In offering an account of international human rights internal to public international law, Patrick Macklem’s The Sovereignty of Human Rights explicitly takes back international human rights from both moral and political theory. A number of the contributions to this UTLJ symposium on Macklem’s book speak to this context by questioning his positivist definition of law. To grasp the originality and ingenuity of Macklem’s account more fully, however, several contexts unstated in the book are essential. The second context identified and contested in the symposium is the contrast with current trends in legal thought that either meld international human rights with their domestic counterparts or dissolve them into transnational law. Other contributions add a third, rights-sceptical context, understanding Macklem’s account of international human rights as also addressed to critiques that human rights leave underlying structural injustices in place. The book’s revolutionary central claim is that the purpose of international human rights law is to mitigate the adverse effects of the distribution of power by public international law in the form of sovereignty. After distilling these three contexts from the articles in the symposium, this introduction argues that a genealogical reading of The Sovereignty of Human Rights points to temporality and transition as an important supplementary context. In effect, the book’s focus is on redistributions of sovereignty rather than on its distribution at large. The introduction concludes by asking, in this fourth context, what Macklem’s ‘theoretical architecture’ of international human rights might mean for new human rights.


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pp. 418-434
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