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Towards a politics for human rights: Ambiguous humanity and democratizing rights

Hoover, J. (2013). Towards a politics for human rights: Ambiguous humanity and democratizing rights. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 39(9), pp. 935-961. doi: 10.1177/0191453713498390


Human rights are a suspect project – this seems the only sensible starting point today. This suspicion, however, is not absolute and the desire to preserve and reform human rights persists for many of us. The most important contemporary critiques of human rights focus on the problematic consequences of the desire for universal rights. These criticisms are pursued with varying intensities, as some defenders of human rights are willing to accept elements of this critique in their reformulations, while staunch opponents remain wary of the desire to think and act in language of human rights because of the deep pathologies of rights-thinking as a political ethics. Yet, we hesitate to abandon human rights. In this paper, I look at the political critique of human rights in greater detail. I argue that an agonistic account drawing on the work of William Connolly and Bonnie Honig offers the best response to the most important contemporary critiques of human rights, and a clearer account of what it means to claim that human rights do valuable work. The key developments of this agonistic view of human rights are its focus on the ambiguity of “humanity”as a political identity, and the challenge to legitimate authority and membership that new rights claims make. In the end, human rights are defended as a universal political ethos focused on the pluralization and democratization of global politics.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: Copyright Sage 2013
Publisher Keywords: agonism, human rights, pluralism, democracy, William E Connolly, Bonnie Honig
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
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