Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Origins of Human Rights Regimes: Democratic Delegation in Postwar Europe

  • Andrew Moravcsik


Most formal international human rights regimes establish international committees and courts that hold governments accountable to their own citizens for purely internal activities. Why would governments establish arrangements so invasive of domestic sovereignty? Two views dominate the literature. “Realist” theories assert that the most powerful democracies coerce or entice weaker countries to accept norms; “ideational” theories maintain that transnational processes of diffusion and persuasion socialize less-democratic governments to accept norms. Drawing on theories of rational delegation, I propose and test a third “republican liberal” view: Governments delegate self-interestedly to combat future threats to domestic democratic governance. Thus it is not mature and powerful democracies, but new and less-established democracies that will most strongly favor mandatory and enforceable human rights obligations. I test this proposition in the case of the European Convention on Human Rights—the most successful system of formal international human rights guarantees in the world today. The historical record of its founding—national positions, negotiating tactics, and confidential deliberations—confirms the republican liberal explanation. My claim that governments will sacrifice sovereignty to international regimes in order to dampen domestic political uncertainty and “lock in” more credible policies is then generalized theoretically and applied to other human rights regimes, coordination of conservative reaction, and international trade and monetary policy.



Hide All
Ackerman, Bruce. 1997. The Rise of World Constitutionalism. Virginia Law Review 83 (4):771–97.
Ando, Nisuke. 1992. The Future of Monitoring Bodies—Limitations and Possibilities of the Human Rights Committee. In 1991–1992 Canadian Human Rights Yearbook, 169175. Toronto: Carswell.
Bailey, Michael A., Goldstein, Judith, and Weingast, Barry R.. 1997. The Institutional Roots of American Trade Policy: Politics, Coalitions, and International Trade. World Politics 49 (3):309–38.
Bass, Gary. 1998. Judging War: The Politics of International War Crimes Tribunals. Ph.D. diss., Harvard University.
Brett, Rachel. 1996. Human Rights and the OSCE. Human Rights Quarterly 18 (3):668–93.
Brysk, Alison. 1994. The Politics of Human Rights in Argentina: Protest, Change, and Democratization. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.
Carr, E. H. 1946. The Twenty Years'Crisis 1919–1939. 2d ed. London: Macmillan.
Carter, Barry E., and Trimble, Phillip R.. 1995. International Law. 2d ed. Boston: Little, Brown.
Collins, Susan M. 1988. Inflation and the EMS. In The European Monetary System, edited by Giavazzi, Francesco, Micossi, Stefano, and Miller, Marcus, 112–39. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Costello, Declan. 1992. Limiting Rights Constitutionally. In Human Rights and Constitutional Law: Essays in Honour of Brian Walsh, edited by O'Reilly, J., 177–87. Dublin: Round Hall Press.
Council of Europe. 1975. Recueil des Travaux Préparatoires. 6 vols. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.
David, Stephen R. 1991. Explaining Third-World Alignment. World Politics 43 (2):233–56.
Dijk, Pieter van, and van Hoof, G. J. H.. 1998. Theory and Practice of the European Convention on Human Rights. 3d ed. Hague: Kluwer.
Donnelly, Jack. 1986. International Human Rights: A Regime Analysis. International Organization 40 (3):599642.
Doyle, Michael W. 1986. Liberalism and World Politics. American Political Science Review 80 (4): 1151–69.
Drzemczewski, Andrew Z. 1983. The European Human Rights Convention in Domestic Law: A Comparative Study. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
European Court of Justice. 1996. Opinion Pursuant to Article 228 of the Treaty. Opinion 2/94 (29 March): I/1763–I/1790.
Evans, Peter B., Jacobson, Harold K., and Putnam, Robert D.. 1993. Double-Edged Diplomacy: International Bargaining and Domestic Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Falk, Richard A. 1981. Human Rights and State Sovereignty. New York: Holmes and Meier.
Finnemore, Martha. 1996. National Interests in International Society. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Finnemore, Martha, and Sikkink, Kathryn. 1998. International Norm Dynamics and Political Change. International Organization 52 (4):887917.
Franck, Thomas M. 1988. Legitimacy in the International System. American Journal of International Law 82 (4):705–59.
Frieden, Jeffry A. 1993. Making Commitments: France and Italy in the European Monetary System, 1979–1985. Working Paper Series 1.14. Berkeley, Calif.: Center for German and European Studies.
Glendon, Mary Ann. 1998a. Knowing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Notre Dame Law Review 73 (5): 1153–90.
