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Cover Issues in Political Theory

11. Human Rights  

Tom Campbell

This chapter focuses on human rights. Human rights are derived historically from the idea of natural law as it developed on a strong religious basis in late medieval Europe and, later, in a more secularized form during the more rationalist period of the Enlightenment. Meanwhile, the contemporary human rights movement stems from the aftermath of World War II. It is associated, domestically, with constitutional bills of rights and, internationally, with the work of the United Nations. Human rights may be defined as universal rights of great moral and political significance that belong to all human beings by virtue of their humanity. They are said to be overriding and absolute. Human rights may be divided into three overlapping groups: civil and political rights; economic, social, and cultural rights; and group or collective rights for development and self-determination.

Chapter

Cover Political Thinkers

11. Hugo Grotius  

Camilla Boisen

This chapter examines Hugo Grotius' key political ideas. Grotius, one of the most prolific and erudite writers of the seventeenth century, sought to formulate a set of universal rights and duties that would secure peace by constraining states in their internal and external relations. Drawing on a wide range of philosophical and literary sources, including Roman law, ancient classics, theology, and poetry, Grotius rehabilitated the natural law in an attempt to achieve harmony in an increasingly splintered political environment. After providing a short biography of Grotius, the chapter analyses his views on natural law, natural rights, property rights, sociability, self-preservation, and social contracts. It also discusses Grotius' arguments regarding international order in the context of just war theory and punishment and concludes with an assessment of Grotius' legacy in the area of political thought.

Chapter

Cover Global Environmental Politics

5. The tragedy of the commons and sovereign rights  

This chapter assesses the rights governing access to globally shared natural resources, such as fish stocks, deep seabed minerals, and clean air. The international system is based on the principle of national sovereignty, which says that each state has absolute, perpetual, and exclusive rights within its national territory. This construction does not, however, match ecological realities. There is a stark contrast between states' territorial divisions and the biosphere's ecological connectedness. The chapter explores this tension and its relationship to decision-making in natural resource management. How can sovereign states manage the earth's resources if they are fragmented in separate territories that overlap complex ecosystems? This question is often approached using the ‘tragedy of the commons’ metaphor. When the metaphor is applied to the global commons, two main policy options emerge. The first is a coordinated approach building on the notion of a ‘common heritage of humankind’. The second policy option is a decentralized approach based on states' sovereign rights.

Chapter

Cover Rethinking Political Thinkers

5. Thomas Hobbes  

Signy Gutnick Allen

This chapter discusses the ideas of Thomas Hobbes, focusing on his account provided in Leviathan (1651). By emphasizing the importance of centralized state power underpinned by individuals’ consent, the Hobbesian approach to politics highlights a set of key questions. What does it mean to be a citizen? What are the grounds, nature, and limits of political authority and obligation? The chapter begins by outlining Hobbes’s presentation of the state of nature, natural right, and the laws of nature, linking his analysis to his materialist science. It then turns to Hobbes’s explanation of the origins of the state and explores his argument that the political relationship is fundamentally representative. The chapter also explains his understanding of sovereignty, as well as his theory of inalienable rights. Finally, it examines the possibility that this retained right is the seed of a right to rebel against the sovereign, before considering Hobbes’s legacy.