Human rights in the imperial heartland

Sally Engle Merry

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    This enthusiasm for human rights approaches by progressive groups during an era of increased imperial expansion seems surprising for two reasons. First, securing human rights is not a radical approach to social change. Although the approach advocates restraining governments that use violence and torture against their citizens and holding their leaders accountable, it does not advocate a major restructuring of institutions and power relations in the same way that the revolutionary ideologies inspired by Marxism do. Instead, it promotes transformation through law: through the articulation of global standards and their implementation by means of international monitoring and social pressure and national legislative, judicial, and administrative processes. It offers an ideology of equality, autonomy, and freedom, focusing on the protection of the body and promoting the agency of all human beings. It is fundamentally compatible with capitalism in its emphasis on individual responsibility and choice. The radicalism lies in the claim that all humans have equal rights, regardless of their citizenship, gender, race, or other characteristics. Moreover, human rights is a capacious justice framework that includes economic and social rights as well as civil and political ones. Core rights in this domain include the right to food, to work, to development, to affordable housing, to education, to health care, and to culture.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationRethinking America
    Subtitle of host publicationThe Imperial Homeland in the 21st Century
    PublisherTaylor and Francis
    Number of pages17
    ISBN (Electronic)9781317252870
    ISBN (Print)9781594513831
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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