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The Human Rights State
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The Human Rights State
Justice Within and Beyond Sovereign Nations

Benjamin Gregg

296 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth 2016 | ISBN 9780812248050 | $65.00s | Outside the Americas £52.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights
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"The Human Rights State is an important work of political imagination. This is a compliment to the author and an evaluation of the book's argument. In prose, both light and evocative Benjamin Gregg asks us to rethink human rights as a freestanding moral ideal to which we should aspire."—Contemporary Political Theory

"The book challenges some of the mystifications associated with human rights, characterising them as mundane achievements of political action by ordinary people. It develops a model of human rights as grounded in local contexts and legitimated on this basis, as well as because their conditions of success depend on persuasion rather than coercion. It is engagingly written, presenting an attractive account of how we—as concerned individuals—might begin to move from a world of widespread human rights violations to one in which human rights are widely, if variously, recognised."—Australian Journal of Politics and History

"A pragmatic sensibility underlies Gregg's constructivist proposals for a nonideal politics aimed at addressing ways in which actually existing states violate or erect barriers to human rights . . . .One of the many great strengths of Gregg's account is its positive, politically astute, and cautiously hopeful tone."—The Review of Politics

"The Human Rights State is a compelling contribution to the theory of human rights, ranging from the ontology of such rights to the theoretical articulation of their international and local practice."—Kelvin Knight, London Metropolitan University

"The Human Rights State makes a significant contribution to current debates about both the theory and practice of human rights. It will be of interest to philosophers, political theorists, legal scholars, and activists from across the political spectrum."—Martin Woessner, The City College of New York

The nation state operates on a logic of exclusion: no state can offer citizenship and legal rights to all comers. From the logic of exclusion a state derives its sovereign power. Yet this exclusivity undermines the project of advancing human rights globally. That project operates on a logic of inclusion: all people, regardless of citizenship status or territorial location, would everywhere be recognized as bearers of human rights. In practice, human rights are afforded, if at all, then only to citizens of those few states that sometimes regard human rights as moral necessities of domestic commitments—or for states that find that stance politically expedient for the moment.

This discouraging reality in the first decades of the twenty-first century prompts the question: What political arrangement might better conduce the local embrace and enduring practice of human rights? In The Human Rights State, Benjamin Gregg challenges the conviction that the nation state can only have a zero-sum relationship with human rights: national sovereignty is possible or human rights are possible, but not both, not in the same place, at the same time. He argues that the human rights project would be more effective if established and enforced at local levels as locally valid norms, and from there encouraged to expand outward toward overlaps with other locally established and enforced conceptions of human rights grown in their own local soils.

Proposing a metaphorical human rights state that operates within or alongside a nation state, Gregg describes networks of activists that encourage local political and legal systems to generate domestic obligations to enforce human rights. Geographic boundaries and national sovereignties would remain intact but diminished to the extent necessary to extend human rights to all persons, without reservation, across national borders, by rendering human rights an integral aspect of the nation state's constitution.

Benjamin Gregg teaches social and political theory at the University of Texas, Austin. He is author of Human Rights as Social Construction; Thick Moralities, Thin Politics: Social Integration Across Communities; and Coping in Politics with Indeterminate Norms: A Theory of Enlightened Localism.

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