Ethics & International Affairs Volume 26.4 (Winter 2012): "Dignity in Adversity: Human Rights in Troubled Times" by Seyla Benhabib

Feb 13, 2013

Dignity in Adversity: Human Rights in Troubled Times, Seyla Benhabib (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity Press, 2011), 288 pp., $69.95 cloth, $24.95 paper.

Patrick Hayden (Reviewer)

It seems fair to say that the global support for human rights has reached the point where many scholars, activists, and citizens find it impossible to envisage a just world without them. Nevertheless, controversy still persists about what humans have a right to, how these rights should be implemented and enforced, and even whether human rights ought to be recognized at all. Despite their current popularity, then, human rights face a number of challenges, ranging from deep cultural differences, to nationalist and religious extremism, to suspicions of Western neoimperialism. Against critics who question the scope of human rights, their origin, and ultimately their aim or purpose, Seyla Benhabib’s engaging book places much hope in the exceptional promise of human rights to deliver justice and dignity. Benhabib believes human rights are central to a “cosmopolitanism without illusions” (p. 1), a critical theoretical position informed by cosmopolitanism’s ambiguous legacy and a sober assessment of political realities in today’s complex world. She brings acuity and depth to the cosmopolitan project, and takes it as a valuable example for understanding how human rights are to be justified and realized in self-governing polities.

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