Also: social integration in complex modern societies; problems and prospects of contemporary forms of justice, including human rights; coping with value pluralism within democratic societies but also in non-liberal polities around the world; “enlightened localism” and “thin norms” as practical strategies for accomplishing social integration and legal justice in both liberal and hierarchical societies; deploying contemporary sociological theory to solve problems in political philosophy.
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS 2012, paperback 2013
Title: Human Rights as Social Construction
Most conceptions of human rights rely on metaphysical or theological assumptions that construe them as possible only as something imposed from outside existing communities. Most people, in other words, presume that human rights come from nature, God, or the United Nations. This book argues that reliance on such putative sources actually undermines human rights. This book envisions an alternative; it sees human rights as locally developed, freely embraced, and indigenously valid. Human rights can be created by the average, ordinary people to whom they are addressed, and that they are valid only if embraced by those to whom they would apply. To view human rights in this manner is to increase the chances and opportunities that more people across the globe will come to embrace them.
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA PRESS (2016)
Title: The Human Rights State
The global institution of nation state sovereignty impedes the advance of human rights. By reconfiguring the politics of national boundaries into a politics of boundaries metaphorically “embedded” within the individual, I propose an alternative: the “human rights state,” which is guided by an inclusionary logic in distinction to the exclusionary logic of the sovereignty-fixated nation state. In this way the individual would endogenize some of the critical features of political and legal “bordering.” He or she would “carry” this border around with him- or herself as a status function assigned by the human rights state. Citizenship would then refer to the moral and juridical incorporation of the individual within a nongeographic sphere of human rights. Nongeographic borders embedded in the citizen would operate inside the contemporary nation state and directly challenge it. The human rights state, by displacing the legitimacy of human rights from the geographic state, moves legitimacy to a cross-national or transnational level. A central feature of this approach: cross-national or transnational legitimacy refers not to some sort of organization but rather to the human body as such. Political legitimacy —— in the sense of human rights whose legitimacy would no longer be tied to whatever nation state might embrace them —— needs to be both local and universal. It needs to be local because even with the advent of the human rights state, the practice and protection of human rights will be the more effective to the extent that it can be a primarily local matter. At the same time, moral and legal legitimacy might be grounded on the identity of all humans in terms of the body, with the same frailties and needs and vulnerabilities, equally in need of protection. The human rights state offers a means for legal rights and legal justice to attain global status.
Work-in-progress, accepted for review at CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS
Title: Human Nature as Cultural Design: The Political Challenge of Human Genetic Engineering
This book develops a reciprocal, co-constitutive relationship between biotechnology and the legal and moral norms of liberal democratic political communities (and considers possible relationships in some kinds of non-democratic communities). Ideally, such political communities would respond dynamically to changes in the environments created by advances in biotechnology. Ideally, they would do so in line with moral norms and positive laws animated by a new kind of moral thinking, one fitted to a biotechnological age: moral and legal norms that are dynamic not static, relativist not absolutist. A political community’s on-going evaluation of different forms of genetic engineering might then be accompanied by a different form of engineering, engineering of a normative kind, a new kind of normative thinking, one that meets the political challenges of genetic engineering.
I imagine a new kind of normative thinking in place of the current normative impasse in thinking, where no particular understanding of the proper goals and functions of genetic engineering can provide guidance beyond this or that sliver of cultural preference. That is, normative guidance is hard to come by given that no community today shares a single conception of what might constitute desirable genetic manipulations. Any given framing of the “enhanceable” human being —— from body to mind, from mood to moral capacity —— is embedded in particular cultural understandings. To be sure, some of those understandings are dynamic not static. For example, different human conditions can be “medicalized,” that is, transformed into treatable disorders, treatable within the purview of a particular system of health care and thus justified within it. A different form of dynamic framing within health care: the libertarian or neoliberal notion that whatever a physician and a patient can negotiate between themselves as medical treatment viable for them, even if rejected by others, as elective enhancement, not medically indicated therapy.
Both forms of dynamic framing within health care offer analogies for dynamic framings of genetic enhancement. I envision a different form of dynamism, that of a continually developing, principled path of thoughtful, rational deliberation toward framing an evolving, consensually held understanding of the proper domain of the practice of genetic engineering and genetic therapy (the hard part). Consensually held understandings would replace particular conventions that can provide no better justification than convention for how best to understand biomedical developments and possible practices. Consensually held understandings would also expand the critical examination of professional practices from internal to both internal and external.
The idea of humankind directing, politically, the course of its own evolution does not necessarily mean taking control of the species’ genome. It could mean taking control of the socially constructed cultural environment in which genetic enhancement takes places. That is, the human gene pool is not well conceived as a non-renewable natural resource vulnerable to exploitation, pollution, purification, diversion, or exhaustion. Perhaps the best way to approach the political challenge of genetic engineering is to focus on the perennial political tasks of maintaining, developing, and protecting mutual respect, good will, and tolerance for some kinds of difference, and beyond that, political communities of justice. The intractable question -- is there a human nature and, if so, what it might be? -- is then the question of what constitutes human well-being, just social arrangements, as well as individual and collective virtue. It is, in short, the question: not, What is our nature? But rather: What do we humans (beginning with those privileged to be part of the debate), as we aspire to just communities (conceived in a variety of ways), want our nature(s) to be?
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