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Basic rights and cosmopolitan justice from an enlightened localist perspective

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This article links a normative analysis of basic rights to an important debate between cosmopolitans and localists on the moral standing of particular political communities. Cosmopolitan scholars often defend the universality of basic rights by appealing to the importance of satisfying the vital needs of every human being. For its part, the localist critique of cosmopolitanism defends compatriot favoritism and emphasizes the role of particularist attachments that are thought to cultivate solidarity, reciprocity, and legitimacy. I move beyond this dualism and adopt an “enlightened localist” approach that justifies basic rights from a universal-cosmopolitan perspective even as it attends to local commitments when faced with corresponding issues of agency and the distribution of responsibility. I distinguish different cosmopolitan accounts in favor of basic rights and argue that one of them successfully defends the validity of basic rights from a universal perspective. But such an account cannot resolve the problem of agency in the global sphere: it cannot specify how transnational obligations corresponding to these basic rights should be allocated. In short, while the normative justification of basic rights is persuasive, the distribution of responsibilities that would render such rights institutionally effective rests on shaky grounds. I conclude by showing that cosmopolitan responsibilities corresponding to basic rights are more appropriately discharged by local communities as the most relevant agents of global justice - if such localism proceeds from an “enlightened” perspective.

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