Constituting Human Rights: Global Civil Society and the Society of Democratic States

By Mervyn Frost | Go to book overview

1

Introduction

In this brief monograph I argue that it is not possible to gain a proper understanding of the international relations of our time without taking the notion of individual human rights seriously and that the acquisition of such an understanding cannot be achieved through some simple process of observation, but requires of us that we engage in ethical argument about the proper place of human rights in our contemporary international practices. This involvement with ethical theory is not something we do after having come to grips in some direct ‘empirical’ and norm free way with the key features of how things stand in the practices of world politics, but is part of the very process required in order to understand our contemporary world. Insofar as effective participation in international relations depends on the participants having a proper understanding of the practices within which they are acting, an understanding of the place of human rights in these practices is a precondition for effective action in this domain. This kind of engagement with ethical questions concerning human rights is not something which may be confined to the specialists in the subfield of political ethics, but is something with which all participants in international relations (academics and lay people alike) engage in some measure.

As will become apparent in the course of this monograph, determining the place of fundamental human rights in our contemporary global practice is not a simple task. There is no clear consensus on this matter amongst the participants in the practices. Indeed, in the discipline of International Relations (IR) the dominant view is that human rights are at best a marginal concern for those interested in understanding international affairs. A central aim in this work is to challenge this dominant position by showing the converse to be true, by showing, that is, that no proper understanding of our international practices is possible without at least some understanding of the central place which human rights play in them. But having said that, it remains to be shown what precise role concepts of basic human rights play in our contemporary global practice (or practices).

The object of my inquiry in this book is not some entity ‘out there’ that might be called the international system which I am intent on describing or explaining from, as it were, some external point of view. Instead, my point of departure (which I take to be relatively unproblematic) is that I, together with millions of

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Constituting Human Rights: Global Civil Society and the Society of Democratic States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Individual Rights in World Politics 17
  • 3 - Foundational Practices 40
  • 4 - Individual Rights in Conflict? 48
  • 5 - Civil Society 67
  • 6 - Rights in the System of Democratic and Democratizing States 97
  • 7 - Civilians and Citizens 128
  • Notes 139
  • Index 156
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