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

By Mervyn Frost | Go to book overview

7

Civilians and citizens

Compatible rights

This is a work of ethical theory in which I have examined the role of concepts of individual human rights in the practices of contemporary world politics. On the argument that I have presented, notions of individual human rights are not something marginal to the great events of world politics. It has been a central contention of this work that understanding many, if not most, actions in global politics in the contemporary world requires of us that we understand these acts to be situated in the two great practices of our time, civil society and the practice of democratic and democratizing states. I have argued that we only understand these practices once we have understood the rights claims we make within them and how these rights claims are internally related to the other major elements within these two practices.

I have argued that for those many millions of us who consider ourselves to be rights holders, these are the two global authoritative practices which are ethically foundational for us. Within them we constitute one another as rights holders and in doing so we establish ourselves as free people. In the first of the two, global civil society, we constitute one another as the holders of first generation rights, and in the second, the practice of democratic and democratizing free states, we constitute one another as holders of citizenship rights. These citizenship rights enable us to be self-governing in democratic free states in the wider practice of such states. It is as holders of citizenship rights that we can decide to grant to ourselves a further set of rights, the so-called positive rights (sometimes referred to as welfare rights), through the legal systems of our respective states. Here I have in mind rights such as the right to security services, welfare, health care, housing, pensions, and many other kinds of social services. It is only after we have constituted ourselves as citizens within the global practice of democratic and democratizing states that we may sensibly start talking of redistributive rights. It is only as citizens in such a co-operative practice of self-governing political communities that we can sensibly contemplate rights-based redistributions of our basic holdings.

At the outset I mentioned that a recurring ethical problem for me, and for others, is that, prima facie, there seemed to be a stark tension between recognizing all people everywhere as the holders of basic individual rights, on the one hand, and recognizing sovereign states within which people are constituted as the

-128-

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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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