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(European Starting Grant (European Research Council))
Units : Centre for Political Theory | ULB608
The aim of this research project is to outline a conceptual genealogy and a critical typology of the theoretical arguments that have been advanced, in the name of democracy, against the dominant human rights discourse of contemporary societies. In light of the prolific literature on human rights in general, we might expect the counter arguments made since the Declarations of 1776 and 1789 to have been widely explored as an area of interest. This is not, however, the case. Whereas the reactionary critique of human rights dates far back and is well known, its modern equivalent – which often draws in important ways from the liberal tradition – is far less familiar terrain to political theorists. However, the central hypothesis running through this project is that challenges to human rights discourse must not be confused with antiliberal or antidemocratic stances. The main types of critique will be outlined, with an emphasis on their complexity and diverse nature, thus resisting the temptation to generalise them as part of a tradition of opposition to legal-political modernity. This typology will then be supplemented with historical contextualisation. Contemporary examples of the democratic critique of the primacy of human rights will be compared with historical examples of thinkers who criticised human rights as such, notably Bentham, Burke, Marx, De Maistre, Comte and Schmitt. The key research question is whether a common critical aim can be articulated from different intellectual starting points that are otherwise far apart; and whether or not the structure of the arguments that run through these approaches significantly changes the type of critique advanced.
• Autres U.E.