Human Rights and the Care of the Self

Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: Published: May 2018

Politics > Political Theory, Sociology > Social Theory, Theory and Philosophy

When we think of human rights we assume that they are meant to protect people from serious social, legal, and political abuses and to advance global justice. In Human Rights and the Care of the Self Alexandre Lefebvre turns this assumption on its head, showing how the value of human rights also lies in enabling ethical practices of self-transformation. Drawing on Foucault's notion of "care of the self," Lefebvre turns to some of the most celebrated authors and activists in the history of human rights–such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Henri Bergson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Charles Malik–to discover a vision of human rights as a tool for individuals to work on, improve, and transform themselves for their own sake. This new perspective allows us to appreciate a crucial dimension of human rights, one that can help us to care for ourselves in light of pressing social and psychological problems, such as loneliness, fear, hatred, patriarchy, meaninglessness, boredom, and indignity.


"Human Rights and the Care of the Self is a beautifully written, erudite and teacherly (in the best sense – not dry and didactic but gently thought-provoking) account of a range of thinkers and a powerful re-reading of the concept of human rights itself." — Ben Golder, Contemporary Political Theory

"This very well written and provocative book is an important contribution to the history and philosophy of human rights, and several of the chapters could stand alone as insightful introductions to major human rights thinkers and controversies in the field."  — William Paul Simmons, Perspectives on Politics

"Lefebvre shows that human rights are persuasive because of their 'link . . . to motivations that are meaningful to people in their everyday lives'." — Karie Cross Riddle, Review of Politics

“In a world full of causes and distractions, why do we care about international human rights? There are many explanations for the dramatic rise of human rights in the second half of the twentieth century. They range from the naïve to the cynical. Few theoretical accounts manage to be as shrewd and yet at the same time as stirring.” — James Loeffler, Journal of Human Rights Practice

“Lefebvre's learned and original book creates a new itinerary within Western political and ethical thought.... Human Rights and the Care of the Self presents a valuable, thought-provoking argument that could enable educators and students to articulate their various commitments to human rights in complex and historically informed ways.” — Sarah Winter, symploke

“Alexandre Lefebvre is a unique voice in the humanities, one who takes up topics of enormous difficulty and does so with such tremendous erudition and fundamental insight that it is almost as if he is having a friendly discussion with the reader. Lefebvre claims that improving oneself rather than helping strangers is what the idea of human rights is all about and always has been—a claim that he pulls off with considerable brilliance. His reconstruction of human rights discourse in the 1940s is the truest that has ever been presented. Reading this remarkable book provided the most intellectually enjoyable hours that I can remember in a long time.” — Samuel Moyn, author of Human Rights and the Uses of History

“With an astute and powerful central argument, strong writing, a distinctive and compelling defense of human rights, and sharp insights into an impressive range of thinkers, Human Rights and the Care of the Self makes a provocative contribution to contemporary political thought and human rights scholarship.” — Ella Myers, author of Worldly Ethics: Democratic Politics and Care for the World


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Alexandre Lefebvre is Associate Professor in the Department of Government and International Relations and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sydney; coeditor of Henri Bergson and Bergson, Politics, and Religion, both also published by Duke University Press; and author of Human Rights as a Way of Life: On Bergson's Political Philosophy and The Image of Law: Deleuze, Bergson, Spinoza.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
1. The Care of the Self  9
2. The Juridical Subject as Ethical Subject: Wollstonecraft on the Rights of Man 25
3. Critique of Human Rights and Care of the Self  47
4. Human Rights as Spiritual Exercises: Tocqueville in America  61
5. Human Rights as a Way of Life: Bergson on Love and Joy  85
6. On Human Rights Criticism  105
7. An Ethic of Resistance I: Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  119
8. An Ethic of Resistance II: Malik and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  141
9. Human Rights Education  165
Conclusion  185
Notes  195
Bibliography  225
Index  245
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7131-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7122-9
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