Human rights in the age of antipaternalism

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Author: Daniel Smilov

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2020-2-58-71

Keywords: antipaternalism; constitutional identity; human rights; liberal democracy; populism; threatened majorities


The paper explores different scenarios, which put human rights under significant stress in the contemporary political environment. Three classical scenarios are outlined, which undermine human rights for the sake of greater security, greater happiness or greater popular power. The author suggests in this paper that human rights today are not likely to be undermined by these three classical scenarios. They most probably will not die a heroic death at the hands of a Leviathan, a Grand Inquisitor, or a Revolutionary Convent. Yet, there is some real danger that they could die the unusual death of exhibits in an ethnographic museum of the habits of endangered, self-centred majorities in liberal democracies. These majorities are convinced in the superiority of their way of life and have grown fearful of losing it. The fear has led to a (hopefully temporary) suspension of solidarity, empathy and compassion. Rights are often presented to be in tension with popular sovereignty and democracy. But rights have not flourished without democracy. The expansion of rights has historically been accompanied by democratisation. This is all the more troubling for rights, because liberal democracy today also seems under some threat. The paper argues that the predicament in which liberal democracy is the following: it has constructed ‘authentic’, self-centred and self-interested majorities. Politicians cater for the interest of these majorities by adopting a rather antipaternalist stance. From this point of view, the greatest danger to liberal democracy may not be that it slides into autocracy or oligarchy in the Aristotelian sense. According to Aristotle, a democracy could be defective when it is ruled by majorities, which do not care for the interest of society as a whole. Self-interest and egoism were according to him a way to the degradation of democracy (the politea) and its transformation into a rule of the mob. Contemporary democracy risks portraying itself exactly along these lines.

About the author: Daniel Smilov – Doctor of Philosophy, SJD in Law, Associate Professor, Sofia University, Sofia, Bulgaria.

Citation: Smilov D. (2020) Prava cheloveka v epokhu antipaternalizma [Human rights in the age of antipaternalism]. Sravnitel'noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol.29, no.2, pp.58–70. (In Russian).


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