The Idea of Human Rights

Research output: Book/ReportBook

770 Scopus citations


The international doctrine of human rights is one of the most ambitious parts of the settlement of World War II. Since then, the language of human rights has become the common language of social criticism in global political life. This book is a theoretical examination of the central idea of that language, the idea of a human right. In contrast to more conventional philosophical studies, the book takes a practical approach, looking at the history and political practice of human rights for guidance in understanding the central idea. It presents a model of human rights as matters of international concern whose violation by governments can justify international protective and restorative action ranging from intervention to assistance. The book proposes a schema for justifying human rights and applies it to several controversial cases - rights against poverty, rights to democracy, and the human rights of women. Throughout, the book attends to some main reasons why people are sceptical about human rights, including the fear that human rights will be used by strong powers to advance their national interests. The book concludes by observing that contemporary human rights practice is vulnerable to several pathologies and argues the need for international collaboration to avoid them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages256
ISBN (Electronic)9780191728303
ISBN (Print)9780199572458
StatePublished - Mar 22 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


  • Collaboration
  • Human rights
  • International doctrine
  • Pathologies
  • Poverty
  • Rights to democracy


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