Document Type

Article

Publication Date

January 2009

Abstract

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized the aspiration for everyone to enjoy freedom from want and particular economic and social rights. Sixty years after the proclamation of the Universal Declaration, it is important to review its meaning and its effects in the context of significantly different legal, political, economic and cultural landscapes. To approach this task, this article employs the unusual device of considering a Norman Rockwell painting of Freedom from Want. This painting, well-known in the United States, responded to the local wartime political culture, and depicted the private enjoyment of material security in patriarchal, consumerist and culturally uniform terms. This article employs the themes made evident in the painting to underscore the assumptions made in the text of the Universal Declaration. Having outlined this reading, it suggests an alternative framework for understanding economic and social rights. Firstly, economic and social rights provide an important frame around redistributive contestations that strive for universalism in expression and the location of institutional responsibility in response. Secondly, economic and social rights ground legal norms, which are in some cases enforceable and in others available to exert a different kind of pressure on legal decision-makers. As frame and as law, economic and social rights provide an important pragmatic justification for the Universal Declaration's continuing relevance.

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