Confronting Myths and Misunderstandings
Chapter 6: Global economic inequalities and human rights
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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