The Riddle of Human Rights
Published Under the Garamond Imprint
Available in the US through Prometheus Books.
Demands for "human rights" and resistance to their violation are rarely out of the news. Yet their definition is far from a settled matter, their legal status is quite varied, their uses and defence widely inconsistent between jurisdictions, and respect for them is blatantly limited. If it is held that all humans are abstractly equal in the possession of these rights, there is little agreement on anything else about them. The "human rights" of the United Nations? Charter and Universal Declaration contain a host of inconsistencies and a mixture of truths and untruths that contradict the assumptions of universality and timelessness.
Gary Teeple makes the case that "human rights" are peculiar to an historically given mode of production; they comprise the public declaration of the principles of the prevailing property relations. In that they are proclaimed absolute and universal is no different than similar declarations and beliefs about the nature of principles arising in different social formations. Although the tenets underlying "human rights" are distinct from pre-capitalist rights in several ways, there is one very significant distinguishing characteristic: implicit within them are goals that are qualitatively different from any relations yet realized in existing social formations.
Teeple's work forces us to consider the ramifications of a narrow, legal conception of human rights in a world where the division between the state and civil society is becoming increasingly blurred. It is an innovative argument and an essential contribution to a literature blind to the limitations of this elusive concept.- <i>Labour / Le Travail</i>