Human Rights and the Search for Community

Human Rights and the Search for Community

Human Rights and the Search for Community

Human Rights and the Search for Community

Synopsis

Some critics contend that the concept of universal human rights reflects the West's anticommunitarian, self-centered individualism, which disproportionately focuses on individual autonomy. In this book Rhoda Howard-Hassmann refutes this claim, arguing instead that communities can exist in modern Western societies if they protect the whole spectrum of individual human rights, not only civil and political but also economic rights. Howard-Hassmann supports the case for the universality of human rights by showing community to be inherent in and essential to the realization of universal human rights. She makes an original contribution to the study of universal human rights through her review of those types of communitarian thought that underlie cultural relativist attacks on human rights. Howard-Hassmann defends individual rights against conservative and leftist communitarian challenges emanating from both the Western world and the Third World. Exploring conservative viewpoints, she examines traditionalists of the Third World- focusing on African and Muslim traditionalist schools, as well as reactionary conservatives of the Western world. Howard-Hassmann then looks at challenges from the left, including collectivists, who see universal human rights as the products of cultural imperialism or capitalist exploitation, and status radicals, such as feminists or black activists, who are critics of liberalism. Howard-Hassmann also criticizes what she dubs "radical capitalism" or "social minimalism," the idea that there is a very narrow range of true human rights, including the right to property, and that citizens are responsible for no one but themselves. A community, in Howard-Hassmann's view, is a group of people who all feel a sense of obligation to all others in the group. For a community to work in the modern world, everyone must be treated equally, enjoy societal respect, and be able to act autonomously in her or his everyday decisionmaking.

Excerpt

This book is an argument for the principle of universal, equal, and individual human rights. Human rights are rights that one holds merely by virtue of being human. All human beings hold all human rights equally, and no one can legitimately be denied enjoyment of a human right without a fair judicial decision. Only under very limited and prescribed conditions (such as criminal conviction or the necessities of state power in warfare) may an individual be deprived of any of her human rights. the concept of human rights renders status distinctions such as race, gender, and religion politically and legally irrelevant and demands equal treatment for all, regardless of whether they fulfill expected obligations to the community.

These are statements of law and principle, not of practice. Human rights are held in law by everyone, even though they may not be enjoyed by everyone in fact. Critics of human rights reject them both for reasons of principle and because human rights are not enjoyed in practice by all people. I acknowledge deficiencies in practice but nevertheless defend the principle.

I am a sociologist and make my argument for individual human rights from a sociological perspective. the state system of the twentieth century, and the powers all political rulers hold, impel defenses of the human rights of all citizens. Everyone is under the authority of a state; there are no individuals or peoples anywhere excused from that authority. Moreover, as I will argue in this book, contemporary ideals of the right of the individual to be treated respectfully, equally with all other . . .

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