Is There a Human Right to Democracy? Beyond Interventionism and Indifference

20 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 12 Aug 2011

See all articles by Seyla Benhabib

Seyla Benhabib

Yale University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2011


There is wide-ranging disagreement in contemporary discourse about the justification as well as the content of human rights. On the one hand, the language of human rights has become the public vocabulary of a conflict-ridden world which is increasingly growing together. The spread of human rights, as well as their defense and institutionalization, are now seen as the uncontested language, though not the reality, of global politics. In this essay I wish to shift both the justification strategy and the derivation of the content of human rights away from minimalist concerns towards an understanding of human rights in terms of the “right to have rights” (Hannah Arendt). I will defend a discourse-theoretic justification strategy which seeks to synthesize the insights of discourse ethics with Hannah Arendt’s concept. I thereby hope to point the way toward a more robust defense of human rights within a global justice context. Whereas in Arendt’s work, “the right to have rights” is viewed principally as a political right and is narrowly defined as the “right to membership in a political community,” I will propose a non-state-centered conception of the “right to have rights,” understood as the claim of each human person to be recognized and to be protected as a legal personality by the world community.

Suggested Citation

Benhabib, Seyla, Is There a Human Right to Democracy? Beyond Interventionism and Indifference (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Seyla Benhabib (Contact Author)

Yale University - Department of Political Science ( email )

128 Prospect St.
Yale University
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

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