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

By Mervyn Frost | Go to book overview

4

Individual rights in conflict?

Civilians versus citizens

A central contention of the argument so far is that in order to understand what we do in the domain of contemporary international relations, both individually and collectively, we need to understand the practices within which we are constituted as actors. A full understanding of these requires an understanding of the normative component embedded in them including the human rights component which is central to both.

In the previous chapter I explored the distinction between two different kinds of practices - purposive associations and authoritative practices. I made the claim that a subcategory of this latter group is particularly important for our analysis: this is the category of foundational practices. What makes this kind of practice so important for us (and for any other actor) is that it is in these that we are constituted as who we value ourselves to be. Were we not given the recognition we enjoy through our participation in these practices, we would consider ourselves to be fundamentally ethically deprived. 1 To understand who we are and what we do in the domain of the international, we need to investigate the structure of fundamental social practices within which we find ourselves to have the standing we value.

Constitutive theory is an approach which enables us to undertake an internal inquiry into the structure of foundational practices within which we are constituted. The analysis up to this point suggests that the questions which we have to ask ourselves are: ‘Who do we value ourselves to be?’ and ‘In what set of foundational practices are we constituted as valued individuals?’ 2 The answers to these questions would naturally lead on to further questions about the relationships which hold between the different foundational practices within which we are located.

It follows from the definition which I have given of a foundational practice (a practice which overrides or trumps the requirements of other practices in cases of conflict) that there must be coherence within the set of foundational practices within which we are constituted. For it is self-evident that we cannot simultaneously participate in foundational practices the requirements of which contradict one another. An example which forms a central focus of this book will make this clear. Suppose that I am constituted in the foundational practice of rights holders which we know as civil society. Being a foundational practice this

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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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