Anti-individual morality in the international human rights system

David McGrogan*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article argues that modern human rights practice is largely imbued with an understanding of morality which is properly described as ‘anti-individual’ in the sense in which Michael Oakeshott used that phrase. In summary, this means that the contemporary human rights movement is informed by a vision of morality as something that is to be imposed on populations from above for their own good, rather than something that inheres within each individual and is contingent on free choice. This gives effect to a fundamentally managerial approach, meaning that international human rights law now largely manifests itself in obligations imposed on States to coordinate societies towards benevolent ends. This undoubtedly derives from good motives, but it means that the human rights movement for the most part buttresses an aggrandisement of the State that will happen regardless. This places it on the side of a creeping paternalistic ‘soft despotism’ – a development that is to be regretted.
Original languageEnglish
Article number092405192210925
Pages (from-to)137-157
Number of pages21
JournalNetherlands Quarterly of Human Rights
Issue number2
Early online date4 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022


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