Sunday, June 30, 2019

Clifford Bob's "Rights as Weapons"

Clifford Bob is professor and chair of political science at Duquesne University. His books include The Marketing of Rebellion, The Global Right Wing and the Clash of World Politics, and The International Struggle for New Human Rights.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Rights as Weapons: Instruments of Conflict, Tools of Power, and reported the following:
Rights are usually viewed as defensive concepts representing mankind’s highest aspirations to protect the vulnerable and uplift the downtrodden. But since the Enlightenment, political combatants have also used rights belligerently, to batter despised communities, demolish existing institutions, and smash opposing ideas. Rights as Weapons: Instruments of Conflict, Tools of Power focuses on such uses of rights, analyzing three main ways in which various actors deploy rights to achieve their goals. First, powerful political forces use rights claims as rallying cries to galvanize supporters into action, “naturalizing” novel claims as rights inherent in humanity, “universalizing” them as transcultural, and “depoliticizing” them as beyond debate and above politics. Second, proponents deploy rights as camouflage to cover ulterior motives, as wedges to break rival coalitions, and as spears to puncture discrete policies. Third and in response, targets of campaigns repulse the assault, using their own rights-like weapons: denying abuses, constructing rival rights, and portraying themselves as victims rather than violators.

Page 99 comes from one of several chapters showing ways that activists use rights in weaponlike ways. The chapter highlights how politically weak groups use rights claims in narrow attacks on critical laws--strategizing that this will spur broader political change not accomplishable through majoritarian institutions. The page concludes a section theorizing about rights’ use as “spears” and begins applying this theory to a lawsuit filed by a small group of Italian atheists demanding removal of crucifixes required in school classrooms (Lautsi case). Although using the rights of parents and children to attack only the crucifix, the plaintiffs’ goals were broader: creating strict church-state separation. In 2009, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled in their favor, threatening the role of religion across Europe, a coalition of religiously conservative governments and NGOs joined Italy to fight back. They too put human rights at the center of their claims—the rights of cultural majorities to maintain traditional policies on religion. With extensive political power behind it, Italy won on appeal. The larger point is that human rights are not the exclusive domain of left-wing groups but are equally available for use by majority groups promoting conservative goals—a point the Trump administration demonstrates with recent decisions.
Learn more about Rights as Weapons at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue