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The Promise of Human Rights
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The Promise of Human Rights
Constitutional Government, Democratic Legitimacy, and International Law

Jamie Mayerfeld

320 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth 2016 | ISBN 9780812248166 | $69.95s | Outside the Americas £56.00
Paper 2019 | ISBN 9780812224580 | $29.95s | Outside the Americas £22.99
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights
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"Jamie Mayerfeld's The Promise of Human Rights is a timely corrective to persistent misconceptions about international human rights law's relationship to United States sovereignty and democracy. At a moment when 'American Exceptionalism' has re-emerged, in a new and crasser form, as a normative challenge to compliance with international legal constraints, Mayerfeld reminds us of American democracy's roots in a Madisonian tradition that emphasizes the complex challenges of self-government and the need for checks on the concentration of power. Mayerfeld correctly notes that national sovereignty, far from precluding international legal obligations, is precisely what is exercised in the undertaking of such obligations."—Human Rights Review

"Jamie Mayerfeld's new book is an important contribution to both scholarly and popular debates about the legitimacy of international human rights law. . . . Mayerfeld's analysis effectively connects the specific strategies designed to limit the influence of international human rights law on US domestic law to how these specific moves were later exploited by Bush administration officials to legitimize torture."—Ethics

"The Promise of Human Rights: Constitutional Government, Democratic Legitimacy, and International Law is a compelling analysis of American exceptionalism and international human rights law. . . . [It] is a rich contribution to literatures on human rights and democratic theory and on America's place in the world, as well as the empirical literature on European institutions."—The Journal of Politics

"This is a remarkable book. . . . [It] offers a valuable and much needed reminder: International human rights law is not only about improving the practices of other countries (an 'outward looking' justification) but also about improving the practices of one's own country (an 'inward looking' justification). . . . A very good read."—Perspectives on Politics

"Carefully researched and clearly written, the book has much relevance to contemporary times."—Choice

"One of the most important of the powerful arguments in this wide-ranging book is its demonstration that the marginalization of international human rights in U.S. legal culture facilitated the 'moral and legal wreckage' and the 'strategic calamity' recently produced by torture."—Henry Shue, University of Oxford

"Jamie Mayerfeld's book is an important contribution to democratic theory and to human rights scholarship. His reasoning is lucid, the research careful, and the breadth impressive."—Michael Goodhart, University of Pittsburgh

"The Promise of Human Rights speaks directly to U.S. debates about the appropriate relationship between international human rights law and domestic law and places the debates firmly within the context of torture in the War on Terror. Jamie Mayerfeld contributes an original addition to the scholarship."—Fiona de Londras, University of Birmingham

International human rights law is sometimes criticized as an infringement of constitutional democracy. Against this view, Jamie Mayerfeld argues that international human rights law provides a necessary extension of checks and balances and therefore completes the domestic constitutional order. In today's world, constitutional democracy is best understood as a cooperative project enlisting both domestic and international guardians to strengthen the protection of human rights. Reasons to support this view may be found in the political philosophy of James Madison, the principal architect of the U.S. Constitution.

The Promise of Human Rights presents sustained theoretical discussions of human rights, constitutionalism, democracy, and sovereignty, along with an extended case study of divergent transatlantic approaches to human rights. Mayerfeld shows that the embrace of international human rights law has inhibited human rights violations in Europe whereas its marginalization has facilitated human rights violations in the United States. A longstanding policy of "American exceptionalism" was a major contributing factor to the Bush administration's use of torture after 9/11.

Mounting a combination of theoretical and empirical arguments, Mayerfeld concludes that countries genuinely committed to constitutional democracy should incorporate international human rights law into their domestic legal system and accept international oversight of their human rights practices.

Jamie Mayerfeld is Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington.

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