Human Rights Theory and Human Rights History - A Tale of Two Odd Bedfellows

Author:Samantha Besson - Alain Zysset
Pages:204-219
SUMMARY

The burgeoning of recent publications on human rights shows how fashionable an object of study international human rights have become lately, and this especially among philosophers and historians. Curiously, however, given that joint development, human rights theorists and human rights historians seem to be following separate paths, without much interaction between them besides historians ‘showcas... (see full summary)

 
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ANCILLAIURIS(anci.ch)2012:204InternationalLawandEthics 204
HumanRightsTheoryandHumanRightsHistory:
ATal eofTw oOddBedfellows
„CharakteristischfürdenhiereingeschlagenenWegistnämlicheinespezifische
WeisederVerknüpfungvonBegründungsargumentenundhistorischerReflexi
on,diesichsoindenGeschichtenderMenschenrechteoderindenphilosophi
schenAnsätzennichtfindetunddortinderRegelauchgarnichtangestrebt
wird.DieehrgeizigenphilosophischenBegründungsversuchekommenohneGe
schichteaus.SiekonstruierenihreArgumenteausdem(angeblichen)Charakter
derpraktischenVernunftunddesmoralischenSollens,denBedingungeneines
GedankenexperimentsüberdieEinrichtungvonGemeinwesenoderdenGrund
zügeneinesidealisiertenDiskursesheraus.ZurGeschichtestehensolcheKon
struktionennotwendigineinemmerkwürdigenSpannungsverhältnis.Merk
würdigmussjaausdieserPerspektiveerscheinen,dassinderGeschichteder
MenschheitzeitlosGültigesnursoseltenalssolcheserkanntwurde.[...]
DieGeschichtsschreibungwiederumwirdzwarhäufig,bewusstoderunbe
wusst,vonVorstellungenüberphilosophischeBegründungdurchsetztsein;[...].
AlsWissenschaftmusssieaberihrenAnspruchaufdieempirischeEbeneeiner
sachgemässenRekonstruktionhistorischerProzessebegrenzen.InihrerArbeits
teilungbekräftigenGeschichtswissenschaftundPhilosophiedamitdieUnter
scheidungvonGenesisundGeltung,dievonvielenfüreineGrundlagejeder
rechtlichenBeschäftigungmitnormativenFragengehaltenwird.Entweder,so
dieseDenkweise,stehtderGeltungsanspruchnormativerSätzezurDiskussion,
oderwirinteressierenunsfürihregeschichtlicheHerkunft.ZurEntscheidung
überdennormativenGeltungsanspruchkannindieserPerspektivegeschichtli
chesWissennichts,jedenfallsnichtsAusschlaggebendesbeitragen.”
HansJoas,DieSakralitätderPerson.EineneueGenealogiederMenschen
rechte[2011],12–13
I. Theprimafacieoppositionbetweenhumanrightstheoryandhistory
Theburgeoningofrecentpublicationsonhumanrightsshowshowfashionableanobject
ofstudyinternationalhumanrightshavebecomelately,andthisespeciallyamongphiloso
phers1andhistorians.2Curiously,however,giventhatjointdevelopment,humanrightsthe
oristsandhumanrightshistoriansseemtobefollowingseparatepaths,withoutmuchinter
actionbetweenthembesideshistorians“showcas[ing]thetheoreticalandphilosophical
debatesaboutthemeaningofhumanrights”3andtheoristsgesturingatsomeofthehistorical
originsoftheconceptofhumanrightsusuallytothendistancethemselvesfromthem.4
1Seee.g.HenryShue,BasicRights:Subsistence,Affluence,andU.S.ForeignPolicy(1996);JamesW.Nickel,
MakingSenseofHumanRights(2007);JamesGriffin,OnHumanRights(2008);CharlesBeitz,TheIdeaof
HumanRights(2009);CarlWellman,TheMor alDimensionsofHumanRights(2011).
bySamanthaBessonandAlainZysset*
*ManythankstoJuliaHänniforherinvitationtocontributetothisspecialissueofAncillaIuris,andto
AlessandroStanzianiandMilosVecforinformaldiscussionsonthetopic.
Besson/ZyssetHumanRightsTheoryandHumanRightsHistory
205 ANCILLAIURIS(anci.ch)2012:204InternationalLawandEthics
Thespecificquestionthatarisesforhumanrightstheoristsinthiscontextisnotonly
whetherhumanrightshistoryshouldmatterfortheirnormativeendeavour,5butalsohowit
couldbeintegratedmethodologicallyinthelatter,ifatall.6Ishumanrightshistorymorethan
asourceofinformationforthephilosopherofhumanrights?Shoulditbeused,forinstance,
