NEWEST BOOK: Title: Human-Rights as Social Construction (Cambridge University Press 2011)
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.
UNDER ADVANCE CONTRACT AT UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA PRESS:
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 – rights and not only, as now, market economics.
UNDER REVIEW AT CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS:
Title: Second Nature: The Genetic Self-Transformation of the Human Species
For the first time since evolving 200,000 years ago, Homo sapiens sapiens may soon transform itself biologically, a development as significant as Copernicus’ transformation of the geocentric world view or Darwin’s of the anthropocentric understanding of animal life. One aspect of transformation is irresistibly hopeful: making predictive genetics available to all persons so that all might avoid or minimize genetic risks; providing prenatal genetic modification to decrease disease-susceptibility, eradicate congenital disabilities and extend life-span. But a different aspect of transformation unnerves: like the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions, it forces us to re-evaluate human nature. Is genetic chance, as distinguished from genetic choice in the sense of enhancement, a psychologically, culturally or legally necessary precondition for contemporary liberal conceptions of individual freedom? This question distinguishes between culture (the science and technology of manipulation) and biology (the genes targeted). Yet genetic transformation is no less a cultural phenomenon than a biological one. It should therefore incorporate agonistic politics. The book argues that human nature and human culture lie on a continuum; at points, each intersects with the other as culture designs nature, leading to nature as culture, where genetic chance (in natural reproduction) is displaced by genetic choice (through technology). And it answers the question: where, in the stages of natural development, lies the threshold at which political community might recognize life as bearing rights that might protect it from manipulation?
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