The Influence and Legacy of Jimmy Carter’s Human Rights Policy: The Emergent Hegemony of Transnational Capital and Economic Rights

Stream: Panel 43 - International Relations: Moral Claims and Global Politics 
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 2.00 pm – 3.30 pm


In the epoch of transnational capitalism, has the exclusion of economic rights from the hegemonic definition of human rights been the result of the progression of liberalism, or has it been due to a more complex interaction between social forces and economic structures? The dialectical relationship between ideas, material conditions and institutions in the formation of historical structures, developed by Robert W. Cox, will provide a methodological framework for this study. Taking a historical materialist approach to historical structures, this paper will argue that the post-cold war human rights doctrine has its roots in the 1970’s. In a presidential term plagued by world wide financial crisis, the Carter administration saw the beginnings of neoliberal globalization, and diplomatic height of the Third World’s promotion of the New International Economic Order (NIEO), a movement that encompassed a call for collective economic rights and an extension of the welfare state. This paper argues that the Carter administration, constrained by the prevailing structures, used the agency within those constraints to transform US human rights policy. That transformation promoted civil and political rights as ‘human’ rights, and downgraded economic ‘rights’ to economic ‘aspirations’. This paradigm served the interests of transnational capital by supporting the reduction of the welfare state, and undercut the human rights model of the NIEO. This paper will utilize archival evidence to contend that the Carter administration’s definitional framework shaped the policy of the Bretton Woods institutions and set the precedent for Ronald Reagan’s neoliberal approach to human rights.


Courtney Hercus (Presenter), Macquarie University
Courtney Hercus has been recently awarded her PhD in political economy and international relations through Macquarie University, Sydney. Her PhD thesis, titled "The Lost Discourses of International Economic Rights: A critical approach to the construction of human rights," was developed through archival research at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, the Library of Congress, the World Bank and the United Nations. She has previously presented portions of this research at APSA in 2014, and at the British International Studies Association Annual Conference in London in 2015. She takes a critical, political economy approach to the study of international human rights.