That 'Springbreak' Feeling: Pragmatism, Irony and Belief in the Age of Human Rights

42 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2010

See all articles by Frederic Megret

Frederic Megret

McGill University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: December 15, 2009


This paper is a report that I presented at a recent workshop at the Sorbonne on Reevaluating Critical Approaches to International Law. I was rapporteur on international human rights and conceived the paper as both an introduction to and an evaluation of critical approaches to human rights law. I identify different strands of critique, some epistemological, others historical or substantive, or taking issue with the voice or the praxis of human rights. I try to recast critical voices in international human rights law as focused on ensuring that human rights retain their transformative potential, and do not merely ossify into an ideology of power. After pointing out some of the more familiar critiques of the critique - the limits of pragmatism as an ideology of rights, the need to bracket some doubts for any theory of political action, or the tendency to speak of the international human rights movement as if it were one - I do suggest that the future of international human rights thinking may lie in rediscovering some of the project's own critical energies. For example, I point out the relevance of current work on international human rights that seeks to emphasize their apologetic nature and, in particular, rights' tendency to become too embedded in the very international state structure they purport to criticize. I conclude with a few words on what might be an ethics of international human rights lawyering.

Keywords: human rights, international human rights, critique

Suggested Citation

Mégret, Frédéric, That 'Springbreak' Feeling: Pragmatism, Irony and Belief in the Age of Human Rights (December 15, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Frédéric Mégret (Contact Author)

McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec

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