Burke and International Human Rights

Bruce Frohnen. "Burke and International Human Rights," in An Imaginative Whig: Reassessing the Life and Thought of Edmund Burke, ed. Ian Crowe (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005).


… I now focus on the thought of Edmund Burke, a statesman who, faced with a deep conflict of cultures, sought to integrate historical, moral, and political principles so as to combine support for universal rights with a defense of the rights of indigenous people to respect, and to follow and enrich their own traditions. The thrust of my argument is that Burke’s understanding of natural law is particularly useful for addressing the problem of international human rights in a multicultural world. This is the case because Burke’s perspective emphasizes the role of history in shaping cultures and guiding the application of universal norms. Burke saw local law as embodying both particular traditions and universal norms. Thus, in seeking to protect universal rights he recognized the need to respect and where possible maintain the coherence of ongoing cultures and societies, lest the people’s expectations be violated, along with many of their rights.

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