Donnelly Ch5- Non-Western Conceptions of HR

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Western University
Political Science
Political Science 3388E
James S Quinn

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 • Romans recognized rights based on birth, citizenship, and achievement • Greeks distinguished between themselves and barbarians (non- greeks) • The duties of rulers to further the common good arose from divine commandment, natural law, tradition, and politi
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