Here’s a report on last month’s meeting of the Tradition Project in Rome, on “The Value of Tradition in the Global Context.” Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito of the Supreme Court of the United States delivered the keynote address:
As a highlight of this year’s Tradition Project session, Justice Alito spoke about the relationship between international and national law in the context of human rights. “The conflict between global human rights norms and local legal traditions has become acute over the past decade,” says Professor Mark L. Movsesian, who directs the Center for Law and Religion and co-directs the Project with Professor Marc O. DeGirolami. “Justice Alito’s keynote addressed a timely topic in a substantive way. We were so honored to have him with us.”
After Justice Alito’s remarks, the Project convened a panel of respondents that included Giuseppe Dalla Torre, president of the Vatican City Tribunal; Ugo De Siervo, president emeritus of the Italian Constitutional Court; Chantal Delsol of the Academie des Sciences Morales et Politiques; and Andrés Ollero of the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal.
The session also included four invitation-only workshops on “Understandings of Tradition in the Global Context”; “Local Traditions and Global Government”; “Liberalism, Populism, and Nationalism”; and “Tradition and Human Rights.” Participants prepared short reflection papers on the various topics. “There was a lot to discuss in the workshops, and there will be a lot to keep elaborating and deepening in the near future,” says LUMSA Professor Monica Lugato, one of the Tradition Project session organizers. “It was a challenging and rewarding academic meeting.”
Thanks to our partners at LUMSA and at Villanova for co-sponsoring the Rome meeting. Watch this space for news about future Tradition Project events!
One not infrequently hears talk today of the “weaponization” of rights–particularly the rights of religious freedom and free speech in the Constitution’s First Amendment. Indeed, as I discuss in this paper, that rhetoric has even made its way into some opinions in the Supreme Court’s most recent term. Whether the rhetoric of weaponry is just that, or represents something more, is a major question. Clifford Bob seems to argue in this new book for something like the latter view. The book is Rights as Weapons: Instruments of Conflict, Tools of Power (Princeton University Press).
Rights are usually viewed as defensive concepts representing mankind’s highest aspirations to protect the vulnerable and uplift the downtrodden. But since the Enlightenment, political combatants have also used rights belligerently, to batter despised communities, demolish existing institutions, and smash opposing ideas. Delving into a range of historical and contemporary conflicts from all areas of the globe, Rights as Weapons focuses on the underexamined ways in which the powerful wield rights as aggressive weapons against the weak.
Clifford Bob looks at how political forces use rights as rallying cries: naturalizing novel claims as rights inherent in humanity, absolutizing them as trumps over rival interests or community concerns, universalizing them as transcultural and transhistorical, and depoliticizing them as concepts beyond debate. He shows how powerful proponents employ rights as camouflage to cover ulterior motives, as crowbars to break rival coalitions, as blockades to suppress subordinate groups, as spears to puncture discrete policies, and as dynamite to explode whole societies. And he demonstrates how the targets of rights campaigns repulse such assaults, using their own rights-like weapons: denying the abuses they are accused of, constructing rival rights to protect themselves, portraying themselves as victims rather than violators, and repudiating authoritative decisions against them. This sophisticated framework is applied to a diverse range of examples, including nineteenth-century voting rights movements; the American civil rights movement; nationalist, populist, and religious movements in today’s Europe; and internationalized conflicts related to Palestinian self-determination, animal rights, gay rights, and transgender rights.
Comparing key episodes in the deployment of rights, Rights as Weapons opens new perspectives on an idea that is central to legal and political conflicts.