From Civil to Human Rights
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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.
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Chapter 5: Divergent transatlantic views on human rights: economic, social and cultural rights

Helle Porsdam


The majority of the fifteen ECtHR cases with which Michael D. Goldhaber presents us in A People’s History of the European Court of Human Rights concern political and civil rights. This may have something to do with the fact that these cases have been ‘selected for their legal significance and personal drama’ and that special attention has been given ‘to contrasts between Europe and the United States’ in order to make an American readership interested.1 The choice of cases may perhaps also, one may speculate, reflect the general scepticism that many Americans show vis-à-vis second-generation rights, the economic, social and cultural rights. In this and the following chapter we will look at two of the main differences between European human rights talk and American rights talk: the kinds of (human) rights emphasized, and the attitude toward international law and international human rights regimes. Whereas Americans tend to think that the core of human rights consists of first generation rights only (the civil and political rights), many Europeans tend also to believe in second generation rights (the economic, social and cultural rights), if for no other reason than that the welfare state and its future matter a great deal to them. This distinction is not watertight, of course; there are Americans who would never dream of questioning whether economic, social and cultural rights are something other than rights, just as there are Europeans who would still consider political and civil rights more ‘real’ than any other kinds of rights. We...

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