Human Rights
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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.
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Chapter 4: Globalisation, human rights and the modern nation-state

Andrew Fagan


INTRODUCTION Chapter 4 shifts the focus of discussion from the more overtly theoretical to the more recognisably institutional domain of human rights. The principal purpose of this chapter is to engage critically with a particular misunderstanding of the geo-political realities of contemporary human rights practice. The specific misunderstanding I address in this chapter concerns a view of the modern nation-state as the principal obstacle to realising human rights’ globalising ambition. This misunderstanding is, I believe, most apparent among human rights enthusiasts and advocates who most likely associate with civil society or non-governmental organisations whose principal adversary is the state and who, not surprisingly, come to view the state as the main obstacle to successfully realising their human rights goals. I assess the role of the modern nation-state in the protection and promotion of human rights principles. I consider both normative and empirical assessments and representations of the state, including those typically presented by advocates of cosmopolitanism and realism. I argue that human rights are often closely associated with a cosmopolitan ethical outlook which is itself considered to be a benign counterpart to globalisation. While this is obviously consistent with the universalising ambition of human rights, I argue that one consequence of this association is a diminution of the state’s importance in upholding human rights. Typically, human rights advocates view the state as the principal violator of human rights and turn to ostensibly cosmopolitan principles and institutions for a potential alternative to a geo-politics founded upon sovereign states’ violation of international...

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