toidentifytheobjectofhumanrightstheorizingandthenmaybetointerpretit?Andmayit
provideacriticaltoolfornonidealhumanrightstheories?Thoseissuesareevenmoreperti
nentforlegaltheoristsofhumanrightsas,withinlegalscience,bothhistoryoflawandphi
losophyoflawhavebeencultivatedinamoreintegratedfashionnotonlyinrelationtolaw
itself7butalsoinrelationtooneanother,8thanintheirnonlegalcounterpartssuchaseco
nomicsorsociologywherethehistoryandphilosophyofeconomicandsocialbehaviourare
usuallyconductedoutsidetheboundariesofthediscipline,andseparatelyatthat.
Atfirstsight,ofcourse,historicalinterpretationsandnormativetheoriesofhumanrights
appeartobeentirelydistinctprojects,andtheirrespectivemethodsatoddswithoneanother.
Thistensionbetweenthetwodisciplines,andthecorrespondingscientificgaphavebeencap
turedverywellbyHansJoasintheexcerptquotedabove.9
2Seee.g.JohannesMorsink,TheUniversalDeclarationofHumanRights:Origins,Drafting,andIntent(1999);
PaulG.Lauren,TheEvolutionofInternationalHumanRights:VisionsSeen(2003);KennethCmiel,The
RecentHistoryofHumanRights,AmericanHistoricalReview109:1(2004),117–135;MaryAnnGlendon,A
Worl dMadeNew:EleanorRooseveltandtheUniversalDeclarationofHumanRights(2001);LynnHunt,
InventingHumanRights:aHistory(2007);JohannesMorsink,InherentHumanRights:PhilosophicalRoots
oftheUniversalDeclaration(2009);SamuelMoyn,TheLastUtopia:HumanRightsinHistory(2010);Roland
Burke,DecolonizationandtheEvolutionofInternationalHumanRights(2010);StefanLudwigHoffmann/
SamuelMoyn(ed.),HumanRightsintheTwentiethCentury(2011),AkiraIriye/PetraGoedde/WilliamI.Hitch
cock,(ed.),TheHumanRightsRevolution,AnInternationalHistory(2012).Seealsointhelegalhistoryof
internationalhumanrights,e.g.AlfredWilliamBrianSimpson,HumanRightsandtheEndofEmpire:Britain
andtheGenesisoftheEuropeanConvention(2004);EdBates,TheEvolutionoftheEuropeanConvention
onHumanRights:FromItsInceptiontotheCreationofaPerman entCourtofHumanRights(2010);Jenny
S.Martinez,TheSlaveTrade andtheOriginsofInternationalHumanRightsLaw(2012);AryehNeier,The
InternationalHumanRightsMovement:AHistory(2012)andintheintellectualhistoryofhumanrights
andespeciallyofnaturalrightsMichaelZuckert,NaturalRightsandtheNewRepublicanism(1994)and
KnudHaakonssen,NaturalLawandMoralPhilosophy:FromGrotiustotheScottishEnlightenment(1996).
3SeeIriye/Goedde/Hitchcock,op.cit.,15.
4Seee.g.Nickel,op.cit.,7.
5Itisimportanttodistinguishthe(social)historyofhumanrightsquanormsandinstitutions,thatisour
topichere,fromthe(intellectual)historyoftheideaofhumanrightsandhencefromthehistoryoftheories
ofhumanrights.ItsufficestothinkofHaarscher1993’sbooktoseehowabookonthehistoryofhuman
rightstheoriesacrosscenturiescangobythenameofhumanrightstheorizing.Ofcourse,thelatterproject
qualegalprojectmaybeexplainedasahumanrightstheoryprojectbyreferencetothefactthatlegaltheo
riesofhumanrightsaremorepresentinthelegalpracticeofhumanrightsthanintheirothersocialprac
tices:thelawoftentellsastoryaboutitsnormsandmakesitstick,andthisisparticularlythecasewiththeir
intellectualhistory.Cf.GuyHaarscher,Philosophiedesdroitsdel’homme(1993).
6Ofcourse,thereversequestionmayalsoberaisedfromtheperspectiveofhumanrightshistory,butitwill
notbebroachedinfullinthisarticle.Althoughoneofusistrainedasahistorian,wearewritingthisarticle
fromtheperspectiveofpoliticalandlegalphilosophy.
7Therearemanyreasonsforthisthatwecannotexpandonhere.Oneofthemisthesocialroleofthelawand
henceitshistoricizingroleasaresultinentrenchinghistorywithinsocialnorms.Anotherdistinctreason
pertainstolaw’sclaimtolegitimateauthority,andhowthelattermaybecloselyrelatedtohistoricalclaims
inmanycases.
8Ofcourse,dependingonone’slegaltheory,therelationshiptosocialfactsandhencetotheirhistorywillbe
moreorlesscentral.Thekindoflegaltheoryofhumanrightsatstakeinthisarticleisclearlynormative,
however,albeitbeingofanormativepositivistkind.

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