Civil Religion, Human Rights and International Relations
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Civil Religion, Human Rights and International Relations

Connecting People Across Cultures and Traditions

Edited by Helle Porsdam

This ground breaking book discusses whether human rights can be forged into a common set of transcendent principles against which actions of every nation can be judged and whether such a common understanding, or civil religion, could one day become a vehicle for global peace.
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Chapter 8: Human Rights and Dag Hammarskjöld

Bruce Kuklick


Bruce Kuklick HUMAN RIGHTS AND CIVIL RELIGION IN THE REAL WORLD Students and, more particularly, defenders of human rights and the ideals of the United Nations have faced a crucial challenge in the work of commentators once thought of as allies. These scholarly commentators came out of a tradition of urging tolerance and acceptance of the less fortunate or less powerful. Human rights were once uncomplicatedly thought of as friends of the weak. In academic circles in the present, however, the friends of the weak have positioned themselves to launch a powerful critique of the notion of human rights. Speaking of human rights, it is argued, is merely a high-falutin’ way of defending specifically western norms to peoples who may have alternative and morally equal ways of advancing certain values; human rights talk is merely the latest way westerners have of imposing their culture on to others.1 I think this critique must compromise much discussion of any ‘universal’ declaration of rights, although in my own view we cannot rule out the possibility of absolute moral standards. In this chapter, however, I am more concerned to show how easy it is in performance, in the real world where issues of human rights come to the fore, to allow other considerations – let me call them political – to undermine the commitment to human rights. That is, we may doubt an absolutist notion of such rights; more important, we may not in any event be able to realize them, whether or not the...

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