Why have human rights become a defense for dictators and an ideological weapon for leftist political activists and advocates for global governance? The Debasement of Human Rights explains how profound contradictions in the idea of human rights around which international law and institutions and civil society campaigns are built have led to a process by which human rights has lost its meaning, and its moral power as an inspiration for those seeking freedom and democracy. The contemporary concept of human rights mixes and confuses natural rights to individual freedom with rights to material support from governments – economic and social rights based in the Socialist tradition, which are intrinsically political, and reflect positive, as opposed to natural law.
The book takes the reader through the foundations of the idea of human rights in ancient and Enlightenment philosophy, and the process by which human rights principles were cast aside in the formation of the international human rights system following World War II. Through a confluence of ideological and geopolitical forces, the concept of human rights was ripped from its foundations and cynically manipulated.
The inclusion of economic and social rights in the global human rights regime has had devastating consequences. While the politicization of human rights was to a degree held in check during the Cold War, when it ended, a campaign to protect an ever-widening array of social and economic rights – an essentially Soviet approach to human rights – gained legitimacy. The exploitation of the idea of human rights has continued, and in fact accelerated. In the second half of the book, the consequences of this process for human rights protections are documented, including how the idea of human rights is used as a justification for restricting the basic freedoms that human rights law should protect.
Human rights is among the most emancipatory and inspiring ideas of the modern age. We all have a stake in proper custodianship of this idea, yet the international community and civil society formations have neglected or subverted the philosophical foundations of human rights, and assumed that human rights are defined by international law rather than principles that have been defined in a tradition beginning with the Stoic philosophers and extending through Kant and Locke.
Few serious observers would deny that the idea of human rights has lost clarity and focus, yet no one has produced such a thorough analysis of the origins and effects of problem as Aaron Rhodes, who has been recognized by The University of Chicago as “one of the leading human rights activists in the world.” The Debasement of Human Rights is a rich admixture of political, philosophical and historical analysis, illustrated by vivid examples from the author’s own work and experiences in international human rights.