Part or chapter of a book
Towards a Political Philosophy of Human Rights
Ideas that Matter
Oxford University Press
human right, democracy, sexual equality, Joshua Cohen, John Rawls, John Tasioulas, bodily integrity, membership, legitimacy, obligation, justice, droit de l'homme, démocratie, égalité sexuelle, droits des femmes, intégrité du corp, appartenance, Joshua Cohen, John Rawls, John Tasioulas
Is there a human right to be governed democratically? And what are the considerations that might ground such a right? These are the questions raised in Joshua Cohen’s 2006 work, “Is There a Human Right to Democracy?”—a paper over which I have agonized since I saw it in draft form, many years ago. I am still uncomfortable with its central claim, that while justice demands democratic government, the proper standard for human rights demands something less. But, as I hope to show, the reasons for that discomfort are occasioned less by the thought that democracy may not be a human right than by the very significant gaps in our understanding of rights that debates about the human rights status of democracy exemplify. I therefore start by situating Cohen’s paper within philosophical debates about the structure and justification of human rights. I then look at the debate about democracy and human rights that it has occasioned, and I explain why this debate is not easy to resolve. Finally, I point to difficult issues that arise for a philosophy of human rights if one accepts, as we probably should, that democratic government is not best thought of as a human right, at present. My hope is thereby to contribute to the political philosophy of human rights that, I assume, a commitment to democratic government requires, whether or not democracy is itself an object of human rights.