The Universalism of Human Rights
The founding document of modern human rights is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The origin of the concept of modern human rights inheres in the idea of a universality that applies to all human beings. The philosophical discussion of human rights is, and must be, a conversation about morals. The American Anthropological Association (AAA) statement was specifically submitted to the Commission on Human Rights, but it was published in the American Anthropologist, becoming thereby a public comment, supposedly in support of, but much more emphatically a critique of, the universalism that is presupposed by the project of producing a universal declaration. It begins with a double credo that immediately lays to waste the essential individualistic tenor of traditional, liberal human rights. The AAA’s own respect for cultural difference, and its demand that the universal declaration being worked on show the same level of respect, lead to an extreme cultural relativism.