- Commentary on The Second Great Transformation
In her article in the February 2005 issue of the Human Rights Quarterly, Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann has written an original and most provocative analysis that will undoubtedly be widely discussed. By contrast to other analysts, myself included, who have argued that globalization is detrimental to human rights, she contends that while this may be the case in the short run, the prospects are much better for the medium or long run. The author contends that in contrast to the First Great Transformation, the rise of capitalism, there is now an international bill of human rights and modern technology, such as the Internet, which have enabled the "leapfrogging" of human rights to the non-Western world. She also establishes a connection among capitalism, democracy, and human rights.
However, Howard-Hassmann does not take into account several factors that are crucial for any analysis of globalization and human rights that she will hopefully consider in any future work on the subject. In the first place, it is important to keep in mind that the rise of capitalism in Western Europe was an indigenous process bounded by the borders of the state, even though once established the capitalist states acquired colonies. Globalization, on the other hand, has no borders or boundaries. Perhaps more importantly, the First Great Transformation was subject to regulation by the state. Global actors are neither accountable to any electorate or government nor are they subject to any regulation. In fact, global actors, such as multinationals, set their own policies and rules free of any governmental constraints. In other words there are no global governmental institutions to regulate the global [End Page 1120] economy. Furthermore, while international human rights law has facilitated the rise of human rights activists throughout the globe, this does not translate into implementation of human rights, in light of the absence of enforcement mechanisms.
Lastly, the author's linkages among capitalism, democracy, and human rights are problematic. Although China has moved to a market economy, there are no signs of democratization or adherence to human rights. Eastern European and Central Asian states have made moves toward procedural democracy and capitalism but not toward substantive democracy or human rights. Of course Howard-Hassmann would argue that this is not the long term, but then she would have to set out the grounds on which she believes this will be the case. It should be pointed out that some democratic states, such as the United States, do not implement economic rights and restrict or violate human rights in the face of perceived threats such as communism or terrorism.
It is to be hoped that the above comments will be taken under consideration by the author in her future work.
Adamantia Pollis is Professor Emeritus at the Graduate Center, New School University. She has written extensively on human rights including a co-edited volume with Peter Schwab Human Rights: New Perspectives, New Realities in 2000, an article on globalization and human rights, and one on globalization and ethnic conflict. In addition she has done research and writing on Greece and Cyprus including the issue of religious freedom in Greece.