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Global Human Rights, Peace and Cultural Difference: Huntington and the Political Philosophy of International Relations

  • Wolfgang Kersting (a1)

In 1989, the age of power political realism ended. The conditions were set to replace the prevailing Hobbesian model of peace by deterrence with the considerably more challenging Kantian model of peace by right. If, however, Huntington's paradigm of fighting civilizations were right, we would have to forget Kant and remember Hobbes. Sober rationality, healthy distrust, striving for power accumulation and all the other instruments from the realist's toolbox of political prudence are very well suited to facilitate political self-assertion in an age of violently clashing cultures. However, this helplessness is not well grounded. Considering that from the very beginning liberalism is a theory of religious and ethical pluralism and well-experienced in dealing with problems of multiculturalism, it is at least possible to argue for a weak liberal universalism which provides normative foundations for a global order of peacefully living together. Of course, conceptual and moral modesty is crucial. If the human rights doctrine wants to defend its universal claim in the face of cultural diversity (which is defined as culturally different interpretations of a good, true and perfect human life), it has to restrict itself to the conditions of esse: the pre-cultural and sheer natural conditions of human being and human coexistence. However, the formulation of the conditions of bene esse (which enable human flourishing, let persons thrive and furnish human living with sense and significance) has to be left to culture and its authorities and belief systems which buttress a cultural constitution of meaning, both theologically and metaphysically. Traditional natural rights theory knew that both have to go together, and that the esse-enabling duties necessarily enjoy priority. No cultural conception of thriving life and existential significance can be accepted which contradicts the fundamental imperatives and conditions of pure human existence and coexistence.

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Samuel P. Huntington , ‘The clash of civilizations?’, Foreign Affairs, 72 (1993), 2249; cf.

R. J. Jepperson and A. Swidler , ‘What properties of culture should we measure?’, Poetics, 22 (1994), 359–71, 359.

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Kantian Review
  • ISSN: 1369-4154
  • EISSN: 2044-2394
  • URL: /core/journals/kantian-review
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