What is the relationship between human rights and liberalism? For many on the Left, they are synonymous. The relationship is less clear-cut, however, if we consider that international law on human rights includes social and economic rights alongside the civil and political rights privileged in the West. This section of the book brings together provocative articles by authors from across the world to consider the relationship between liberalism and human rights in a number of very different contexts.
Some chapters propose a critique of human rights as exclusionary of groups whose members do not conform to the white, male, middle-class archetype of the liberal individual. They map how liberalism’s blind spots are being reproduced in contemporary rhetoric concerning human rights. In other cases, authors reflect on the extent to which human rights fall far short of liberalism; where, for example, constitutions that reflect international human rights norms legally support state repression. In addition, there are further challenges to the view that debates on human rights are nothing but liberalism dressed up for the twenty-first century—especially when we consider movements that aim to realise economic as well as social rights. In such cases, human rights start to take on more of a socialist than a liberal edge. Rather than taking for granted that we always already know what they are in relation to liberalism, the section aims to convey a sense of the pluralism and diversity of human rights and of the political contexts in which they are invoked today.