Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Human Rights: Political Tool or Universal Ethics?

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Human Rights: Political Tool or Universal Ethics?

Article excerpt


Recent developments in the Arab world reopen one of the most fertile debate topics in international relations theory: the universal nature of the concept "fundamental human rights" and their content.

The perspectives are different, being influenced by an ideological background, especially theological, apparently contradictory, affecting the positions of major international actors, stimulating the revival of controversies on major differences between Western world and the developing societies.

Through a balanced analysis, specific to critical postmodernism, of the way each civilization (according to Samuel Huntington) relates to the human being and to its place within its own legal architecture, one can notice that, beyond any differences, joint elements can be identified for further integration into a common fundamental text conferring the consensual universality indispensable to such an important principle.

Key Words: Buddhism, Confucianism, moral cosmopolitism, Christianism, democracy, universal human rights, ethics, Islam, critical postmodernism, international relations.

Introduction. Is there a human rights ethics?

Human rights language has become one of the key elements in state and society contemporary philosophy. The proliferation of international/ regional instruments regarding the individual in relation with state authority or any other type of intrusion, as well as international key actors proclaiming 'ethically'-oriented foreign policies are just a few examples of the way human rights rhetoric affects the dynamics of international relations. As frequently highlighted in a synthetic way, we are currently faced with a "human rights global emerging culture", a kind of new "religion for the third millennium"1. Besides, this human rights ethics projected in international relations is a legitimacy universally claimed both by Western democracies, organizations such as the European Union, and the new revolutions in the Muslim world.

Democratization as a phenomenon of the 21st century differs in a certain extent from previous democratization waves, as conceptualized by Huntington, by being a de-ideologized phenomenon, which does not refer anymore to the communism liberation and the Western world victory. The revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria are not marked by their alignment to a block, to a certain ideology, but by claiming individual rights that dictatorships in these states have violated in the last decades.

Paradoxically, the more de-ideologized these movements are (the youth in the streets are neither Socialist, Islamist, nor pro-Western, anti- Western by vocation), the more ideologized the concepts "democracy", as well as "human rights" remain. The first time when democratization became a policy in international relations, explicitly assumed by a state actor, was George W. Bush Administration launching its new approach on the "Extended Middle East" connected to the "hearts and minds" strategy conceptualized by John J. Mearsheimer2.

Thus, democratization became an export of the Western or American way to manage state affairs, a mentality export - utopian, of course, but not less fascinating as a post-Communist ideology. The same way Voice of America exported the democratic thought for citizens in the Communist bloc states, it also exported democracy in the Eastern world.

There are two different ways to relate to human rights - as a creation of the Western ideology or as a generally valid value. Apparently, the two are different, irreconcilable, the same way nowadays revolutions in Arab states seem to be placed - by aspirations and consequences - beyond what the American neoconservatorism could have ever planned and besides, these revolutions could turn against America that supported several autocracies in the Muslim world.

Does this phenomenon reflect a tendency to recognize the crystallization of a global or universal ethics or is it just another variable in the power dynamics, a kind of fight for the Authority legitimacy in exerting its power? …

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