Human Rights and Powerlessness: Pathologies of Choice and Substance

9 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2009 Last revised: 9 Feb 2010

Date Written: April 1, 2008


The human rights corpus is a bundle of pathologies of choice and substance. But these pathologies are ideologically driven and inhere in the human rights movement because of the political choices and biases that are part of the cultural universe of human rights. In particular, the corpus is captive to thin notions of human rights that tend not to challenge deeply embedded social and economic assumptions and systems. The historical narrative of the human rights movement closely parallels the hegemonic rise of the West and hence the movement’s imprisonment in an intellectual project that casts the human being in the narrow idiom of the traditional rights discourse.

Keywords: economic powerlessness, political despotism, economic tyranny, core political and civil rights, individualism, globalization, universal vision, liberalism

Suggested Citation

Mutua, Makau, Human Rights and Powerlessness: Pathologies of Choice and Substance (April 1, 2008). Buffalo Law Review, Vol. 56, p. 1027, 2008, Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010 - 001, Available at SSRN:

Makau Mutua (Contact Author)

SUNY Buffalo Law School ( email )

626 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
716 645-2311 (Phone)

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