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Freedom, Want and Economic and Social Rights: Frame and Law

Katharine Young

Boston College - Law School

May 21, 2009

Maryland Journal of International Law, Vol 24, 2009

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized the aspiration for everyone to enjoy freedom from want and particular economic and social rights. Sixty years after the proclamation of the Universal Declaration, it is important to review its meaning and its effects in the context of significantly different legal, political, economic and cultural landscapes. To approach this task, this article employs the unusual device of considering a Norman Rockwell painting of "Freedom from Want". This painting, well-known in the United States, responded to the local wartime political culture, and depicted the private enjoyment of material security in patriarchal, consumerist and culturally uniform terms. This article employs the themes made evident in the painting to underscore the assumptions made in the text of the Universal Declaration. Having outlined this reading, it suggests an alternative framework for understanding economic and social rights. Firstly, economic and social rights provide an important frame around redistributive contestations that strive for universalism in expression and the location of institutional responsibility in response. Secondly, economic and social rights ground legal norms, which are in some cases enforceable and in others available to exert a different kind of pressure on legal decision-makers. As frame and as law, economic and social rights provide an important pragmatic justification for the Universal Declaration's continuing relevance.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 27

Keywords: economic and social rights, freedom from want, four freedoms, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Norman Rockwell, framing

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Date posted: May 26, 2009 ; Last revised: June 27, 2009

Suggested Citation

Young, Katharine, Freedom, Want and Economic and Social Rights: Frame and Law (May 21, 2009). Maryland Journal of International Law, Vol 24, 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1408366

Contact Information

Katharine Young (Contact Author)
Boston College - Law School ( email )
885 Centre Street
Newton, MA 02459-1163
United States

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