Macquarie University
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The lost discourses of international economic rights: a critical approach to the construction of human rights

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posted on 2022-03-28, 16:19 authored 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.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. A theoretical understanding of hegemony and world orders -- Chapter 3. The historical lineage of twentieth century rights discourse -- Chapter 4. Human rights, the US, and international activism:1941–1962 -- Chapter 5. International human rights activism between 1963 and1976 : the escalation of concurrent social forces -- Chapter 6. Economic rights and the presidency of Jimmy Carter -- Chapter 7. The legacy of Carter's human rights doctrine -- Chapter 8. Conclusion.


Bibliography: pages 271-294 Theoretical thesis.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Department, Centre or School

Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Noah R. Bassil


Copyright Courtney M.Hercus 2016, Copyright disclaimer:




United States


1 online resource (viii, 294 pages)

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