. Rather, it begins with the human person, considered as an individual possessing intelligence and free will, and therefore inherent dignity and value. Society and it legal expression, the state, must always be understood to be in the service of the integral development of the human person. The state, in particular, has an obligation to defend the basic human rights of persons, which are "built into" us by reason of our very humanity. "Rights," in the Catholic understanding of the term, are not benefices distributed by the state as its whim or pleasure; they are goods to be protected and/or advanced by any just state.
--George Weigel, "The Free and Virtuous Society", in Against the Grain: Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace, 2008