Publication Details

S. Sorial, 'Law, cosmopolitan law, and the protection of human rights' (2008) 4 (2) Journal of International Political Theory 241-265.


In Between Facts and Norms, Habermas articulates a system of rights, including human rights, within the democratic constitutional state. For Habermas, while human rights, like other subjective rights have moral content, they do not structurally belong to a moral system; nor should they be grounded in one. Instead, human rights belong to a positive and coercive legal order upon which individuals can make actionable legal claims. Habermas extends this argument to include international human rights, which are realised within the context of a cosmopolitan legal order. The aim of this paper is to assess the relevance of law as a mechanism for securing human rights protection. I argue that positive law does make a material difference to securing individual human rights and to cultivating and augmenting a general rights culture both nationally and globally. I suggest that Habermas’ model of law presents the most viable way of negotiating the tensions that human rights discourse gives rise to: the tensions between morality and law, between legality and politics, and between the national and international contexts of human rights protection.

Grant Number


Included in

Law Commons