Now available on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN):
Universal Human Rights as a Shared Political Identity: Necessary? Sufficient? Impossible?
[Originally published in "Metaphilosophy", Vol. 40, No. 1 (2009), pp. 78-91.]
Would a global commitment to international human rights norms provide enough of a sense of community to sustain a legitimate and sufficiently democratic global order? Sceptics worry that human rights cannot help maintain the mutual trust among citizens required for a legitimate political order, since such rights are now too broadly shared. Thus prominent contributors to democratic theory insist that the members of the citizenry must share some features unique to them, to the exclusion of others - be it a European identity (Habermas and Derrida 2003) or a national public culture generally shared only by the members (Miller 1995, 2000). This essay considers and rejects these arguments. While stable, democratic redistributive arrangements do require trust and institutionalised means of trustworthiness; they need not rely on norms or values that distinguish members from non-members: such exclusion is not required. Thus human rights may be part of a common political identity.
Andreas Føllesdal is Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Oslo. He is co-editor of "Political Theory and the European Constitution" (Routledge, 2004). See an excerpt here.
Jürgen Habermas has responded to Føllesdal's critique. In his article "Human Dignity and the Realist Utopia of Human Rights" (Metaphilosophy vol. 41, no. 4, 2010, pp. 464-480), Habermas writes: "I must correct a grave misunderstanding in the introduction to the special issue of Metaphilosophy 40, no. 1 (2009), p. 2 (and in the article by Andreas Føllesdal in the same issue, pp. 85ff). I am, of course, defending the extension of collective political identities beyond the borders of nation-states and by no means share the reservations of liberal nationalists in this respect. Advocating a multilevel global system of a constitutionalized world society, I propose other reasons for why a world government is neither necessary nor feasible." (p. 475f).