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Human Rights Radicalism

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I think that there are varying strands of social movements invoking human rights in different ways. Part of what I'm trying to do in this piece and what I'm writing about in general is pulling out the more radical dimensions of these movements that push human rights in a more egalitarian vein and dimension. But I think there's a long tradition of critique on the left and the socialist left in particular of human rights as tools and implements in law that codify capitalist social relations. Human rights can be conceived of as part of property, the contract of trade. Marx famously described them as the rights of the egotistic man in civil society, who in turn then left the state to private power to treat individuals as objects for control and domination. In the modern sense there is a worry that human rights agendas can in fact be quite compatible with neoliberal political and economic reform. A lot of scholars have made the criticism that the modern, international human rights movement from the 1970s really traces its origins to the same temporal and geographical coordinates as does neoliberalism. You had shock therapy, economic investment into a number of countries of the Global South, at the same time you had human rights NGOs on the rise. And what you saw in fact was that this was not an accidental convergence between neoliberalism and human rights programs. Certain human rights programs that were predicated on the idea of a certain kind of consumerist subject. Really focused on securing private property rights. And neoliberalism cast human rights in its own terms, what was often referred to as "xeno's rights," the rights of foreign capital to avoid state expropriation. Neoliberals used human rights for their own moral claims that would be part and parcel of the market society with the ambition of weakening or preventing democratic control over the economy.

Chuck interviews legal scholar Zachery Manfredi on his Boston Review article "Radicalizing Human Rights."

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Zacheri Manfredi

Political Theorist, writer, legal scholar


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