Anthony Hallal, Faculty of Arts, Monash University
Many in the global community agree that democracy is appealing because applying democratic principles at the domestic level has desirable consequences. Some would further argue that these consequences are so desirable that there should be a human right to democracy itself. One prominent argument for a human right to democracy (HRD) proposes that democracies routinely implement other valuable human rights known as personal integrity rights, whereas non-democracies routinely violate these other rights, and for this reason, there should be a HRD. This article illustrates some of the problems with such an argument. After presenting this prominent instrumental argument for a HRD, I show that its central premise is either (i) false; or (ii) so demanding that it poses an unacceptable threat to the principles of state sovereignty and self-determination.
Keywords: Human rights, democracy, instrumental justification, government, political system
Many in the global community agree that democracy is an attractive political system because applying democratic principles at the domestic level has desirable consequences. Some would further argue that these consequences are so desirable that there should be a human right to democracy itself. Arguments of this sort are instrumental in the sense that they support a human right to democracy (HRD) on the basis that democracy is helpful in bringing about other goods or values. One prominent instrumental argument for a HRD proposes that democracies routinely implement other valuable human rights known as personal integrity rights whereas non-democracies routinely violate these other rights and, for this reason, there should be a HRD ('the instrumental argument'). This article will illustrate some of the problems with the instrumental argument. As a conceptual preliminary, I will define democracy in a way that is relevant to the current debate. After presenting the instrumental argument for a HRD, I will show that the central premise of the instrumental argument can be articulated in one of three ways. I then argue that all three versions of the central premise are problematic. I demonstrate that, depending on how the central premise is articulated, the instrumental argument is either (i) unsound; or (ii) so demanding that it poses an unacceptable threat to the principles of state sovereignty and self-determination. Likely responses to these problems are also addressed.
To present the strongest case for a HRD, the relevant literature generally employs a minimalistic definition of democracy: democracy in its least demanding form. While the concept of democracy is notoriously contested (see Dryzek, 2016: 357-63), it is most commonly characterised (either explicitly or implicitly) as a political system that consists of at least six interdependent ingredients (see e.g. Christiano, 2011: 146-47; Myketiak, 2011: 34-35; Buchanan, 2007: 146). First, positions in office must be filled based on the outcomes of genuine and periodic elections. Second, voting rights must be given indiscriminately to all competent individuals, and all individuals' votes must be weighted equally. Third, all individuals must be given equal opportunities to run for office and to determine the agenda of decision-making. Fourth, freedom of expression, association and assembly - all of which are necessary for effective public deliberation and political participation - must be institutionally assured in relation to at least political matters. Fifth, multiple competitive parties representing a variety of views must be present within the legislature. And lastly, sixth, the state must operate in accordance with the rule of law in order to provide an effective check against the exercise of executive power. For consistency, this article will operate using this skeletal definition of democracy, sometimes called minimally egalitarian democracy (see e.g. Christiano, 2011: 145-47). A political system lacking any one of these ingredients is not, for the purposes of the current discussion, a democracy, and therefore constitutes a non-democracy. It is also worth noting at this point that democracy is not synonymous with political participation, a comprehensive discussion of which is beyond the scope of this article. Rather, democracy is one of numerous possible manifestations of political participation.
The instrumental argument for a HRD
The instrumental argument that is the focus of this article proposes that democracy should be a human right because it is instrumental to the implementation of other important human rights. Such an argument is expounded by Thomas Christiano (2011: 142-66), who observes that democratic states tend to successfully implement fundamental human rights pertaining to personal integrity. Personal integrity rights include, inter alia, the human rights to be free from torture, from arbitrary killing and from arbitrary detention. The moral importance of personal integrity rights is uncontroversial, and so the implementation of these fundamental rights is obviously desirable. Statistically, argues Christiano, there is a strong correlation connecting democracies to the implementation of personal integrity rights. A similarly strong correlation connects non-democracies to a failure in implementing these rights (Christiano, 2011: 147-52). These correlations stand even after extraneous variables are accounted for (Christiano, 2011: 152-53). The correlations are inferred from the empirical observation that a state's commitment to democratic principles, as measured by the Polity IV scale, is (roughly) inversely proportional to the frequency and severity of that state's human rights violations, as measured by the Political Terror Scale (Christiano, 2011: 149-52). That is, more democracy tends to bring about fewer and milder violations of personal integrity rights, whereas less democracy tends to bring about more frequent and severe violations. As such, democracies reliably implement personal integrity rights, and non-democracies reliably violate these rights (Christiano, 2011: 149-52). This empirical proposition is supported by a broad body of scholarship (see e.g. Poe, Tate and Keith, 1999: 291-313; Bueno de Mesquita et al., 2005: 439-57; Davenport and Armstrong, 2004: 538-54).
