Tolerating nonliberal states: Human rights as a grounding principle?

Journal of Global Ethics 3 (2):223 – 235 (2007)
In this paper, I examine to what extent can a more or less uncontroversial list of human rights ground a liberal notion of toleration that would have as its object nonliberal states. Although it is sometimes taken for granted that respect for human rights should draw the limits of toleration, I argue that the Rawlsian argument for it does not fully work. More exactly, I defend the idea that, although he tries to warrant positive toleration for non-liberal peoples, the concept of human rights can provide an argument only for a negative type of toleration. According to his reasoning, positive toleration would require an argument from the 'primacy of peoples', which unfortunately is implausible. Last but not least, I raise the question regarding the grounding of human rights as a vindicating tool for toleration. Here I argue that such an argument is necessary and propose one to the effect that human rights proper can justify toleration in the same way the harm principle does. Since the harm principle can justify non-interference only, the notion of human rights can ground a negative type of toleration.
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