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The End of Human Rights

Critical Thought at the Turn of the Century

By: Costas Douzinas
Media of The End of Human Rights
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Published: 01-06-2000
Format: Paperback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 408
ISBN: 9781841130002
Imprint: Hart Publishing
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm
RRP: £33.99
Online price : £30.59
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About The End of Human Rights

The introduction of the Human Rights Act has led to an explosion in books on human rights, yet no sustained examination of their history and philosophy exists in the burgeoning literature. At the same time, while human rights have triumphed on the world stage as the ideology of postmodernity, our age has witnessed more violations of human rights than any previous, less enlightened one. This book fills the historical and theoretical gap and explores the powerful promises and disturbing paradoxes of human rights.

Divided in two parts and fourteen chapters, the book offers first an alternative history of natural law, in which natural rights represent the eternal human struggle to resist domination and oppression and to fight for a society in which people are no longer degraded or despised. At the time of their birth, in the 18th century, and again in the popular uprisings of the last decade, human rights became the dominant critique of the conservatism of law. But the radical energy, symbolic value and apparently endless expansive potential of rights has led to their adoption both by governments wishing to justify their policies on moral grounds and by individuals fighting for the public recognition of private desires and has undermined their ends.

Part Two examines the philosophical logic of rights. Rights, the most liberal of institutions, has been largely misunderstood by established political philosophy and jurisprudence as a result of their cognitive limitations and ethically impoverished views of the individual subject and of the social bond. The liberal approaches of Hobbes, Locke and Kant are juxtaposed to the classical critiques of the concept of human rights by Burke, Hegel and Marx. The philosophies of Heidegger, Strauss, Arendt and Sartre are used to deconstruct the concept of the (legal) subject. Semiotics and psychoanalysis help explore the catastrophic consequences of both universalists and cultural relativists when they become convinced about their correctness. Finally, through a consideration of the ethics of otherness, and with reference to recent human rights violations, it is argued that the end of human rights is to judge law and politics from a position of moral transcendence.

This is a comprehensive historical and theoretical examination of the discourse and practice of human rights. Using examples from recent moral foreign policies in Iraq, Rwanda and Kosovo, Douzinas radically argues that the defensive and emancipatory role of human rights will come to an end if we do not re-invent their utopian ideal.


“... an intriguing work that offers many critical insights into the weaknesses and limits of conventional human rights thinking and which, in addition, subjects the very idea of human rights to a painstaking deconstruction which leaves the reader somewhat breathless in the realisation that what might generally be though of as a good and noble ideal is in fact possibly its opposite, at least in the wrong hands. This review simply cannot convey the richness and complexity of this book. It offers a genuine alternative to the rather self-satisfied literature on human rights” –  Peter Muchlinski, Public Law

“Douzinas writes with his usual astonishing range of reference, high intelligence and often startling perception. Moreover, this is the most serious work on the theory of human rights yet to appear in the English language. Douzinas' range of reading and sense of intellectual excitement are unrivalled. His post-modern playfulness has been replaced by a sincere and lucid eloquence, open to all readers....this is work of the greatest seriousness and importance. It is in no sense a textbook, but no student of human rights, scholar or activist can afford to ignore it.” –  Bill Bowring, King's College Law Journal

The End of Human Rights... is a thought-provoking critique of the theoretical and historical underpinnings of the apparent commitment to the protection of human rights ...Douzinas' work offers much for thought.” –  Joanna Harrington, Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence

The End of Human Rights is a challenging and thoughful text issuing a challenge to self-assured liberal rights literature.” –  Tarik Kochi, Griffith University, Griffith Law Review

“His method skilfully combines history, philosophy, psychoanalysis and law. The scholarship throughout is remarkable for its range and boldness...... The End of Human Rights is a rich book, full of provocative ideas, which should appeal to any reader concerned about the future of human rights law and practice.” –  Thomas Poole, The Human Rights Law Review

“…a well argued and very well written analysis throughout, the book is written in a refreshing tone” –  Mikael Rask Madsen, Journal of South Pacific Law

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