Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights

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Addis Ababa University


The multi-faceted processes of globalization have been associated with the increasing interconnectedness of the world or the creation of a global village. These processes are, however, full of ambiguities in that they challenge human freedom, dignity, rule of law and democratic self-determination. Especially, economic globalization creates what Pheng Chea calls the “inhuman conditions’ that describe the defective features of human existence due to commodification, technology and totalitarian domination. In this condition of human existence, cosmopolitanism is being advocated as a practical consciousness of universal humanism and as a political project to regulate the dehumanizing effects of economic globalization. The thesis explores and analyzes Jurgen Habermas’ conception of the cosmopolitan condition as constitutionally structured multi-level global governance without global government geared towards the global realization of peace, human rights, and democracy. Habermas upholds the enlightenment ideals of rationality, freedom, human rights and democracy based on the notion of communicative reason implicit in everyday use of language. Hence, Habermas defends the universality of the constitutional state subject to procedural discourse. The democratic ideal at the level of a state is to bring the political and economic system under the will of the people articulated in discourse. The global realization of human rights and democracy is conceived as the control of supranational and transnational governance by the will of world citizens developed in national and transnational public spheres. I argue that Habermas’ democratic theory seems to be unrealistic in existing liberal democracies where the autonomy of political discourse and public sphere is challenged by political and economic forces. Analogously, Habermas’ cosmopolitan project is problematic in that the development of cosmopolitan consciousness and global public sphere is compromised by economic globalization. In as much as national and transnational public spheres depend on uneven global economic structure; it is unlikely that Habermas’ project will realize the goal of overcoming global economic and social inequalities. I argue that the development of popular based nationalism in the postcolonial south can make the state serve the interest of the majority of the people and also challenge economic globalization