Are human rights associative rights? The debate between humanist and political conceptions of human rights revisited

Cristina Lafont*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Humanist and political conceptions of human rights disagree about whether human rights are best conceived as either general or associative rights. According to humanist conceptions human rights are those (general) rights that human beings have in virtue of their humanity. According to political conceptions, human rights are those (associative) rights that individuals have against the state (or some such agent) in virtue of being subject to its authority. In this essay I defend the humanist claim against the view that human rights are best understood as associative rights. Political conceptions are correct in claiming that human rights practice does not merely try to identify those rights that human beings have in virtue of their humanity. Instead, the practice also tries ‘to secure universal and effective recognition and observance’ of these rights (UN Charter, UDHR, etc.). This means that the practice must also identify agents (such as states) who have duties to protect and to fulfill human rights. However, even if this allocation of duties is justified on the basis of special relationships this does not turn human rights into associative rights. I defend this claim in two steps. First, I offer a detailed analysis of Beitz’s and Macklem’s versions of the political approach in order to show how their respective conceptual strategies each run into internal difficulties. Second, I analyze the tripartite structure of human rights obligations to respect, to protect, and to fulfill rights, as it has been adopted in human rights practice. Disaggregating these obligations and analyzing their distinctive features helps explain why human rights are universal rights from within human rights practice itself.

Keywords

  • associative rights
  • C. Beitz
  • general rights
  • Human rights
  • humanist conception of human rights
  • P. Macklem
  • political conception of human rights

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science

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