The lost discourses of international economic rights: a critical approach to the construction of human rights
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 16:19 by Courtney M. Hercus
In the epoch of globalizing capitalism, has the exclusion of economic rights from the hegemonic definition of human rights been the natural result of the progression of liberalism, or has it been due to a more complex interaction between social forces and economic structures? Anchored by a Gramscian understanding of historical blocs, this thesis traces the history of ‘rights’ discours efrom the exclusionary ‘rights of man’ of the colonial period, to the ‘human rights’ under international law at the opening of pax americana, and the upheaval of pax americana’s decline. The dialectical relationship between ideas, material conditions and institutions in the formation of historical structures, developed by Robert W Cox, provides a methodological framework for this study. Taking a historical materialist approach to historical structures, this thesis argues that the post-coldwar human rights doctrine has its roots in the 1970’s. This thesis explores the challenges to material, ideological and institutional hegemony of the United States in the 1970’s, orienting human rights activism at the United Nations, including the call for the New International Economic Order and Resolution 32/130 of 1977, within this paradigm. It argues that the Carter administration, constrained by the prevailing structures, used the agency within those constraints to transform US human rights policy. That transformation promoted civil and political rights as ‘human’ rights, and relegated economic rights to a ‘basic needs’ approach. Carter's human rights policy was shaped, in part, in response to the Non-Aligned Movement - both in its diplomatic role, and its deliberate definition of human rights. This thesis works to situate the human rights doctrine within the transition from pax americana to ‘hyperliberalism’, conceptualising human rights as a political and socio-cultural project, necessarily bound to the economic, and compatible with the universalising hegemony of transnational capital.