Five Fables About Human Rights

Five Fables About Human Rights

I propose here to discuss the topic of human rights as seen from the standpoint of five doctrines or outlooks that are dominant in our time. I don’t propose to be fair to these outlooks. Rather, I shall treat them in the form of Weberian “ideal types” or caricatures—a caricature being an exaggerated and simplified representation which, when it succeeds, captures the essentials of what is represented.

The principle that human rights must be defended has become one of the commonplaces of our age. Sometimes the universality of human rights has been challenged: those historically proclaimed are said to be Eurocentric and to be inappropriate, or only partly appropriate, to other cultures and circumstances.’ So alternative, or partly alternative, lists are proposed. Sometimes the historic lists are said to be too short, and so further human rights are proposed, from the second unto the third and fourth generation. Sometimes the appeal to human rights, or the language in which it is couched, is said to be unhelpful or even counterproductive in particular campaigns or struggles—in advancing the condition and position of women, say, or in promoting third-world development. But virtually no one actually rejects the principle of defending human rights.

...

Lima