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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

The Role of Human Rights in Transformation of Social Capital

Danilenko Denis Vasilievich

Doctor of Law, Aix-Marseille Universite, France; Editor-in-chief of the jorunals "International Law and International Organizations" and "Law and Politics", Acting Director of the Academic publishing group NOTA BENE - LLC "NB-Media"

115114, Moscow, Paveletskaya nab., 6A, office 211

Other publications by this author








Abstract: The article tackles the questions of social capital transformation in developed countries. The author considers the role played by human rights in this process, form several points of view, including the influence of the human rights on traditional interpersonal forms and institutions of social capital (family, kin, neighbors…), as well as the role of human rights in broad forms (national, universal) of social capital transformation. The author does not limit his thinking to – almost ubiquitously admitted in social sciences – questions of depletion (deterioration) of social capital but also considers the less accepted issues of reconstruction of social capital. Several conclusions are drawn. First, the human rights, among other factors, have contributed to the deterioration of social capital (especially the traditional forms and institutions of interpersonal social capital). Second, human rights have also contributed to construction of social capital, especially the broad (national and universal) forms of social capital. Moreover, the author advances the idea that if the traditional interpersonal forms of social capital were depleted under the influence of several factors (human rights among them), the human rights played almost exclusive role in construction of broad forms of social capital.


social capital, human rights, liberal values, relatives, family, unity, social solidarity, fundamental rights and freedoms, citizen, individualism

It is almost axiomatic that social capital has deteriorated throughout modern times. Indeed, almost every sociologist affirms that political, civic, and religious participation, as well as volunteering, informal social connections and trust have been deteriorated, and there are several convincing statistical bases to corroborate this affirmation (Putnam).

If any author agrees with this trend, they rarely agree on the causes of the deterioration of the social capital. Some claim that the division sociale du travail is at the root of this trend (Durkheim), others think that the wealth and security is the cause (Ingelhart), or even – at least partially – the television (Putnam). Rarely do the authors that acknowledge the deterioration of the social capital recognize human rights as the cause thereof. We do not reject the idea that other factors – such as immigration for example – have undeniably played a role in the social capital deterioration, but the idea that we would like to advance here is that the role of human rights in the social capital deterioration is certainly underestimated.

If every sociologist, and even philosopher, agrees on the fact that the social capital is deteriorating, they are less optimistic as to the reversibility of this process. In our opinion, their fatalism is exaggerated, and there are many factors of reconstruction of social capital. Moreover, if the factors of deterioration of social capital are many (human rights is only one of them), with regards to the reconstruction of social capital the human rights are the major one. This is especially true for at least the broad (national or universal), non-interpersonal forms of social capital.

These ideas suggest that the human rights are a factor – and in some aspects even a major one – in social capital transformation. To substantiate this affirmation, we can only agree with J. Rawls on the fact that “instituting the basic liberties, just as fulfilling various desires, calls for scheduling and social organization” (Rawls, 296). In other words, social organization is inextricably linked to the basic liberties, thus, those basic liberties should be seriously considered as a social organization factor, and their role in the social capital transformation were undeservedly undervalued.

The essence of the idea of transformation of the social capital under the influence of human rights, as it is developed here, lies in the fact that deterioration of the social capital under the effects of human rights is mainly limited to the deterioration of traditional forms of social capital, largely presented by the most intense, and therefore, most visible forms of social capital – interpersonal ties (family, neighbors, friends), whereas reconstructive role of the human rights is revealed on a universal level (nationwide and mankind).

1. The role of human rights in depletion of interpersonal social capital

1.1. The role of liberal values in social capital deterioration

Taking its roots in the development of capitalism, liberal values have strongly contributed to the liberation of the individual from the state, society, and other individuals, thus contributing to the depletion of the social capital. The social capital was depleted by, among other things, legal liberation of the individual, accomplished in the name of protection of one’s freedom, to which they are entitled as human beings. In other words, the human rights progress, and especially liberty restrictions and any sort of bans being lifted, which were done in the name of individual freedom, have contributed to the social capital deterioration, by undermining the role of such restrictive individual freedoms – but socially centered – institutions as family, kin, community etcetera.

