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Faculty of Law Chair Mahlmann

Fall Semester 2023

War, Climate, Decline of Democracy – Fundamental Rights in Times of Crisis


We live in times of manifold and fundamental crises. Three examples may be used to illustrate this: The attack of the Russian Federation against Ukraine has brought back war to Europe. It reminds us of the fragility of the international order of peace and its essential nature. The climate crisis poses one of the most fundamental political problems that humanity ever has faced in its history. In various systems around the world neo-authoritarian forces attack democracy as an idea and institution, sometimes with considerable electoral success. Other problems come easily to mind, from the economically dysfunctional unequal distribution of global income to the problems of migration and its many tragedies.

Given this background, the answer to the following question is of great importance – which role can fundamental and human rights play in this difficult situation? This question has a practical dimension: one can ask whether fundamental rights can help to solve these problems and to meet these challenges. For example, do human rights help to calibrate humanitarian international law? Are they key to solving the climate crisis? Are they a means to protect democracy against its manifold enemies?

The question also has a theoretical dimension: There is not only a political crisis, but also a crisis of the legitimacy of the human rights idea. Many forces are attacking this idea, from the point of view of history, the theory of justification, and most recently, psychology and neuroscience.

The seminar intends to discuss these problems, both in a theoretical but also practical perspective. Three main thematic issues will play a leading role and guide us to important and concrete practical problems. Possible topics include:

  1. The history of human rights as a battleground
    1. Subjective rights in indigenous societies
    2. Natural law and human rights
    3. The making of the International Bill of Rights
    4. Rights in art
  2. Theory of legitimacy
    1. Historical theories legitimizing human rights
    2. Current theories legitimizing human rights
    3. The critique of human rights
    4. Human rights and human dignity
  3. Psychology, neuroscience, and human rights
    1. Rights and the economic analysis of law
    2. Morality and psychology
    3. Rights and moral cognition

The seminar will be held with a leading voice in the international human rights debate, Prof. Dr. Christopher McCrudden, Queen's University Belfast and University of Michigan Law School. The seminar will be taught as a block seminar.

The seminar will be taught in German and English. Papers can be submitted in both languages.

There will be a preliminary meeting in the spring term of 2023. Seminar participants will be invited by mail. Relevant dates for the seminar (deadline for submission of Bachelor's and Master's theses, exact dates of the seminar, etc.) as well as information about the exact location where the seminar will take place will be announced at this preliminary meeting. The topics will also be assigned at said preliminary meeting – based on the respective preferences of the students.


Seminar Announcement (PDF, 123 KB)