An Analysis of “Duties to Fulfill the Human Rights of the Poor”

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Alan Gewirth justifies the existence of human rights in his “Duties to Fulfill the Human Rights of the Poor” by claiming that human action is the grounding to possessing rights. Essentially, Gewirth explains that what makes one human is the ability of “action.” And therefore, in order to “act” one must have certain essential rights—rights of well-being and freedom (Gewirth 222). Gewirth then attempts to claim that the humans themselves have a duty to make sure other humans are entitled to the same rights that they themselves hold to be true. Simply, with the privilege of rights comes the responsibility of duty. He moves from this justification of human rights and one’s duty to help another, to suggest that current positions on solving global poverty are flawed and therefore unfeasible. Gewirth presents his own agency-empowering solution. I will show that Gewirth’s solution is subject to at least two of the same objections that Gewirth uses to discount the prevailing positions of today. Gewirth identifies two schools of thought concerning the process by which global poverty can be resolved. One maintains that a poverty-stricken country should care for its own citizens; this is called the internalist position. The other position, externalist, claims that rich countries should assist poverty-stricken countries in solving this global problem. Supporters of the internalist position believe that the root causes of a country’s poverty are internal—that the policies of the respective governments allow for poverty to persist. Thus, the internalist position holds that in order to eliminate poverty, these internal causes must be eliminated (229). Furthermore, the internalist position holds that, in many cases, governments do have the availability of food and other essentials to provide to its citizens; however, these governments, for whatever reason, fail to distribute these goods to the poor masses. Thus, in order to “galvanize these governments into action,”...
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