Is there a human right for democracy?

[¿Hay un derecho humano a la democracia? Una respuesta a Joshua Cohen]

Pablo Gilabert
Concordia University
S-M 210-00, M Annex, 2135 Mackay St, Montreal, Canadá

Is democracy a human right? There is a growing consensus within international legal and political practice that the answer is “Yes.” However, some philosophers doubt that we should see democracy as a human right. In this paper I respond to the most systematic challenge presented so far, which was recently offered by Joshua Cohen. His challenge is directed to the view that democracy is a human right, not to the view that democracy is part of what justice demands. It is instructive because it forces us to consider important questions about the nature and justification of human rights, including the putative human right to democracy. There is a tendency to see every claim of justice as a human right, and Cohen presses us to face the risk that this slip may occur in the case of democracy. Thus my aim is not simply to refute Cohen’s arguments but to engage the questions he forcefully and helpfully puts on the table. I start in section 2 by analyzing Cohen’s account of human rights. In section 3 I defend the human right to democracy against his challenge. I conclude in section 4 by articulating some reasons for the claim that democracy is a human right that mobilize and elaborate on some of Cohen’s own key premises.

Key words: Democracy – Global Justice – Human Rights – Joshua Cohen

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