Glendon, Mary Ann. 1998b. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unpublished manuscript, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Mass.
Goldstein, Judith. 1996. International Law and Domestic Institutions: Reconciling North American “Unfair” Trade Laws. International Organization 50:541–64.
Haggard, Stephan. 1997. The Political Economy of Regionalism in Asia and the Americas. In The Political Economy of Regionalism, edited by Mansfield, Edward and Milner, Helen, 2049. New York: Columbia University Press.
Helfer, Lawrence, and Slaughter, Anne-Marie. 1997. Toward a Theory of Effective Supranational Adjudication. Yale Law Journal 107 (2):273391.
Henkin, Louis, Neuman, Gerald L., Orentlicher, Diane F., and Leebron, David W.. 1999. Human Rights. New York: Foundation Press.
Humphrey, John P. 1974. The Revolution in the International Law of Human Rights. Human Rights 4:205–16.
Humphrey, John P. 1984. Human Rights and the United Nations: A Great Adventure. Dobbs Ferry: Transnational Publishers.
Huntington, Samuel. 1991. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Janis, Mark W., Kay, Richard S., and Bradley, Anthony W.. 1995. European Human Rights Law: Text and Materials. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Jepperson, Ronald L., Wendt, Alexander, and Katzenstein, Peter J.. 1996. Norms, Identity, and the Culture of National Security. In The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics, edited by Katzenstein, Peter J., 3375. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Kaufman, Chaim D., and Pape, Robert A.. 1999. Explaining Costly International Moral Action: Britain's Sixty-Year Campaign Against the Atlantic Slave Trade. International Organization 53 (4):631–68.
Keck, Margaret E., and Sikkink, Kathryn. 1998. Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Keohane, Robert O. 1986. Theory of World Politics: Structural Realism and Beyond. In Neo-Realism and Its Critics, edited by Keohane, Robert O., 158203. New York: Columbia University Press.
Krasner, Stephen D. 1992. Sovereignty and Intervention. Unpublished manuscript, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.
Krasner, Stephen D. 1995. Compromising Westphalia. International Security 20 (3): 115–51.
Krugman, Paul R. 1994. Peddling Prosperity: Economic Sense and Nonsense in the Age of Diminished Expectations. New York: Norton.
Kupchan, Charles A., and Kupchan, Clifford A.. 1991. Concerts, Collective Security, and the Future of Europe. International Security 16 (1):114–61.
Lake, David A. 1993. Leadership, Hegemony, and the International Economy: Naked Emperor or Tattered Monarch with Potential? International Studies Quarterly 37 (4):459–89.
Landes, William M., and Posner, Richard A.. 1975. The Independent Judiciary in an Interest-Group Perspective. Journal of Law and Economics 18 (3):875901.
Legro, Jeffrey W. 1996. Culture and Preferences in the International Cooperation Two-Step. American Political Science Review 90 (1): 118–37.
Legro, Jeffrey W., and Moravcsik, Andrew. 1999. Is Anybody Still a Realist? International Security 24 (2):555.
Lester, Anthony. 1984. Fundamental Rights: The United Kingdom Isolated? In 1984 Public Law, edited by Zellick, Graham, 4672. London: Stevens and Sons.
Lester, Anthony. 1994. Taking Human Rights Seriously. King's College Law Journal 5:115.
Manas, Jean E. 1996. The Council of Europe's Democracy Ideal and the Challenge of Ethno-National Strife. In Preventing Conflict in the Post-Communist World: Mobilizing International and Regional Organizations, edited by Chayes, Abram and Chayes, Antonia Handler, 99144. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.
Marston, Geoffrey. 1993. The United Kingdom's Part in the Preparation of the European Convention on Human Rights, 1950. International and Comparative Law Quarterly 42 (4):796826.
McKeon, Richard. 1949. The Philosophic Bases and Material Circumstances of the Rights of Man. In Human Rights: Comments and Interpretations, edited by UNESCO, 3546. New York: UNESCO.
Merrills, J. G. 1993. The Development of International Law by the European Court of Human Rights. 2d ed. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press.
Moe, Terry. 1990. Political Institutions: The Neglected Side of the Story. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 6 (1):213–53.
Moravcsik, Andrew. 1992. Liberalism and International Relations Theory. Center for International Affairs Working Paper Series 92–6. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University.
Moravcsik, Andrew. 1994. Why the European Community Strengthens the State: International Cooperation and Domestic Politics. Center for European Studies Working Paper Series No. 52. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University.
Moravcsik, Andrew. 1995. Explaining International Human Rights Regimes: Liberal Theory and Western Europe. European Journal of International Relations 1:157–89.
Moravcsik, Andrew. 1997. Taking Preferences Seriously: A Liberal Theory of International Politics. International Organization 51 (4): 513–53.