Moreover, argues Christiano (2011: 153-54), the existing evidence indicates that democracy only brings about the implementation of personal integrity rights after a newly democratic state undergoes a period of maturity. This, he suggests, indicates the sequence of the relevant events: democracy brings about implemented personal integrity rights, rather than implemented personal integrity rights bringing about democracy (Christiano, 2011: 153).
Christiano (2011: 158-59) explains the correlations connecting democracy to the implementation of personal integrity rights and non-democracy to the violation of these rights by suggesting that, in a democracy, strong views opposing the conduct of authorities can freely check against rights violations. Such an effective check is absent in non-democracies, hence their statistical tendency to violate rights (Christiano, 2011: 159). In other words, democracy is instrumental to the implementation of personal integrity rights because democracy separates rulers from the unchecked power that generally entails rights violations.
On the basis of the correlations described above, the central premise of the instrumental argument for a HRD may reasonably be articulated as one of the following three propositions: either (i) that democracy is sufficient to ensure the implementation of personal integrity rights; (ii) that democracy is necessary in order to implement personal integrity rights; or (iii) that democracy is relatively better at ensuring the implementation of personal integrity rights than alternative political systems. However, all articulations of the central premise support the same claim: that there should be a human right to democracy itself because democracy reliably performs some important role in implementing other fundamental human rights, including personal integrity rights, and the implementation of personal integrity rights is highly desirable (Christiano, 2011: 143). Accordingly, if (i), (ii) or (iii) are accepted, then there seems to be a compelling prima facie justification for a HRD. If (i)-(iii) are rejected, then it appears as though the instrumental argument fails. Indeed, Christiano (2011: 154) explicitly favours (iii) over (i) and (ii), conceding that democracy is neither a strictly necessary nor a strictly sufficient condition for implementing personal integrity rights. However, for completeness, and to pre-empt others that may repurpose Christiano's philosophical and empirical artillery to support the positions contained in (i) and (ii), the next section of this article will show that all three articulations of the central premise should be rejected.
Some problems with the instrumental argument: The central premise is either false or too demanding
Democracy alone is not sufficient to guarantee the implementation of personal integrity rights
The central premise of the instrumental argument for a HRD may be articulated in terms of sufficiency. It may be argued that the correlations connecting democracy to the implementation of personal integrity rights, and non-democracy to the violation of these rights, prove that democracy is sufficient to guarantee the implementation of personal integrity rights. If this position is true, then it would follow that such rights are always implemented in any democracy and this would lend great persuasive force to the instrumental argument for a HRD.
However, such an articulation of the central premise is plainly false as it is based on an equivocation between likelihood and certainty. That democracies are likely to implement personal integrity rights does not prove that democracies will always implement personal integrity rights. Any claim that democracy is sufficient to ensure the implementation of these rights is undermined by the countless historical instances in which they have in fact been violated by democracies (Hessler, 2006: 263). One example of this can be located in the case of Van Alphen v The Netherlands, where the Human Rights Committee found that the Netherlands had detained a Dutch solicitor arbitrarily. This violation of personal integrity rights occurred despite the fact that the Netherlands is maximally democratic according to the Polity IV scale. Other examples can be located by perusing the findings of the various human rights treaty bodies in past cases. Such examples demonstrate that the presence of democracy does not necessarily guarantee the implementation of personal integrity rights. Effectively, this disproves the claim that democracy is itself sufficient to ensure the implementation of these rights.
Democracy is not strictly necessary in order to implement personal integrity rights
Given that democracy alone is not sufficient to ensure the implementation of personal integrity rights, the central premise of the instrumental argument may instead be articulated in terms of necessity. Proponents of the instrumental argument for a HRD may contend that the correlations described above prove that democracy is necessary in order to implement personal integrity rights. This necessity-based position is distinguishable from the sufficiency-based articulation of the central premise in that it does not propose that democracy alone is enough to ensure the implementation of personal integrity rights. Proponents of this necessity-based position can concede that democracy is merely one of several necessary ingredients that must be present before personal integrity rights can be implemented. Accordingly, this account is not undermined by examples of democracies sometimes violating rights because such violations may be attributed to a failure or absence of other elements that must exist before a state can implement personal integrity rights. If this position is true, then personal integrity rights cannot possibly be implemented in the absence of democracy, and so it would seem as though the instrumental argument would gain much force.
