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Human Rights Universalism and its Critics - Essay Example

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Human Rights Universalism and its Critics

What human rights are, in a general and sweeping definition, are to defend people from "severe political, legal and social abuses." This is done in order for people to secure the necessary conditions of leading a minimally good life (Nickel et. al.: 2006, p.1, Nickel 1992, 561). From the dawn of civilization and community, the powers and limits of such powers of the governing body, groups and individuals have developed throughout the course of human history from being relegated in domestic societies to become more broadened and expanded throughout the entire world in the modern age. This was done in part to restrain human passions and actions from harming one another and to defend basic preservation of life, in what Jean Jacques Rousseau categorised as the social contract. Throughout human evolution, these rights have become more expansive and perceived to be universal in their definition and application. These rights were derived from Western historic and contemporary norms, and faced criticism and defence to the universality of such rights. Critics debate that human rights definitions were Western creations and Western attempts at Westernising legal, social and moral faculties. In addition to this, critics have also noted that the universality of such human rights conceptions are in fact false, and that rights themselves are subject to relativity and conditionality.
I) Western Rights Discourse
The doctrine of human rights rests on a fundamental philosophical postulate that human rights are predicated upon a moral order based in reason that surpasses social and historical conditions and is applied universally to all human beings everywhere, at all times. This makes these moral claims objectively validated as inherent truths. This, in turn, necessitates the inclusion that the individual is the barer of natural rights and that teach individual's rights are equal in their moral value of each and every rational individual.
The origins of moral universalism of human rights in Western thought are traced to the writings of Aristotle and the Roman Stoics. Natural order and law provides an objective and universal standards that legitimise socially constructed legal systems. Aristotle argued that "the natural is that which as the same validity everywhere and does not depend upon acceptance" (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 189). Hence, the requisites for a reasonable judicial system preceded socially and historically constructed conventions. Roman Stoics such as Cicero and Seneca expounded upon this principle and further attributed the source of natural law as the will of God and a heavenly city where natural and moral law derived from and transcended local legal codes.
The contemporary conception of human rights is more clearly detailed during the Enlightenment during the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe. As Aristotle and the Stoics expounded that natural law preceded social and historical conventions, Enlightenment philosophers expanded the universality of natural law irrespective of any given political rule or assembly, whether they be monarchies, oligarchies, republics or otherwise. John Locke outlined this in his Second Treatise of Civil Government. (1688). The ...Show more


Upon his reflections of American foreign policy towards the end of his life, George F. Kennan admitted that he found himself "wishing that there were a bit more of morality in our concepts of what is legal, and more attention to legality in our concepts of what is moral, than I see around me at this time" (Kennan, 1985, p…
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Human Rights Universalism and its Critics essay example
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