Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type



International Relations

First Advisor

Bruce Cronin

Second Advisor

Jean Krasno


human rights, cultural relativism, modernity, globalization


Modernity has given rise to the state as the primary unit in international relations moving away from the primacy of more traditional units such as the clergy, family, etc. Given this shift, the protections offered by these traditional units for individuals have shifted to the responsibility of the state. However, these protections are not a given. Individual rights can be compromised by the state for its overall benefit as states work to maintain and increase power in a globalized world.

The concept of human rights has been a response to the primacy of the state, outlining what the state should not do to its citizens and what it is compelled to provide. Though most states have embraced modernity when it comes to the primacy of the state and globalized markets, many have not been so quick to implement human rights. Some leaders argue that these rights are an invasion of their sovereignty and impose Western values that don't fit in with their own cultures. While cultural arguments can be valid, they can also be used by human rights violators as an excuse not to implement human rights norms. While the facets of modernity (the strong state, globalization and capitalism) that benefit elites are readily accepted, the response to that same modernity (human rights) is sometimes rejected as a form of Western imperialism.

Various non-Western states many embraced some parts of modernity while rejecting others. Cultural relativism is often the reason for their rejection of human rights but sometimes it is just an excuse. China, Ghana, Iran and Japan all have embraced the modern international community as far as economics and global markets. However, some of these countries have issues with human rights abuses. How true are these arguments of cultural relativism given these states' embrace of other aspects of modernity?



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