However, this second construction of the central premise is also false. In order for it to be true that democracy is necessary for the implementation of personal integrity rights, it must be the case that every personal integrity right is violated in every non-democracy. Accordingly, this version of the central premise is undermined by any example of a non-democracy that effectively implements at least some personal integrity rights. Singapore is one such example. The Polity IV scale currently classifies Singapore as a non-democracy, while the Political Terror Scale indicates that Singapore is currently implementing personal integrity rights to a high standard. Oman is arguably another example of this phenomenon. Accordingly, Christiano's (2011) own measures indicate that some non-democracies do in fact implement personal integrity rights, thereby illustrating that democracy is not strictly necessary for the implementation of these rights.
Indeed, Christiano (2011: 157-58) and others (see e.g. Griffin, 2008: 251-52; Myketiak, 2011: 36-37; Langlois, 2003: 1014; Shue, 1980: 74-78) will likely respond to examples of rights-respecting non-democracies like Singapore and Oman by arguing that human rights can only be truly, or securely, implemented in a democratic state. It is arguable that securing human rights requires some level of certainty that the implementation of these rights will not be revoked at a later time. This is provided in a democratic state because the possibility of not being elected (or re-elected) deters governments from violating human rights in the first place, and affords citizens a mechanism through which they can stop human rights violations from continuing if and when they do occur. This assurance cannot exist in a non-democracy, they say, where there is no guarantee that rights will not be violated at the whim of state authorities. However, while this assurance is valuable, it is unclear why the implementation of human rights in its absence should be ignored altogether. A state that can, or is even very likely to, bring about rights violations is not the equivalent of a state that has actually violated rights (Lister, 2012: 267-68). Only if the governments of Singapore and Oman actually become violators of human rights can they be categorised as such. Until that time, the laws and practices through which these states implement personal integrity rights must be recognised and accounted for. Accordingly, there are in fact examples of non-democracies that implement at least some personal integrity rights. Following on, the view that democracy is strictly necessary for the implementation of personal integrity rights is false insofar as non-democracies are capable of actually implementing these fundamental rights.
The problem with relying on democracy's relative superiority: The threat to state sovereignty and self-determination
The third and most compelling possible articulation of the instrumental argument's central premise posits that the HRD will be justified if democracy simply brings about better human rights records than alternative political systems. The empirical evidence discussed above suggests that this is indeed the case (Christiano, 2011: 169-70). Unlike the sufficiency-based and necessity-based positions discussed previously, this articulation of the instrumental argument can withstand examples of personal integrity rights sometimes being violated within democracies or implemented within non-democracies. Proponents of this view would contend that a HRD is justified because democracy is the political system that is statistically most likely to ensure the implementation of personal integrity rights.
However, this construction of the instrumental argument is problematic because it proves too much (Lister, 2012: 268-69). In doing so, it poses an unacceptable threat to state sovereignty and self-determination. This third version of the central premise assumes that there should be a human right to the political system that provides the greatest likelihood of personal integrity rights being implemented. However, if this is accepted, then it seems that there should be a human right not to at least a minimally egalitarian democracy, but to the exact kind of democratic system that is most likely to lead to the implementation of personal integrity rights. Variations in democratic states' political systems, and in their level of commitment to democratic principles, lead to differences in their human rights records (Lister, 2012: 268-69). The United States, for instance, has a different human rights record to Australia. While both countries satisfy the elements of a democracy and both are maximally democratic according to the Polity IV scale, they each employ different systems of democratic government. Accepting this third articulation of the central premise would force us to prescribe the exact system of government that states should adopt. It would mean that the instrumental argument justifies a human right to a very particular form of democracy, including its specific features and institutional arrangements. This is too demanding and it undermines state sovereignty. Respecting state sovereignty entails allowing states to control how their territory is governed. Insisting that a government overrides its existing democratic institutions with a different variation of democracy seems repugnant to the principle of sovereignty. Doing so also appears to conflict with the self-determination of the target state's population, as they would effectively become unable to decide how they will be governed. Indeed, all human rights undermine the principles of state sovereignty and self-determination to some extent. Limiting the exercise of state sovereignty and the scope of self-determination is arguably a defining function of human rights. However, requiring a specific form of democracy seems to limit sovereignty and self-determination too much, given how deeply these principles are currently entrenched within international law and politics (see, e.g., Chapter I of the Charter of the United Nations). Accordingly, attempting to justify the HRD on these grounds seems problematic.
Indeed, proponents of the instrumental argument may respond to this criticism by claiming that it is possible to recognise a HRD without fully or precisely specifying what a democracy should look like. This, they might argue, would acknowledge that democracies are better than any other political system at implementing personal integrity rights, but it would not specify the right in so much detail that it objectionably undermines the principles of sovereignty and self-determination. The plausibility of this view is bolstered by the observation that many human rights are not fully or precisely specified in order to give states and their citizens some control over their implementation.
