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Interesting history; deficient philosophy
on 17 April 2011
This is a parson's egg of a book. The bulk of the book (from chapter 2 onwards) paints an instructive picture of the development of the concepts and legalities of human rights following the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The author also discusses how conflicts have arisen between the strands of human rights' reasoning, then comments on various approaches to resolving these conflicts.
The book fails, however, to establish any foundation for the concept of human rights. The first chapter raises three of the classic challenges: first, that such reasoning is `nonsense on stilts' (Bentham); second, that human rights ideas merely arise from Western powers passing off their own ideas of rights as universal (Sen); and third, and as a result, that the concept of human rights is an attempt to set up unwarranted `pre-legal moral claims' (Sen). Having raised these issues, however, Clapham then largely ignores them.
Those seeking a brief history of the development of human rights over the last sixty years will probably find this book informative. For those, like me, more interested in the philosophical foundations, the book is crucially flawed - hence two stars.