Human Rights

Human Rights

Confronting Myths and Misunderstandings

Andrew Fagan

This book offers both an introduction to and a critical analysis of enduring themes and issues in the contemporary theory and practice of human rights. The author argues that the moral authority and practical efficacy of human rights are adversely affected by a range of myths and misunderstandings – from claims regarding the moral status of human rights as an allegedly fully comprehensive moral doctrine to the view that the possession of rights is anti-ethical to recognising the importance of moral duties. The author also examines such issues as the claim that human rights can ultimately only be said to exist as legal phenomena and the claim that nation-states are inherently hostile to the spirit of human rights. Discussion cuts across academic boundaries in an attempt to defend human rights against those who have come to expect too much and those who expect too little from human rights.

Chapter 5: Democracy and human rights

Andrew Fagan

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


INTRODUCTION The previous chapter examined the role of the nation-state in the realm of human rights. Against a view which represents the state as primarily incompatible with defending human rights, I argued for the need to engage with the state in an attempt to direct resources towards protecting, rather than ignoring or even violating, human rights. As it stands, this request may seem unduly vague or optimistic to some. What is clearly further required is a more detailed account of a state model which is capable of realising and supporting human rights principles and aspirations. This chapter aims to provide just such an account. In keeping with the orientation of the rest of this book, I aim to provide an account capable of realising and supporting human rights principles and aspirations by critically engaging with what appears as a basic misunderstanding of the relationship between the state and human rights. A question typically posed in human rights circles is which kind of state is most compatible with the demands of human rights. The unanimous answer is a democratic state, of course. Democracy and human rights have come to be seen as practically synonymous and identical. In actual fact, they are not. Or, rather, one must say that the relationship between the two is somewhat more complex than the standard answer would suggest. A clear and precise formulation of one’s fundamental concepts is of utmost importance in providing a credible and defensible argument in support of the necessity of democracy for...

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