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Human Rights and the Defense of Liberal Democracy

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In recent issues of the Journal of Religious Ethics (2006, 2007), David Little has defended the contemporary regime of international human rights against what he thinks of as the relativizing influences of the genealogical “just-so” story told by Jeffrey Stout in his Democracy and Tradition (2004). I argue that Stout is correct about just-so stories, and that Little does not go far enough in his reclamation of liberalism against Stout's “new traditionalists.” The main weaknesses of Little's approach are his insistence on the idea that human rights are to be thought of as natural rights, and that these in turn are to be thought of as self-evident and self-justifying. I argue that they are neither: they come to us via a Stoutian just-so story, and that as part of a broader reclamation of liberalism, they can continue to serve as the basis for the kind of international liberal constitutionalism that Little advocates.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Flinders University

Publication date: December 1, 2007

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