Moravcsik, Andrew. 1998a. The Choice for Europe: Social Purpose and State Power from Messina to Maastricht. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Moravcsik, Andrew. 1998b. The Origin of Human Rights Regimes: Liberal States and Domestic Uncertainty in Postwar Europe. Working Paper No. 98/17. Cambridge, Mass.: Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University.
Morsink, Johannes. 1999. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Morgenthau, Hans J. 1960. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. 3d ed. New York: Alfred Knopf.
Nye, Joseph S. Jr, 1990. Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. New York: Basic Books.
Pasquino, Pasquale. 1998. Constitutional Adjudication and Democracy: Comparative Perspectives—USA, France, Italy. Ratio Juris 11:3850.
Pierson, Paul. 1996. The Path to European Union: A Historical Institutionalist Analysis. Comparative Political Studies 29 (2): 123–63.
Polakiewicz, Jörg, and Jacob-Foltzer, Valérie. 1991. The European Human Rights Convention in Domestic Law: The Impact of Strasbourg Case Law in States Where Direct Effect Is Given to the Convention. Human Rights Law Quarterly 12:65–85, 125142.
Putnam, Robert D. 1988. Diplomacy and Domestic Politics. International Organization 42 (3): 427–61.
Ramirez, Francisco O., Soysal, Yasemin, and Shanahan, Suzanne. 1997. The Changing Logic of Political Citizenship: Cross-National Acquisition of Women's Suffrage Rights, 1890–1990. American Sociological Review 62 (5):735–45.
Risse, Thomas. 2000. Let's Argue! Communicative Action and International Relations. International Organization 54 (1):139.
Risse-Kappen, Thomas. 1994. Ideas Do Not Float Freely: Transnational Coalitions, Domestic Structures, and the End of the Cold War. International Organization 48 (2): 185214.
Risse-Kappen, Thomas. 1996. Collective Identity in a Democratic Community: The Case of NATO. In The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics, edited by Katzenstein, Peter J., 357–99. New York: Columbia University Press.
Robertson, A. H., and Merrills, J. G.. 1993. Human Rights in Europe: A Study of the European Convention on Human Rights. 3d ed. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press.
Robertson, A. H., and Merrills, J. G.. 1996. Human Rights in the World: An Introduction to the International Protection of Human Rights. 4th ed. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press.
Rodrik, Dani. 1989. Credibility of Trade Reform: A Policy Maker's Guide. World Economy 12 (1):116.
Ruggie, John Gerard. 1983. Human Rights and the Future International Community. Daedalus 112 (4):93110.
Russett, Bruce. 1993. Grasping the Democratic Peace: Principles for a Post–Cold War World. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Samnøy, Åshild. 1993. Human Rights as International Consensus: The Making of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1945–1948. Bergen: Michelsen Institute.
Shapiro, Martin. 1981. Courts: A Comparative and Political Analysis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Sieghart, Paul. 1983. The International Law of Human Rights. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Sikkink, Kathryn. 1993. The Power of Principled Ideas: Human Rights Policies in the United States and Western Europe. In Ideas and Foreign Policy: Beliefs, Institutions, and Political Change, edited by Goldstein, Judith and Keohane, Robert O., 139–70. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Simpson, A. W. Brian. 1998. Short History of the European Convention on Human Rights. Unpublished manuscript, University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor.
Slaughter, Anne-Marie, Sweet, Alec Stone, and Weiler, Joseph H. H., eds. 1998. The European Court and National Courts: Doctrine and Jurisprudence. Oxford: Hart Publishing.
Snyder, Jack. 1991. Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and International Ambition. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Teitgen, Pierre-Henri. 1988. Faites entrer le tèmoin suivant 1940–1958: de la résistance à la Ve République. Rennes, France: Ouest-France.
Van Evera, Stephen. 1990. Primed for Peace. International Security 15 (winter):757.
Van Evera, Stephen. 1999. The Causes of War: Power and the Roots of Conflict. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Waltz, Kenneth N. 1979. Theory of International Politics. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.
Wippman, David. 1999. Practical and Legal Constraints on Internal Power Sharing. In International Relations and Ethnic Conflict, edited by Wippman, David, 170–88. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Whitfield, John H. 1988. How the Working Organs of the European Convention Have Elevated the Individual to the Level of Subject of International Law. ILSA Journal of International Law 12:2753.

The Origins of Human Rights Regimes: Democratic Delegation in Postwar Europe

  • Andrew Moravcsik


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed