Why Do We Need Human Rights? (2)

Is it still necessary these days to promote the virtues of human rights and democracy (democracy being just one of many human rights)? Is it not kicking in an open door?

It seems that the end of the Cold War has settled the intellectual dispute. Democracy and human rights no longer have any rivals. There are no alternatives.

I’m not so sure. Democracy and human rights, to the extent that they are measurable, do not seem to flourish beyond expectations after the end of the Cold War, unless we limit democracy to a system of elections and human rights to the absence of extreme cruelty. And even then. 
There is progress, but not enough. There are also still theoretical challenges to the foundations of human rights and democracy (I’m thinking of radical nationalism, all sorts of religious fundamentalism, economic theories advocating limits on human rights etc.). Moreover, people in established Western democracies seem to exhibit a growing unease about the nature of their victorious political systems.

So a theoretical defense of the universal value of rights and democracy and of the reasons why they are so important, and universally important, is not useless or out-of-date. History, in other words, has not ended.

Why does the world need human rights and democracy? A lot depends on the definition of these words. I would favor a “heavy” definition: democracy is more than elections and representation. Human rights are more than freedom rights or the absence of genocide.

Of course, I can see practical problems: not all the necessary (never mind sufficient) preconditions for a heavy system of rights and democracy are everywhere available. So lighter versions are obviously acceptable, temporarily, and often a great leap forward compared to current political and legal systems. And much needs to be done to promote the conditions for going further. A reasonably well-functioning democracy without a solid protection system for human rights is much better than a dictatorship, but it’s not enough. Purely representative democracy as well is not enough, but is great progress in many places. Shortcomings in imperfect democracies and imperfect systems for rights protection should not lead to us reject democracy and rights altogether, but should convince us to make them better.

I’m convinced that democracy and human rights promote certain universal human values, and hence are universally desirable themselves. Universal human values are things which humans invariably deem important for their lives. Some examples: control over your own life, economic wellbeing, peace, physical security, property, belonging, identity etc.

38 thoughts on “Why Do We Need Human Rights? (2)”

      1. In my opinion, you, me all of us we are born with these rights ! But seems like some ppl such as politician and dictators trying to take it away from us with excuses such as : different gender, race etc
        we need them written to follow them and not let anyone to take it away from us. it is sad that we have to have them in a written act but its better than not having a certain constitution where those in power might abuse this situation!


    1. because human rights is the basic thing in society for which people speand his life in society.If there is no right in society then the society can nt run very good and society will be destroyed vry fast.SO rights isb vry importent in the world.


  1. but honestly… i just went through the article…
    its more or less regarding what the writer feels than
    the acutal..core importance of human rights….
    im sorrry if this is offending


    1. I.ME.MYSELF.
      The writer of this has the right to think. and If i were him i wouldn’t take advice from someone who cant spell ‘actual’


  2. it seems there so many of theese “so called rights” were all apparently entitled to as humans,….then why are they not made familar to us to use when we need them,or is it that so many ppl in this world dnt care enugh bout other ppls human rights and that is why so many of us have our rights violated i.e hurting others,Or is it that this world is so full of discrimination,ppl in higher up positions to another,simly do think that we shouldnt all be entitled to them(somehow),but its those ppl that abuse ones rights on any level,whether they knw human right act,


  3. human rights is necessary for every . without human rights we cannot live in this bad , dirty, cheating society around us


  4. what if there weren’t human rights? Would things be that different? Politics is consistently compromising the overall effectiveness of humans rights…
    the UN has NEVER been able to stop a genocide.


  5. I would ask you to read a book I just finished called *Little Bee*. That should tell us a lot about our rights. Actually, we should never question our rights as human beings. Here, in Canada and the rest of North America we don’t have to do that any more. I have walked and demonstrated for my rights. We cannot sit idly by and then complain. Get off your cushions and scream your bloody heads off. People are listening. Sit and rot with the government you consented to. I am 72 and I still march. Tomorrow I am going to pay respect for our first black Governor General. His name is Lincoln Alexander. He died at 90 years old and I was a young woman and I will never forget that he shook my hand and acknowledged me as a human being. No other politician has ever done that. By the way, if this is going to America, God help you! I am sure you know how we feel!


  6. […] The standard answer to this question is protection: human rights offer people protection against other people or the state. People need rights because they want to protect their interests, their freedom, their equal status, their opportunities, their values and their projects in life against attacks by those more powerful. (There’s a more elaborate version of this standard thesis here). […]


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