Human rights, natural rights, and europe's imperial legacy

Political Theory 31 (2):171-199 (2003)
The author argues the concept of human rights is a development of the older notion of natural rights and that the modern understanding of natural rights evolved in the context of the European struggle to legitimate its overseas empires. The French Revolution changed this by, in effect, linking human rights to the idea of citizenship. Human rights were thus tied not only to a specific ethical-legal code but also implicitly to a particular kind of political system, both of inescapably European origin. In both cases, however, being employed was an underlying idea of universality whose origins are to be found in the Greek and Roman idea of a common law for all humanity. He ends by arguing that to defend human rights against its non-Western critics, one must be aware of the genealogy of the concept and then be prepared to endorse an essentially Western European understanding of the human
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