By Judith Blau and Alberto Moncada
Any nation's peoples share a world view that helps them make sense of their history, of the present, and a world view that is more or less consistent with national social, political, and economic institutions. In the United States, the central value in that world view has been individualism, helping Americans make sense of key chapters in American history: the early entrepreneurial settlers (who Weber described as the embodying the spirit of capitalism), the immigrant experience, the settling of the frontier, and, most importantly, capitalism. Of course there is much in American history that does not exemplify this key value of individualism, but the way that rights have been defined in America, as civil and political rights, are purely individualistic and are at odds with the understanding of human rights elsewhere in the world.
A thesis that links the three books in the trilogy on human rights is that human rights as a logic and set of practices is sweeping the globe, embraced by people everywhere, but Americans are slow to comprehend what human rights are because Americans interpret the world in terms of individual rights, not rights they share with others. In the first volume of the trilogy, Human Rights: Beyond the Liberal Tradition we highlight how American liberalism is key to what is often called, 'American exceptionalism' (or roguishness) and clarify what human rights are--as a world view, as international law, embedded in civil society, and as a broad social movement. We also give examples of how people elsewhere are interpreting human rights.
Human rights made their dramatic formal appearance on the world stage in 1948, with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and then in subsequent international human rights treaties (none of which have been ratified by the US without a statement that they do not apply in the US!) As countries gained their independence from colonial powers, they often adopted human rights provisions in their Constitutions. More recently, in response to the voracious forces of globalization, nearly all countries that did not have such provisions revised their constitutions to include them. The second volume of the trilogy, Justice in the United States: Human Rights and the US Constitution provides many examples of constitutions and clarifies how the US Constitution could be revised to include human rights.
There are many factors playing a role in what is called, the 'worldwide human rights revolution,' and human rights are playing a increasingly important role in development, protection of indigenous people, international approaches to housing, restoration of peasants' lands, micro-credit, and environmental sustainability projects. Humanitarian law is an important branch of human rights and a major milestone has been the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002. Social movements, including the World Social Forum, the international peasants movement, landless movements, are propelled by demands for human rights. We argued that there are now two logics--that of human rights and that of neoliberalism capitalism. The welfare of the world's people is at stake. The third volume of the trilogy, Freedoms and Solidarities:In Pursuit of Human Rights discusses these as opposing logics. In this volume we also more deeply explore the philosophical underpinnings of liberalism and human rights by drawing on the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre, Hannah Arendt, and contemporary philosophers.
Judith Blau is professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and president of the US chapter of Sociologists without Borders. She is the author of Architects and Firms, The Shape of Culture, Social Contracts and Economic Markets, and Race in the Schools, editor of The Blackwell Companion to Sociology, and co-editor, with Keri Iyall Smith, of The Public Sociologies Reader. She has published over 75 articles in scholarly journals, and was the president of the Southern Sociological Society. Judith Blau's webpage is: http://www.unc.edu/~jrblau/
is president of Sociologists without Borders/Sociólogos Sin Fronteras
and Vice-President of UNESCO-Valencia. He has degrees in law, sociology,
and education, and is the author of over 30 books in Spanish, including
three on Hispanics in the U. S.