From Civil to Human Rights

From Civil to Human Rights

Dialogues on Law and Humanities in the United States and Europe

Helle Porsdam

Europeans have attempted for some time to develop a human rights talk and now European intellectuals are talking about the need to construct ‘European narratives’. This book illustrates that these narratives will emphasize a political and cultural vision for a multi-ethnic and more cosmopolitan Europe.

Chapter 4: Institutionalized European human rights

Helle Porsdam

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, politics and public policy, human rights


‘The case law of the European Court of Human Rights’, writes Michael D. Goldhaber in his conclusion to A People’s History of the European Court of Human Rights, ‘is an unmined source of self-understanding in a region that seemingly craves self-understanding. It’s a system of myth in search of an audience.’ There are symbols that may help create a modern European mythology of the sort that is needed for Europeans to feel a common identity, but ‘outside of human rights law, the list of Europe-wide rituals is short – and not very serious’.1 Just think of the Eurovision Song Contest or the Ryder Cup golf tournament; they do not seem to be doing the trick, and neither does the Euro for that matter. Goldhaber could have mentioned some of the more serious attempts made by the European Union to create new symbols to represent Europe – the EC emblem and flag, a European ‘anthem’ (the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony), the harmonized European passport, driver’s licence and car number-plates, for example. Yet, he does have a point. Reading his six chapters on cases that came before the European Court of Human Rights concerning ‘the expanding ambit of personal life’, followed by his three chapters on cases concerning ‘the rights to expression’ and his four chapters on ‘state violence’ (the headings of parts 1, 2, and 3, respectively), one does indeed get the impression that here is plenty of stuff for European myths and symbols. I regularly teach courses on American legal...

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