However, such a rejoinder lacks cogency in the context of a HRD that is instrumentally justified. The instrumental value of democracy comes from the presence of specific political features and institutions: these are the ingredients of democracy that were set out at the beginning of this article. At best, the instrumental argument only justifies a human right to these ingredients which, collectively, can be called democracy. It cannot justify a human right to anything more or less than these features and institutions because the empirical evidence does not demonstrate the instrumental value of systems that fall short of, or exceed, these ingredients. If the instrumental argument is being used to justify the HRD, then it seems necessary to embed a definition of democracy within the right itself because the scope of the right that will have been justified is limited to the scope of the empirical evidence used. However, providing such a definition amounts to specifying the HRD in precise terms. Accordingly, proponents of this third version of the instrumental argument's central premise appear to be bound to undermining state sovereignty and self-determination.
This article has argued that there are some problems with recognising a HRD on the grounds that democracy is instrumental to the implementation of personal integrity rights. I began by defining democracy and setting out the instrumental argument for a HRD. I then contended that there are problems with at least the three most obvious articulations of the instrumental argument's central premise. If the premise is constructed in a way that characterises democracy as being sufficient or necessary to guarantee the implementation of personal integrity rights, then it becomes plainly false and the instrumental argument becomes unsound. Alternatively, if the premise is articulated in terms of democracy's relative superiority to alternative political systems, then it significantly undermines at least two cornerstones of the current international order, and this is untenable. In any case, the instrumental argument appears to rely on an objectionable premise. These problems are not necessarily fatal to the instrumental argument, but they must be addressed before an instrumentally justified HRD can be recognised.
It is important to note that my argument here - which is a response to the instrumental argument - is not an argument against democracy itself, nor is it a case against democratisation. It is only an argument against a human right to democracy. Additionally, my argument is not against a HRD generally. Rather, it is against one prominent justification for a HRD that is based on democracy's instrumental value; namely, that democracy tends to contribute to the implementation of personal integrity rights. This leaves open the possibility of establishing a HRD on some other basis. However, a comprehensive examination of all possible justifications for a HRD is beyond this article's scope. Indeed, even without the moral or legal impetus of a HRD, I would emphatically argue that there are many reasons why current non-democracies should democratise: democracy is unequivocally valuable and has much to offer. These reasons are a matter for future research and an article of their own. Irrespective of their cogency, the thesis of the current article stands: there are some significant problems with the instrumental argument for a HRD.
I thank Dr Robbie Arrell and Assoc. Prof. Toby Handfield for their inspiring and thought-provoking lectures and tutorials in this area. I also thank Dr Arrell for his helpful feedback and his ongoing encouragements. I thank Dr Sarah McDonald for her academic guidance and feedback. Finally, I thank Mr Yihai Li of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences for his time and insights, and the reviewers for their thoughtful feedback.
Anthony Hallal is currently completing a Bachelor of Arts (Human Rights Theory; Philosophy) and Bachelor of Laws at Monash University. In 2017 he will commence a Master of Laws (LLM) at King's College London under the Monash-King's Degree Pathway Program.
 Contemporary human rights discourse accepts that every human right imposes tripartite duties on states. Specifically, these are the duties to respect, protect and fulfil every human right. Each duty has distinct requirements. However, the phrase respect, protect and fulfil is unwieldy and so, for convenience, this article will refer to the collective satisfaction of these tripartite obligations as the implementation of a particular right. To avoid doubt, a failure to respect, protect and fulfil, or implement, a particular human right constitutes a violation of that right.
 For convenience, I refer to this particular instrumental argument for a HRD as the instrumental argument. Other instrumental arguments for a HRD may, of course, be made. However, these are beyond the scope of the current article.
 To access the Polity IV dataset, see Marshall and Gurr (2014). To access the Political Terror Scale dataset, see Gibney et al. (2016). Presumably, the definition of democracy used for the purposes of the Polity IV scale (see Marshall, Gurr and Jaggers, 2016: 14) is consistent with (albeit less specific than) the definition of democracy set out in the first substantive section of this article. However, if any inconsistency does exist, then this only further undermines the instrumental argument.
 The use of this example presumes that a violation of the legal human right to be free from arbitrary detention is also sufficient to constitute a violation of the moral human right to be free from arbitrary detention.
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To cite this paper please use the following details: Hallal, A. (2017), 'Some Problems with an Instrumental Argument for a Human Right to Democracy', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 10, Issue 1, http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/archive/volume10issue1/hallal. Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at Reinventionjournal at warwick dot ac dot uk.