lncomments_on_human_rights - Comments on Human Rights A...

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Comments on Human Rights A conception of human rights is meant to play a certain role in global political argument (in what Rawls calls the “public reason of the society of peoples”): principles of human rights are meant to provide shared standards for evaluating and criticizing the practices of a political society in its treatment of its individual members . Three points—signaled by the three italicized phrases ( shared standards , practices of a political society , individual members )—are important in this characterization of human rights. First, the focus on individuals. The role of a conception of human rights is to present a set of important standards that all political societies are to be held accountable, by their members and by outsiders, in their treatment of individual members. A statement of human rights presents, as is commonly said, a set of limits on internal sovereignty, or—perhaps better—presents conditions on which a state’s internal sovereignty is acknowledged. The idea that there are such limits on internal sovereignty is often said to be a fundamental departure from the Westphalian conception of sovereignty that prevailed from the mid-17 th century until the end of World War II. Krasner expresses some skepticism on this point: though the norms of Westphalian sovereignty deny external accountability, those norms, he argues, have persistently been violated by externally-guaranteed protections of rights; that’s why sovereignty is organized hypocrisy . The change since World War II,
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Krasner claims, is better understood as a shift from abridgements in the name of minority group rights (always part of the Westphalian system) to abridgements in the name of individual human rights, rather than a shift in the basic understanding of sovereignty. Krasner is right to emphasize that protections of minority rights were abridgements of conventional understandings of internal sovereignty. But I suspect that the more recent developments have changed the norms of sovereignty themselves, and not simply shifted the content of the predictable abridgements of the conventional norms. Second, the conception of human rights is supposed, in some sense, to be shared : human rights standards are standards that can be endorsed by people who hold different religious and philosophical views. The standards represent a partial statement of the content of a global public reason: a public reason that is global in reach, inasmuch as it applies to all political societies, and global in its agent, inasmuch as it is presented as the common reason of all peoples, who share responsibility for interpreting its principles, and monitoring and enforcing them. Beitz suggests this point in his account of human rights as matters of common concern, and Ignatieff in his comments on how a conception
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lncomments_on_human_rights - Comments on Human Rights A...

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