The Importance of Linkage Arguments for the Theory and Practice of Human Rights: A Response to James Nickel


In his article, "Rethinking Indivisibility: Towards a Theory of Supporting Relations between Human Rights," James Nickel challenges the common view that human rights are mutually linked in such a way that they are "indivisible." Although Nickel compellingly shows that the ideas of indivisibility and linkage arguments, as they have been used by many proponents, are ultimately unsatisfactory; I argue that we should not drop them or downplay their importance. We certainly must avoid exaggerated construals of indivisibility and linkage claims. They are not only false, but also could weaken the force of human rights discourse. But we should also avoid viewing such claims as too weak. Nickel warns against the first mistake, and I warn against the second. Rather, we should provide weaker, but still robust, versions of linkage arguments. I offer some hypotheses for those reformulations and suggest some examples of their fruitful application. In conclusion, this response maintains that the exploration of supporting relations between human rights retains great significance for the theory and practice of human rights.