For a long time the social capital was maintained by rules and measures necessary to artificially maintain the social capital. Even legal norms were often introduced in order to replace the decaying traditional social institutions (moral, religious). Individual freedoms gains, accomplished for example trough lifting of legal bans on some socially related individual practices/actions, contributed to the social capital deterioration, since such bans were in the first place imposed to counterbalance the traditional social (moral, religious) decay. According to this assertion, progressing social capital depletion is partly due to the continuing liberation of the individual not only from the traditional social institutions and community rules, which initially restricted his freedom but progressively died out under different socioeconomic factors, but also due to the liberation of the individual from formally state imposed legal norms that were imposed on the individual in order to replace the shortage of traditional rules of social institutions and communities. In other words, the advent of liberal values created a space of freedom for the individual trough legal limitations imposed on state’s, church’s and other individuals’ actions, thus liberating him from intervention of exterior forces of different nature (society’s, state’s, and other individuals’) and thus contributed to depletion of the traditional forms and institutions of social capital, as well as the institutions and rules that were trying to replace the disappearing traditional social capital forms; in fine continuing to reduce the role of any form of socially centered norms.

There are many examples of the destructive effects of progression of liberal values for social capital. One of them is the increasing crime rates. Of course, several factors contribute to the crime rates increase (immigration, urban policy changes, economic downturns…), but the negative role of liberty progress on the crime is undeniable. Decriminalization, due process and presumption of innocence guaranties, as well as other criminal law changes that aimed to achieve greater protection of the (potential) criminal in the name of the liberty and human rights have strongly contributed to the social capital deterioration, or at least to the deterioration of the instruments that were created to artificially maintain social capital.

F. Fukuyama perfectly expresses the idea of how progress of liberal values have influenced social capital deterioration: “In a series of court rulings over the past generation, almost all of these activities [panhandling, vagrancy, public drunkenness…] were decriminalized in the United States on the grounds the criminal sanctions violated the rights of the individuals to free speech, due process and the like […] public drunkenness, as well as homelessness, panhandling, and other forms of vagrancy, exploded. In addition, during the 1970s large numbers of mentally ill people were released from the institutions […] although the intention was to provide them with a more humane environment, the result was that city streets filled up with large numbers of mentally ill homeless people” (Fukuyama, 34).

It is obvious that such changes, introduced in the name of freedom and different humanistic values of (presumed) criminals, or as in the latter case, of the mentally ill people, have contributed to the increase in crime rates, incivility and sense of insecurity. In other words, in contemporary society where traditional forms of social capital were depleted for different causes, and where such artificial social capital instruments as formal legal rules (legal bans on some deviant practices) are progressively lifted in the name of the liberty and other human rights, the social capital continues to deteriorate significantly up to the point where countermeasures (restrictive liberty measures) become necessary. Indeed, to counterbalance such harmful effects of liberty for the social capital, authorities of many Western countries were forced to adopt anti-social behavior acts (see for ex. UK’s Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014), reintroducing such artificial instruments of social capital support as public alcohol drinking and panhandling bans.

There are also many examples of social capital depletion under the effect of liberalization on an interpersonal social capital scale and can be shown on the example of a family.

As described by J.S. Mill, “general principle of liberty” as applied to the marriage strongly favors the acceptance of divorce and the simplification of its procedure. He points out “… that engagements which involve personal relations or services should never be legally binding beyond a limited duration of time; and that the most important of these engagements, marriage, should require nothing more than the declared will of either party to dissolve it» (Mill, 185). In other words, Mill advances the idea that in the name of liberty one of the pillars of the social capital – marriage, cannot be imposed on the engaged individuals against the will of either of them; artificially maintained against the will of either of them and, as a consequence, it has to be recognized that it has to be made possible to dissolve the marriage at the will of (even) just one of the parties.

