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 7: Accentuating the positive

Andrew Fagan

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


INTRODUCTION We have now reached the final chapter of this work. The previous chapters each addressed a particular myth or misunderstanding of human rights. While myths are characteristically more purposeful than misunderstandings, I have argued that the persistence of both is both potentially and actually harmful to the human rights cause. In contrast to those who have declared us to be living amidst a veritable age of human rights, I have argued that the status and possession of human rights are rather more tenuous and precarious than such pronouncements would suggest. In actual fact, human rights are abused everywhere. Some forms of abuse are long-standing and systematic, while others are more piecemeal and episodic. Human rights offer the vision of a world in which all human beings are free from the threat of systematic and significant suffering. Realising that vision remains a distant prospect for far too many and a constant reminder of how much human rights work remains to be done. My analysis and discussion in the previous chapters have been, admittedly, somewhat negative in character. I have sought to find fault and weaknesses in other people’s arguments and conceptions. Contrary to popular parlance (and having worked in both industries) the demolition of a structure actually is not any less difficult than the building of one. Each has its own particular set of specialised tasks and considerations. Each must be performed with care and attention. However, there is always something slightly disappointing about human endeavour which leaves nothing intact...

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