William Talbott’s Which Rights Should be Universal? [Book Review]

Human Rights Review 9 (2):181-191 (2008)

David Reidy
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
In this review essay, I first set out and then subject to criticism the main claims advanced by William Talbott in his excellent recent book, “Which Rights Should be Universal?”. Talbott offers a conception of basic universal human rights as the minimally necessary and sufficient conditions to political legitimacy. I argue that his conception is at once too robustly liberal and democratic and too inattentive to key features of the rule of law to play this role. I suggest that John Rawls’s conception of human rights comes closer to hitting the mark Talbott sets for himself and that Talbott incorrectly rejects Rawls’s view. I conclude that what likely divides Talbott and Rawls is that Rawls, but not Talbott, explicitly frames the inquiry into the minimally necessary and sufficient conditions to political legitimacy in terms of a liberal democratic people attempting to determine, as a matter of its just foreign policy, whether or not to recognize other organized polities as independent and self-determining within the international order
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DOI 10.1007/s12142-007-0038-y
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