What Is a “Right to Have Rights”? Three Images of the Politics of Human Rights Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • This article seeks to elucidate some of the difficulties and reversals that afflict human rights by exploring three interpretations of Hannah Arendt's idea of a “right to have rights,” and in particular the images of politics these interpretations presuppose. The first, most conventional interpretation considers this right in terms of the use of power to implement rights; a second, broadly Kantian interpretation understands it in terms of laws and institutions; a third, which I develop through an original reading of Arendt, bases it on the activity of the rights-claimants or -holders themselves. Although each of these conceptions corresponds to different circumstances and speaks to different concerns, the third is especially valuable in helping us understand the problems that plague efforts on behalf of human rights and showing how human rights can best be realized and secured. If it is the most demanding, it alone fully honors human rights' emphasis on autonomy.

publication date

  • November 2008