Political Science 3388E Chapter Notes -Limited Government

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Published on 17 Nov 2011
Donnelly Chapter 5
Non-Western Conceptions of Human Rights
In this chapter, Donnelly sets out to argue that non-western cultural
and political traditions, like the pre-modern West, lacked not only the
practice of human rights but also the very concept. “Traditional”
societies- western and non western alike- typically have had elaborate
systems of duties, some of which correspond to the values and
obligations associated with modern HR. But such societies had
conceptions of justice, political legitimacy, and human flourishing that
sought to realize human dignity, flourishing, or well-being entirely
independent of HR. These institutions and practices are alternatives to,
rather than different formulations of HR.
Traditional Societies
Pre modern non-western societies looked the same
Typically had elaborate systems of duties
Had justice, political legitimacy, recognized human dignity
But these were alternatives to HR
No one had any rights against unjust rulers- no one was
considered equal: no universality
1. Islam and HR
Some argue “Islam has laid down some universal fundamental rights
for humanity as a whole, which are to be observed and respected
under all circumstances…fundamental rights for every man by virtue of
his status as a human being.” (Mawdudi 1976) but Donnelly argues
that such claims are entirely baseless. Supposed “human rights” turn
out to be duties of rulers and individuals, not rights held by all. Eg.
“right to justice” is actually a duty of rulers to establish rulers. “right to
freedom” is actually duty not to enslave unjustly
The practices established to realize the divine commands which called
for duties did not include equal and inalienable rights held by all
people; only mature age, free men of the Muslim faith. The social and
political precepts of Islam do reflect a strong concern for human good
and human dignity, which may even be a prerequisite for HR, but
traditional Muslim societies simply did not pursue human dignity or
flourishing through the practice of equal and inalienable rights held by
all human beings.
2. The Pre modern West
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