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Compassion, Cruelty, and Human Rights

Part of the Social Indicators Research Series book series (SINS,volume 56)

Abstract

The language of human rights provides a framework to begin to understand why pictures of strangers being beaten and tortured concern us. Cruelty, for instance, is understood as the infliction of unwarranted suffering. Compassion is an organized, public response to wrongdoing, as in human rights politics. Taking this language further, compassion is more than “just” sentiment; it is revolt against contempt, torture, humiliation and pain. It is an affirmation of humanity – the organized campaign to lessen the suffering of strangers – and a distinctly modern form of morality. The idea that the sight of suffering imposes a duty to ameliorate seems like a very old notion, but is, in fact, a very recent one. Traditional notions of modernization corrode compassion rather than increasing it or making it normal. Contemporary human rights politics start from the principle of human well-being and an imperative to prevent suffering wherever it occurs. Compassion and individuality do not have to contradict each other; public compassion emerges from democratization and market relationships. Human rights provides an important avenue to institutionalize compassion within global markets and relations.

Keywords

  • Human rights
  • Cruelty
  • Compassion
  • Modernization
  • Democratization
  • Market relationships

This essay is based on arguments developed in my jointly written book with Daniel Levy (Levy and Sznaider 2010) and my book The Compassionate Temperament (Sznaider 2000). I dedicate it to my former teacher Allan Silver, who introduced me first to the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment and taught me to think sociologically.

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Correspondence to Natan Sznaider .

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Sznaider, N. (2015). Compassion, Cruelty, and Human Rights. In: Anderson, R. (eds) World Suffering and Quality of Life. Social Indicators Research Series, vol 56. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9670-5_4

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