Outline of a General Critique Human Rights Theory
I propose to present a paper at the International Humanities Conference at Cambridge Aug 2 — 5, '05, outlining a strategy for a critique of Human Rights Theory. The purpose of this project is to locate a seam in the transition from natural law to natural rights in order to demonstrate that natural law is, in fact, more fundamental to international relations than natural rights ever could have been. My secondary purpose is more simple: the immersion in the historical reconstruction of the events that have shaped Human Rights Theory from the deep roots in the Hammurabic Code, through the medieval Papal States, to the Geneva Conventions, and the work of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, looking for this red thread that runs through Human Rights Theory. It has become rather abundantly clear, (only in the most recent instances), since the beginning of the genocide in the former Yugoslavian states, the opening and continuation of the U.S. Iraqi hostilities, the refugee conditions in Darfur, that Human Rights Theory, including Humanitarian aid by NGO's based on such theory, has failed to provide protections against genocide, the suspension of habeas corpus in the American case, and anything more than palliative care to politically victimized peoples in developing nations. It is not only international war criminality that attracts me more generally to a re-examination of Human Rights Theory with an eye to critique. Also, the story of the American Founding generation has collected a historic accretion, that the Americans invented limited government and still had sincere and virtuous faith in natural rights-become-human rights. Yet, the documentary history of the American Founders as they retired from politics and reflected, reveals a more cynical disposition toward the prospects for American liberty, and therefore for human rights also. In an effort to try to give Human Rights Theory "teeth" and to incidentally reconstruct the source of the American Founders late cynicism over American liberty, I am examining Human Rights Theory more generally to discover precisely where natural law breaks with, overlaps with, or gives birth to natural rights theory. Moreover, whether or not a natural law theory, only apparently killed as part of the modernity project — in part a doing away with metaphysics as serious study — (and further disorientation of natural rights in postmodernism), can or should be reworked into a weak theoretical underpinning, or necessary condition, of natural rights in Human Rights Theory. Natural rights, as it is, is an extension of non-confirmatory, inferential scientific method, such as is suitable for the study of physics. The social sciences, in appropriating such a method has handicapped the need to give a meaning to rights that one can define, point to, and know. One cannot, in the American experience, know precisely what one's rights are until after they are violated. The central problem with terms such as "rights", "liberties", "equality", lies in the philosophy of social science driving itself toward definitions, which are, according to scientific method, empty sets. While a critique of the philosophy of social sciences generally is outside the scope of the project of this paper, an outline for a critique of Human Rights Theory arises from this more general problem. In this outline I expect to incorporate, directly or indirectly, the work of Geoffrey Robertson, QC; Michael Walzer; Michael Oakeshotte; Virginia Morris & Michael P. Scharf; Michael P. Scharf & William A. Schabas, among others. I expect this paper to be general in nature, but adequately treated in each section to provide a framework for a book manuscript.
Keywords: Human, Rights, Theory
Dr. Celise Schneider
Assistant Professor, Political Science, School of Humanities & Social Sciences, Pennsylvania State University Erie-The Behrend College