This chapter explores the debate between universalism and cultural relativism. Certain powerful accounts of sovereignty seem to be the primary hinge around which the terms of the debate between universalism and relativism turn. The power of sovereignty was the power (in principle) of the particularist government to override all other claims to (worldly) authority. Despite radical shifts in the state system since Westphalia, this broadly constitutive element continues to serve as a powerful inscription of particularism. State-building practices over several centuries ensured that they came to take on the mantle of a fundamental unit of political community, the sine qua non of human community and, to a greater or lesser extent, the theatre of ethical life. This chapter also considers the work of some contemporary theorists who have attempted in different ways to bridge or to circumvent the polarity of relative and universal, including Richard Rorty, Chris Brown and Andrew Linklater. Finally, it examines the ‘Asian Way’ debate regarding human rights in the international domain.
There are a number of avenues through which the ‘place’ of indigenous people in Australia can be approached. One fundamental arena of struggle has been over land rights. The approach to rights taken here, however, starts from an account of suffering and sets out to trace the political roots of that suffering. One of the clearest forms of suffering to mark the lives of Australian Aborigines is entrenched and widespread ill-health. This chapter considers some of the limitations of those dominant understandings of rights that mark both international rights promotion and the constitution of the liberal state. It asks how we understand and pursue principles of participation, dialogue and negotiation. Approaching health as a matter of human rights can be contentious. This chapter analyses the construction of the ‘Aboriginal problem’, the 1992 Australian High Court decision on Aboriginal land rights (known as the ‘Mabo decision’), Commonwealth indigenous health policy from the 1970s to the 2000s, and self-determination and citizenship.