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 6: Global economic inequalities and human rights

Andrew Fagan

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


INTRODUCTION This chapter focuses upon an enduring misunderstanding concerning the appropriate relationship between human rights and duties. Critics of human rights have argued that the doctrine ultimately promotes selfishly egoistic tendencies within contemporary society. The existence of human rights encourages individuals to demand more and more for themselves with little regard for how these demands may be met or who may be expected to provide for them. The discourse of rights is viewed as complementing an increasingly irresponsible attitude towards society and other human beings (MacIntyre, 1984 and 1988). In stark contrast to their ostensive ambition, human rights serve to enshrine existing inequalities and social deprivation as a consequence of the ‘haves’ exercising their rights to protect their relative wealth and privilege. This vision of rights has its origins in Marx’s (1978) critique of rights as a bourgeois institution which is constitutively incapable of achieving conditions of universal justice for all. This chapter aims to challenge this view. I shall examine the relationship between rights and duties through the very real world scenario of global economic inequalities. In essence, my argument is that the appalling state of global inequality is a consequence, in part, not of the realisation of human rights, but of their denial or distortion. I shall argue that, combined with their universal character, human rights are intrinsically related to correlative and corresponding duties. In keeping with the account of universality I outlined in an earlier chapter, I argue that human rights do not exist, nor can they...

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