Human rights’ directing idea
in Critical theory and human rights
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This chapter argues that international human rights law has come to orient itself towards teleocracy under the influence of what, borrowing from the French constitutional theorist Maurice Hauriou, it calls a “directing idea”. This directing idea is that human rights are the legal mechanism for achieving the overriding objective of improving universal well-being, and that this is to be brought about by assigning obligations to the powerful in order to make them act benevolently towards the powerless. The chapter locates this in a broader trend among international lawyers, which understands international law itself as, ultimately, a project of improving universal human welfare. The chapter then demonstrates that this directing idea is rooted in compassion, the hatred of looking on while others suffer, which imbues the human rights movement with a species of what Kundera described as “kitsch”. This causes human rights advocates to seek to give effect to their shared sense of compassion through law, which has the capacity to give effect to this feeling across time.

Critical theory and human rights

From compassion to coercion

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