The Department of Government
The Department of Government
2013 1-30 Gregg

Human Rights as Social Construction

Following its publication in 2012, Benjamin Gregg’s book, “Human Rights as Social Construction,” made it to Cambridge University Press’ list of top ten bestsellers in political theory. The first printing sold out within seven months, a paperback edition was scheduled for publication in March 2013, and the University of Pennsylvania Press reacted to the book by requesting that Gregg write a book-length treatment of the concluding chapter, “The Human Rights State,” for its series, “Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights.” The book also became the subject of several ‘author-meets-critics’ roundtables at prestigious conferences across the country.

Most conceptions of human rights rely on metaphysical or theological assumptions that construe them as possible only as something imposed from outside existing communities. Most people, in other words, presume that human rights come from nature, God or the United Nations. This book argues that reliance on such putative sources actually undermines human rights. It envisions an alternative; it sees human rights as locally developed, freely embraced and indigenously valid. Human rights, it posits, can be created by the average, ordinary people to whom they are addressed and that they are valid only if embraced by those to whom they would apply. To view human rights in this manner is to increase the chances and opportunities that more people across the globe will come to embrace them.

“Benjamin Gregg's book advances an idea of the local and particular that, while normatively rich, invites an openness to universal norms as well. While denying any easy answers to the moral universalist, the argument is well placed to fend off many of the familiar skeptical objections to the idea of human rights. Professor Gregg writes with urgency and clarity, and his book should be read by both cosmopolitans and their critics.” — Richard Vernon, Distinguished University Professor, University of Western Ontario

“In a lively style, Gregg engages a topic both familiar and urgent: the status of human rights. Gregg shows why the traditional question about human rights - are they universal, or local and parochial - is misplaced. Rights are both. To be actual, they must be worked out and justified locally. But their local force requires that there be something universal about them. With verve and conviction, Gregg shows how the 'human rights state' is a workable ideal.” — Russell Muirhead, Robert Clements Associate Professor of Democracy and Politics, Dartmouth College

“Benjamin Gregg's brilliantly reasoned, strikingly original, and profoundly challenging approach to human rights theory and practice may be the most significant contribution on this theme in the last decade. It deserves the widest possible reading and debate.” — Richard A. Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law and Practice, Princeton University

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