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Counter-Elites Swimming Up-Stream: The Challenge of Pursuing a Political Rights Agenda where Economic Rights Trump


  • Grodsky Brian Keith

    (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)


The most recent spate of ‘democratic revolutions’, ushering in the fourth wave of democratization, seems to lend support to those advocating for the primacy of political and civil rights, over economic, cultural and social ones, in the human rights framework. In this article, I challenge that idea, arguing instead that the most recent regime changes, like so many that have preceded them, were, if anything, more about economic rights than political ones. I reassess not only the most recent ‘revolutions’, but also those that took place over the course of the 20th century, showing commonalities among the human rights goals of communists, anti-communists and contemporary pro-democracy leaders. By framing these various revolutionaries as human rights agents, and mass publics as their allies, this article is designed to engage readers in a debate about what, if any, sorts of rights truly hold primacy. The difference between today’s pro-democracy leaders and yesterday’s communist ones rests on the perceived international legitimacy of the democratic template. Yet all of these leaders, I argue, have essentially struggled for political change not as an end, but as a means to improved economic rights.

Suggested Citation

  • Grodsky Brian Keith, 2012. "Counter-Elites Swimming Up-Stream: The Challenge of Pursuing a Political Rights Agenda where Economic Rights Trump," New Global Studies, De Gruyter, vol. 6(3), pages 1-24, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:nglost:v:6:y:2012:i:3:p:24:n:2

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Finnemore, Martha & Sikkink, Kathryn, 1998. "International Norm Dynamics and Political Change," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 52(04), pages 887-917, September.
    2. repec:taf:ceasxx:v:42:y:1990:i:4:p:759-777 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Shareen Hertel & Lanse Minkler, 2007. "Economic Rights: The Terrain," Economic Rights Working Papers 1, University of Connecticut, Human Rights Institute.
    4. Gérard Roland, 2002. "The Political Economy of Transition," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(1), pages 29-50, Winter.
    5. Evans, Geoffrey & Whitefield, Stephen, 1995. "The Politics and Economics of Democratic Commitment: Support for Democracy in Transition Societies," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 25(04), pages 485-514, October.
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