This is where I suspect my academic energies are going to be focussed for the next few months, and I’m incredibly excited. Conor Gearty, profesor of human rights law at LSE, is starting a collaborative project called the The Rights’ Future, which will culminate in a book next February. Each Monday he will post an essay, collect responses online over the week, and publish a response on the Friday. A book formed from the essays and responses will be launched at the LSE literature festival.
Professor Gearty is fantastic. He gave my first year human rights law lectures at LSE, and was an incredibly engaging speaker. He’s extremely intelligent and has probably done more for human rights as an academic discipline in the past decade than anyone else. He’s also rather vocal about his social-political opinions (as seen here at 4.25 at the Rights’ Future launch).
I’m hoping to be able to follow this project thoroughly, and respond as much as possible; I’d recommend that anyone with an interest in human rights, whether academic, professional or social, also reads what he has to say. So far only his manifesto for the project has been published, which goes as follows:
- Human rights are social democratic politics for our post-political age.
- Human rights need to be true even if we have to make them so.
- Realising human rights must always be emancipatory and securing them might sometimes be revolutionary.
- Labour rights are essential to human rights.
- The great religions are more friend than foe to human rights.
- In taming counter-terrorism law human rights has the chance to renew its soul.
- Rights are for more than humans.
- The powerful should be made to need human rights but they should never like them.
- Human rights are for people not peoples.
- Lawyers are wonderful for human rights – but as supporting actors, not the main act.
I could ramble on for hours about any of these, but two points interest me especially right now. At point 1, and in the video above, he suggests that modern culture has been estranged from the social democratic vision, which has been forsaken for a market culture. I think this may be a comment on pre-crisis culture, as I would wonder whether this is still true now. It is certainly a fairly left wing point, and one I would tend to agree with, although I suspect the social democratic vision was never truly established above a markets culture (and I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive concepts). I’m also wondering whether human rights can only exist and be supported in a purely social democratic culture; I think rights, although to a more limited extent, also have their role in a market society in establishing the freedom of action of each market player.
The second point, that rights may need to be ‘made’ true, also fascinates me. This essentially boils down to the question of whether rights are pre-existent, or an ideal that we should be trying to establish. Many ‘fundamental’ rights have been argued for (very well) as pre-existent for a modern democratic society to exist (I’m thinking here of J.S. Mill), although the concept of rights nowadays has expanded to include rights that are hard to fit into a model that requires rights for a functioning democratic society. This is especially true if Preofessor Gearty wants to include labour rights, as he says in point 4.
The collaborative authorship dimension here is also, to be somewhat less academic, really cool. It’s similar to what was tried with Code 2.0, although that was wiki-based rather than the comments system I think Rights’ Future will be using. Habermas and several other writers have discussed the requirement of a public discourse for a true democratic society. This project is a perfect example of how modern communications technologies can be used for this. I’m hoping it will expand beyond a simple reply system, and others will blog and discuss Professor Gearty’s essays.
I can’t wait to get my teeth into this, and hopefully I’ll be able to post some of the interesting points (and my suggestions) here.