International human rights law is often criticized as an infringement of constitutional democracy. In The Promise of Human Rights, Jamie Mayerfeld argues to the contrary that international human rights law provides a necessary extension of checks and balances and therefore completes the domestic constitutional order. In today's world, constitutional democracy is best understood as a cooperative project enlisting both domestic and international guardians to strengthen the protection of human rights. Reasons to support this view may be found in the political philosophy of James Madison, the principal architect of the U.S. Constitution.
The Promise of Human Rights presents sustained theoretical discussions of human rights, constitutionalism, democracy, and sovereignty, along with an extended case study of divergent transatlantic approaches to human rights. Mayerfeld shows that the embrace of international human rights law has inhibited human rights violations in Europe whereas its marginalization has facilitated human rights violations in the United States. A longstanding policy of "American exceptionalism" was a major contributing factor to the Bush administration's use of torture after 9/11.
Mounting a combination of theoretical and empirical arguments, Mayerfeld concludes that countries genuinely committed to constitutional democracy should incorporate international human rights law into their domestic legal system and accept international oversight of their human rights practices.
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Jamie Mayerfeld is Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington.
Chapter 1. Human Rights
Chapter 2. Madison's Compound Republic and the Logic of Checks and Balances
Chapter 3. Europe and the Virtues of International Constitutionalism
Chapter 4. American Exceptionalism and the Betrayal of Human Rights, Part I: The Torture Memos
Chapter 5. American Exceptionalism and the Betrayal of Human Rights, Part II: Enabling Torture
Chapter 6. The Democratic Legitimacy of International Human Rights Law
"One of the most important of the powerful arguments in this wide-ranging book is its demonstration that the marginalization of international human rights in U.S. legal culture facilitated the 'moral and legal wreckage' and the 'strategic calamity' recently produced by torture."-Henry Shue, University of Oxford "The Promise of Human Rights speaks directly to U.S. debates about the appropriate relationship between international human rights law and domestic law and places the debates firmly within the context of torture in the War on Terror. Jamie Mayerfeld contributes an original addition to the scholarship."-Fiona de Londras, University of Birmingham "The Promise of Human Rights constitutes a splendid contribution to the literature."-Contemporary Political Theory "Jamie Mayerfeld's book is an important contribution to democratic theory and to human rights scholarship. His reasoning is lucid, the research careful, and the breadth impressive."-Michael Goodhart, University of Pittsburgh "The Promise of Human Rights: Constitutional Government, Democratic Legitimacy, and International Law is a compelling analysis of American exceptionalism and international human rights law. . . . [It] is a rich contribution to literatures on human rights and democratic theory and on America's place in the world, as well as the empirical literature on European institutions."-The Journal of Politics "Carefully researched and clearly written, the book has much relevance to contemporary times."-Choice "This is a remarkable book. . . . [It] offers a valuable and much needed reminder: International human rights law is not only about improving the practices of other countries (an 'outward looking' justification) but also about improving the practices of one's own country (an 'inward looking' justification). . . . The whole book is a very good read."-Perspectives on Politics "Jamie Mayerfeld's new book is an important contribution to both scholarly and popular debates about the legitimacy of international human rights law. . . . Mayerfeld's analysis effectively connects the specific strategies designed to limit the influence of international human rights law on US domestic law to how these specific moves were later exploited by Bush administration officials to legitimize torture."-Ethics
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