Universal Rights and Individual Freedom

Authored by: David Chandler

The Routledge Companion to Humanitarian Action

Print publication date:  March  2015
Online publication date:  March  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415844420
eBook ISBN: 9780203753422
Adobe ISBN: 9781135013936


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Humanitarian policy interventions seek to ‘fill the gaps’ left by the ‘natural’ or normal operations of economic development and market relations. They work in the separate field or space of the exception, where normal considerations or rights and sovereignty or Western norms do not necessarily apply. On one level this humanitarian framing is universal, based on the shared nature of the human subject; however, this universalism is distinct from that of classical liberal framings of a telos of universalizing economic and social trends. Humanitarianism works on the exception and by its very nature excludes its subjects from liberal framings of equality. This is a universalism that works precisely to demarcate a hierarchy of capabilities and capacities and, in effect, to explain or rationalize inequality. In this way, today’s human-centred policy framings of intervention fit well into previous exceptional policy interventions, demarcating Western interveners from the ‘Other’, subject to such interventions.

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