Bob, Clifford. Rights as Weapons: Instruments of Conflict, Tools of Power. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019. 261 pages. Hardcover, $29.95.
Clifford Bob, chair of political science at Duquesne University, has given readers a provocative--and at times frustrating--realist analysis of the current human rights world in his new work, Rights as Weapons. Through a careful series of case studies that range from Ugandan debates about LGBTQ rights to fights surrounding bullfighting in Catalonia, Bob clearly lays out how rights are often, if not always, brandished as political weapons. Not only this, Bob notes, these battles surrounding rights can also evolve in ways that activists do not always expect. To a certain degree, this argument is nothing new for those engaged in the maintenance and expansion of human rights. After all, political and cultural fights over the expansion of rights have long been framed as assaults on tradition. What is unique about Bob's work, though, is the systematic way in which he builds his argument, leaving the reader with a valuable set of evaluative tools by which they might interrogate any given conflict around human rights.
Bob's classification system begins by establishing three major ways in which groups fighting for rights see their objective as weapons. Arguing that actors see rights as first rallying cries to gather allies, then as deployable against enemies, and finally as a defense against attackers, Bob further breaks down these categories to illustrate for the reader how they function in contemporary life. In particular, Bob focuses on how rights function not just as the ends of struggle, but also--and for him, perhaps more importantly--as the means of the struggle. In making such a claim, despite his argument that he is supplementing rather and supplanting the traditional historiography on global rights, Bob forces scholars to address how battles to expand rights are not always a positive thing for human existence. In a way, then, Bob's work gives teeth to Michael Ignatieffs old warning to not let human rights become blinding idols. Despite any imperfections in--or criticisms of--his work, it must be noted that this is book is rare in that it is useful, and not just in academic circles.
While Bob's framework will undoubtedly prove valuable for rights advocates in the years to come, his work also presents a problem for the future of human rights work. While he attempts to dissuade readers from...