chapter  3
20 Pages

The illusive promise of human rights

The aim of this chapter is to examine whether human rights, which presuppose neither national nor territorial membership, could in fact take us out of the problems confronting citizenship. To this aim, the chapter engages in a theoretical investigation by enquiring into the notion of human rights: first, it problematises the type of subject, which human rights presuppose; second, it explores whether human rights could, by virtue of their legal codification, be privileged over citizenship. In differing respects, this is the view that Held, Bohman and Benhabib express in the light of their deliberative understanding of democratic politics that reconciles political participation with law. By viewing democracy in deliberative terms, we have argued in the previous chapter, all three authors are led to privilege human rights on the presupposition that, as legal rights that are co-original with citizenship, they could reinvigorate democratic practice in the face of the problems currently confronting it. The chapter takes issue with this view and argues that as a rights and legalistic discourse, human rights are paradoxical means for making politics – if they are privileged, of course, over citizenship. Moreover, and by virtue of the type of subject that they presuppose, human rights appear to be inherently limited. They cannot therefore simply take on the political function of citizenship.