Inaugural Lecture of Nehal Bhuta
From Becca Selby
Edinburgh Law School presents: The Inaugural Lecture of Professor Nehal Bhuta
About the lecture
Despite a flourishing in the constitutionalization and adjudication of social rights over the last 30 years, it has recently been powerfully argued – as part of a more extensive accumulation of the critiques of human rights law and practice – that economic and social rights are fundamentally inadequate to meet the challenge of widening inequality in societies such as the United States and Western Europe. An important part of this argument is that economic and social rights lag, rather than lead, deeper processes of political economic change, and thus essentially reflected rather than helped bring about the rise of welfare states in the advanced capitalist world.
In the aftermath of a 40-year dismantling of post-war welfare and developmental states, the argument goes, economic and social rights are merely straws in the wind, legalistic arguments which are essential powerless to reverse the wider triumph of neoliberal political economy. In this lecture, I consider some of these arguments and largely agree with them. But I also argue that the legalism of the last 35 years has lost sight of the deeper, motivating, function of rights discourses in laying the foundation for the idea of the social state.
This historical story has been largely obscured by the Marxist critique of rights, and human rights lawyers are equally oblivious to it. What this history points us to is another register of social rights which demanded not only subsistence but a fair share for all through the organization of the economy. This profoundly political-ethical idea of social right is wider and deeper than international human rights law’s current approach to economic and social rights and might serve as a better example of what a rights language should aim at.
About the Speaker
Nehal Bhuta holds the Chair of Public International Law at University of Edinburgh and is Co-Director of the Edinburgh Centre for International and Global Law. He previously held the Chair of Public International Law at the European University Institute in Florence, where was also Co-Director of the Institute's Academy of European Law. He is a member of the editorial boards of the European Journal of International Law, the Journal of International Criminal Justice, Constellations and a founding editor of the interdisciplinary journal Humanity. He is also a series editor of the Oxford University Press (OUP) series in The History and Theory of International Law. Prior to the EUI he was on the faculty at the New School for Social Research, and at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. Before entering academia, he worked with Human Rights Watch and the International Center for Transitional Justice. Nehal works on a wide range of doctrinal, historical and theoretical issues in international law, international humanitarian law, international criminal law and human rights law.