Human Rights: From the State System to Global Domestic Policy

By Galtung, Johan | Development and Society, June 2011 | Go to article overview
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Human Rights: From the State System to Global Domestic Policy


Galtung, Johan, Development and Society


In this essay human rights encounter Durkheim's social - that sui generis beyond the sum of individuals. "The social" will here be seen as structure and culture. Like "the social", the human rights were embedded in a structure with the state system up front, carrying an enlightenment culture, being a product of its context. The third human rights generation effort to accommodate peace, development and the environment inside a human rights discourse is problematic as these are social level constructs. The two pillars are shaking under globalization. The peace research discourse is an effort to elaborate epistemologies capable of accommodating such problems. A key term is "trans," like in transnational, translevel, and transdisciplinary. Human rights as they emerged are not forever, nor is "the social." Adapt or die, that is the choice.

Keywords: Human Rights, The Social, Trans, State System, the Enlightenment

The Human Rights Pillars: The State System and the Enlightenment

In this essay human rights encounter Durkheim's le social - that sui generis beyond the sum of individuals.

"The social" will here be seen as structure and culture. A structure is a web of social relations. We are in the structures as individual and collective actors, steered-guided by rewards-punishment to the extent of institutionalization. And a culture is the web of meaning, cultures are inside us as individual and collective actors, steered, guided by a sense of good and bad feelings, to the extent of internalization.

The human rights tradition carries the imprint of its origin in 17th-18th centuries European history: a state system officially born on the day of the Westphalia Treaty 24 October 1648, and the Enlightenment associated with early 18th century France, like with Voltaire and Rousseau. Migrating across the Atlantic it inspired the 1776 US Declaration of Independence and the 1787 Constitution, then crossed the Atlantic again and inspired the 1789 French constitution. From France to France.

The state system structures the rights and duties of states. One right is the right of war, and one duty is to declare the war in advance; the right that Japan was deprived of in Article 9 of its constitution. States are conceived of as sovereign, conditioned by nothing but themselves, like the construction of individuals in Western Antiquity and Western Modernity-Renaissance; actually in denial of the sui generis.1

The enlightenment is a secular culture removing the divine from its predecessor, christianity: from the economy (Adam Smith; but surviving as an invisible hand); from the human mind (Kant, but surviving as moral consciousness and the stars); from mechanics (Laplace, je n'ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse), from evolution (Darwin), from history (Marx), from individual moral struggle (Freud). Quite some project.

How, then, do the two socials and human rights interlink?

The human rights were embedded in a structure with the state system up front, carrying an enlightenment culture, being a product of its context. But precisely how?

As a triadic structure with an organization of states as norm-senders, the states - as an organization with ultimate power inside a country - as normreceivers, and humans, or more precisely men and citizens, as norm-objects. In French, le droit de l'homme et du citoyen. In legal language this makes individuals the rights-holders, and states the duty-holders. The duty of the duty-holders is to see to it that the rights of the right-holders are met. Again, quite some project.

In this triadic structure the state organization gives legitimacy to states who receive the human rights norms by signing and ratifying, in return for states being accountable in human rights terms; and the states guarantee the rights of the individual citizens in return for such citizen duties as paying taxes, military service and respect for the state:

The norm content, their culture, reflected enlightenment secularism.

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Human Rights: From the State System to Global Domestic Policy
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