The Local Construction Of a Human Right To Democracy

Friday, July 18, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: Booth 46
Oral Presentation
Benjamin GREGG , Government, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Is the idea of a human right to democracy coherent? Sociologically oriented human rights studies can usefully identify civil society processes that show why and how particular societies have come to embrace, to some extent, various kinds of human rights standards. These are empirical studies in vernacularization, i.e., the translation of human rights norms into local practice. Did any part of the Arab Spring, which took place in non-democratic communities, vernacularize democracy in any sense? Did any part make the idea of a human right to democracy plausible? A right is plausible only given some connection to specific duty-holders and their obligation to ensure the practice and defense of that right. If, as it appears, in the Arab Spring there were no domestic institutions or powers obliged to ensure a human right to democracy, could any conceivable foreign institutions or forces be so obliged – and obliged, perhaps, to intervene? Intervention ranges from “soft” forms, such as scholarships for dissidents, to “harder” forms, such as financial support of domestic opposition groups, to conditions on aid packages, to the “hardest form”: unilateral military intervention. From a social constructionist standpoint (in distinction from, say, a theological or metaphysical one), while human rights might be thought to involve obligations toward humanity as a whole, for any given individual in a particular political community, a human right to democracy can imposes obligations only on fellow members of that community. The idea of a universal human right to democracy makes no sense, and outside intervention toward encouraging local democracy would not be warranted on human rights grounds. Still, the local vernacularization of human rights could possibly include the vernacularization of democracy. Then a human right to democracy would be a local, domestic construction by the participants themselves rather than a foreign import or imposition.