Beitz and the Problem with a State-Focused Approach to Human Rights

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Charles Beitz has presented us with a new and novel theory of human rights, one that is motivated by a concern for the enforcement of human rights in modern international practice. However, the focus on states in his human rights project generates a tension between the universal aspirations of individual human rights and the vulnerable individuals who through rendition or state failure find themselves outside the international state system. This paper argues that Beitz and other theorists of human rights make a mistake when they define human rights in statist terms. The scope of a theory of human rights must include all human beings, even if not simply in virtue of their humanity. The aspiration for human rights to be political and not metaphysical is interesting and admirable, but the human scope of human rights must be retained in order for human rights to retain their critical force.
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