This paper addresses the problem of historical change in human rights. Analyzing
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the paper suggests that
human rights maintain a view of historical change—a “philosophy of history”—
which might be given further body, or fleshed-out, via Hegelian philosophy of
history. “Alienation” is a decisive concept. Alienation drives concepts of change
both in the UDHR and Hegelian concepts of historical transformation. The point
here is less as a matter of Hegel scholarship, or valorizing the role of Hegel in the
history of human rights, than indicating human rights as a philosophy of history.
I.e., as much as law, social practice, institutional concept or mode of international
relations, human rights might represent a way of thinking about the past. This
has consequences for the “culture” problem surrounding human rights—i.e., are
human rights interculturally comprehensible, and what are the bases for making
arguments in that regard? This paper will offer no final answers to these questions.
The paper will indicate, however, that the problem of historical thought
may have a role to play in ongoing debates in the area.