Legal limitations on divorce were lifted in developed countries during the XX century due to popular demand and contributed to undermine the family by simplifying its dissolution. The last affirmation is largely supported by statistics on divorce rates, which accelerated in the US in 1960-1970s, i.e. after the acceptance of the no-fault divorce by many states (Caplow, Bahr, Modell, Chadwick).

Same is true for women’s right to abort. The liberation of the abortion legislation which occurred in the Western countries in the second half of the XX century was established as woman’s fundamental right to terminate her pregnancy, which takes its roots in the right of privacy, “…founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action…” (Chase, 36). In other words, it was accomplished in the name of the woman’s freedom; of their right to choose under some conditions whether or not to terminate the pregnancy. The liberation of the abortion undoubtedly contributed – among of other factors – to the fertility rates decline and further spurred divorce rates as it is simpler to divorce in a childless family – thus, contributed to the social capital depletion.

1.2. The role of the private property in social capital deterioration

Before the advent of the modern notion of private property the most common property owner was not the individual, but community. The most famous example of such common property rights is an open-field landownership, which subsisted in some countries up to the XIX century. The open-field villages’ social atmosphere was characterized by tightly knit community based on mutual cooperation and common action. In other words the community during this period is characterized by high mutual interdependence or high interpersonal social capital. This situation has progressively been changed – inter alia with the “privatization” of the property – and it is almost commonly admitted today that “the right to hold and to have the exclusive use of personal property …is a material basis for a sense of personal independence” (J. Rawls, 298). In other words, the private property is a notion that we use to describe a society of independent or free individuals (private owners) less tied to the community as opposed to the prior, socially centered forms of society, distinguished by common forms of property as well as more intense social interdependence. In other words, private property is at least concomitant to the society with depleted interpersonal social capital, whereas legal guaranties of private property were in the first place necessary to protect the possessors of economic goods and not to rebuild the social capital undermined by the privatization of the property.

M. Foucault has perfectly elucidated the socially harmful effects of privatization of property and the advent of its absolute protection. This author particularly emphasized the attention on the fact that under the Ancien régime many types of illegal behavior (“Illegalism”) were not reprehended (petty thefts); although the disadvantaged strata of the population was not privileged, they have enjoyed a margin of tolerance (Foucault, 85): this situation has been changed with the development of capitalism and wealth accumulation since “[…] la bourgeoisie […] supporté mal [les illégalismes] lorsqu’il s’agissait de […] ses droits de propriété” (Foucault, 87). Thus, starting from the Revolution the private property owners exerted huge pressure on the peasantry’s “Illegalism”; bourgeoisie punished even minor peasantry’s contraventions against the property by criminalizing even minor violations. M. Foucault concludes on the idea that the criminality has changed from “criminalité de sang” (violent criminality) to délits contre la propriété (crimes against property). These socioeconomic and legal changes testify to the strained relations between rich and have-nots. In other words, the new, sacred status of the private property and intolerance of its owners to the offences against their property created conflicts between the rich and the poor, and thus undermined the social capital.

This idea of private property rights social impact had been recently contested by affirmation that capitalism has simultaneously played positive and negative role in social capital (Fukuyama, 254). But the role of unbridled private property protection on the verge of the modern era was mostly negative for social cohesion, otherwise such doctrines as socialism and communism would not have gained the momentum precisely in the XIX, i.e. precisely when wealth accumulation and unlimited capital socioeconomic role has reached its peak. In other words, the fact that those ideologies gained popularity as a reaction to the private property holder’s abuses proves the socially negative role of the unbridled private property rights, which were sanctified by different constitutional acts of developed countries, one of which is particularly clear on this point: “Property being an inviolable and sacred right, no one can be deprived of private usage […]” (art.17 of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen).

