In the closing months of his presidency, Bill Clinton and some of his
entourage have taken to using the buzzphrase "human and political
rights" to replace the simpler "human rights." A call to the White
House press office produced no explanation of the coinage, but
assured me that "no policy change was implied." It's always nice to
know that it is business as usual.
One would like to think that some sense of the paradoxes and
complications of the term "human rights" had come home to the
administration, and that in consequence it was on its way to even
more qualifications: perhaps "human, political, economic, legal,
cultural, national, sexual and domestic rights." This may be too much
to hope for, but one gets the impression that President Clinton has
meant to restrict "human" to "personal and family" and so needs to
tack on "political" to cover all those "rights" that are to do with
the wider society and participation in it. But what does this mean?
That political rights are not human? That "human" has to do only with
our persons and families? Whatever happened to "natural rights",
which traditionally used to cover all of the above?