on 14 June 2005
If you wish to buy a standard text book on human rights it is easy to find a million examples lining the (virtual) shelves of bookshops. Most rehearse the conventional notions of human rights taken from the apostles of liberal philosophy beginning with John Locke in the 17th century and ending with John Rawls in the 20th. In contrast, The End of Human Rights by Professor Costas Douzinas (Birkbeck College, University of London) is a one-in-a-million rigorous exposé of the trenchant injustices that are covered up by the modern human rights agenda. In his words, it constitutes an "advanced textbook of legal theory and human rights for the melancholic lawyer at the end of the most atrocious century in the history of humankind".
The first half of the book is a genealogy of human rights. The author weaves a web of intricate connections between 'humanity' and 'rights' which spans the whole history of western philosophy. In a refreshing exercise in critical history, we are made aware of how Aristotle and Christ are just as important as Hobbes and Locke for the state of human rights today.
The second part of the book is a sustained philosophical analysis of human rights which deals with many pivotal philosophers that are simply ignored by most other authors. As well as re-reading Hobbes and Locke, Douzinas demonstrates the relevance of Marx, Burke, Heidegger, Hegel, Sartre, Freud, Lacan, Levinas and many others to the human rights debate.
Although the title of the book may give the impression that its major thesis is completely dismissive of the whole idea of human rights, you would be wrong to think so. Instead, Douzinas rails against the end of human-rights-as-a-principle-of-hope and believes that it is the task of true politics (and hence justice) to struggle against the termination of any aspect of our humanity. Such a termination or ending is precisely what the abstract 'super-postmodern' positivization of human rights contributes to. The End of Human Rights is therefore not a bland nihilism, but "a critique of legal humanism inspired by a love of humanity", to use the author's own words. In choosing a book on human rights the prospective purchaser is faced with a choice similar to that of Neo in The Matrix: will you choose the blue pill (a standard textbook) or the red pill (The End of Human Rights)?