Opening the Dichotomy of Universalism and Relativism A review of Negotiating Culture and Human Rights edited by East Meets West: Human Rights and Democracy in East Asia Searching for Possibilities

Chih-Yu Shih, Linda Bell, Andrew Nathan, Ilan New, Daniel Princeton
2001 428 pp. and Press   unpublished
The debate between human rights universalists and cultural relativists has continued into the 21 st century. Many writers today have acknowledged that universalism is the product of European history. As a result, the center of the current debate veers away from the argument over whether or not human rights are universal rights in actuality. What concerns a good number of thinkers today is whether or not human rights "should be" universal. 1 Human rights universalism has always been challenged
more » ... s been challenged on the ground that it represents a form of cultural imperialism or hegemony. Having such origins, it denies communitarian values, especially of the so-called non-Western societies. In response, universalists often accuse relativists of providing excuses for legitimizing political suppression. The problem with this kind of exchange is that all sides tend to arbitrate the correct form of human existence. Unfortunately, the uncompromising stance of both parties only shifts the argument away from the fundamental issue-whether the forms of human existence and their meanings are decidable.