Editor in Chief of Jus Cogens, Claudio Corradetti explores the importance of defending our human rights achievements in a changing global context. In a contribution to the discussion of human rights, the Italian legal philosopher Norberto Bobbio responded: ‘so far human rights have been justified, now we need to protect them’.1
Institutional guarantees for human rights have always been deeply problematic, touching upon the inherent limits of the state’s capacity to self-critique and constrain power. Certainly, no right can be made valid in a vacuum, but specifically, in the case of human rights, their enforcement is also their justification. In my work in this field – Relativism and Human Rights. A Theory of Pluralist Universalism (Springer 2nd ed. 2022) – I defended the complementarity between human rights theory and practice. But, whereas this was how different priorities and interdependencies developed during the golden age of human rights, particularly during the ascending phase of the 50 years following the approval of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), what we are facing now is the danger of seeing this legal framework disintegrated. There are times when confidence in the past is no longer a guarantee for future achievements.
The miserable destiny in which the Society of Nations ended and with it all idealistic aspirations of international peace should be a warning today. We have been raised with the idea that constitutionalizing the international world was, among other things, introducing the so-called ‘ratchet effect’ into the world of not-so-civilized international relations, but can we be satisfied with that?
Perhaps to believe that we can put a guarantee on the future is naïve, but even if it were not, we cannot be blind to the fact that 40% of states in the world are not democracies and that among these, 66 countries are classified as “not free”.2 Additionally, roughly 20 countries promote policies explicitly contrary to human rights guarantees with systematic suppression of liberties, arbitrary arrest, torture, displacement, and so on.
The time has come when human rights must be defended. I have termed the invocation of this new attitude a form of ‘militancy’ for human rights, in analogy to the idea of ‘militant democracy’ formulated by the German-Jewish scholar Karl Löwenstein in 1937.3 In times of uncertainty, we need to promote much stricter policies for human rights compliance, subordinate international cooperation and commerce with respect to individual and group fundamental values, for the protection of the environment and the integrity of the habitat. Evolving from the past, these are more multilateral political than institution-building tasks. We have to be clear on ‘where each state stands’ and share benefits and mutual interest-advantages with those who share a like-minded view on civil guarantees.
What we have in front of us is a time where the expansion of freedoms to yet further domains of human and non-human experience is to be counterbalanced with a protective attitude and consolidation of what has been already achieved. But to proceed as such is to achieve much clearer policies on who is on board with the idea that humans (as well as their ecosystems) must be protected.
Claudio Corradetti is associate professor in Political Philosophy and International Relations at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. He has been a Fulbright scholar at Columbia (2020) and visiting scholar at Oxford, Berlin, Montreal, Oslo. He is a founding editor of Jus Cogens. A Critical Journal of Philosophy of Law and Politics, Springer. Some of his recent monographs are: C.Corradetti, Relativism and Human Rights. A Theory of Pluralist Universalism (2nd ed.), Springer, 2022 and C.Corradetti, Kant, Global Politics and Cosmopolitan Law, Routledge, 2020.
1 The citation is reformulated from the book N.Bobbio, The Age of Rights, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1995.
2 See Freedomhouse: https://freedomhouse.org/countries/freedom-world/scores
3 C.Corradetti, “Editorial: The End of Globalization: Cosmopolitanism, Militancy and the Promises of Jus Cogens”, Jus Cogens. A Critical Journal of Philosophy of Law and Politics, 4(2), 2022, pp.91-97.