Many limitations were imposed on the private property only later as necessary means to rebuild the social capital (labor rights, progressive income taxation, etc.). Indeed, many concessions were made by the capital (or imposed in some cases by the revolutions) via egalitarian and redistributionist effects of the welfare state. Those measures, which have imposed certain limits on the arbitrary powers of capital, as well as contributed to reduction in the gap between the rich and poor and create the middle class society, have certainly played a positive role in the reconstruction of social capital. Private property today, as opposed to the beginning of the modern era, is not as sacred and unlimited, which was achieved by the egalitarian measures and contributed to the rebuilding of the social capital (see below § 2).

Some authors (C. Menger) have advanced the idea that private property and its protection, while undermining social ties, also contributed to their construction; but this also a false assumption.

The deepening wealth stratification, unlimited property rights protection, and capitalist abuses of labor had strained the relations between the rich and the have-nots before the advent of the welfare state. Thus, in this era, were created conditions necessary for increased intensity of social cohesion among the oppressed – working class. Nonetheless, the working class cohesion, necessary to protect their interests against the capital, is only a consequence of the social stratification and not the direct consequence of the private property protection itself.

F. Engels unveiled another socially cohesive role of the private property on the example of the family. He affirmed that only the elimination of such a thing as private property could undermine the traditional basis of the family and destroy the submission of wife and children to the pater familias (Engels 229-231). In other words, the private property according to Engels’ thought holds such traditional institution as family together; in this sense private property is an element of social capital construction. If such vision seems to be correct, i.e. that private property at a first glance seem to uphold social capital within the family, the concept of private property of the verge of the modern era has produced in our opinion the opposite reaction. Indeed, sanctification of private property as a fundamental human right automatically supposed liberation of its disposal by the owner and liberation of the inheritance rights by setting up a testamentary freedom for example. Thus, the inheritance system has changed form the imposed, mostly primogeniture inheritance system, common to almost every Western country of the feudal era and prone for concentration of property, to the free choice inheritance system more prone for equalization of the inherited property between heirs; i.e. more prone for its distribution and rendering its members less dependent on their inheriting relative, thus further contributing to the deterioration of the social capital within the family. In other words, F. Engels has not correctly perceived the nature of the private property conception of the verge of the modern era, when sanctification of the property liberated the owner form the imposed sociocentered norms (inheritance rights), which previously to the advent of the private property rights imposed interdependence of the members of the family.

1.3. The role of equality in deterioration of the social capital

Absolute protection of private property on the verge of the modern era was not the only factor undermining the social capital. Other human rights have also contributed to this process. Equality could also serve as an example.

A. de Tocqueville has affirmed that « …equality, while it introduces great benefits into the world, nevertheless, suggests to men, as will hereafter be shown, very dangerous instincts. It tends to isolate them from one another, so that each is apt to think only of himself» (Tocqueville, 162). Although this author considers that this human right has a deteriorating effect for broad, national social capital, in our opinion, the most important toll of equality have been paid by the traditional intense interpersonal social institutions. Indeed, traditional institutions of social capital (such as family for example) were mostly hierarchical social structures, where social capital was imposed via dependence of the individual upon different social structures (family, congregation, kin…) and submission of one individual to another (of a wife to her husband for example), which testifies to a clear inequality within such social institutions. As a consequence, the advent of human right to have an equal treatment ushered in the era of liberation of the individual form the yoke of different traditional hierarchical social structures, which undermined the interpersonal social capital.

This can be perfectly demonstrated on the example of family; precisely on the example of traditional dependence of a wife upon her husband: impossibility for the wife to open a banking account without permission of her husband, for example, testified of her dependence on the latter, but at the same time it has a strong cohesive force that is partly aimed at preservation of such social capital institution as family. Although inequality of rights is a negative notion from the liberal point of view, as it is seen as an injustice, it also has a strong social capital creative force, where social cohesion is gained through dependence – in this case – of the wife on her husband, which is a rather positive notion from the social capital point of view. In turn, equalization of individuals in rights and opportunities undermines social capital institutions founded on inequality. We can refer to such form of social capital as forced or imposed. As a consequence, the advances made in equal treatment have contributed to the undermining of traditional imposed social institutions, and thus depleted the social capital on the interpersonal level.

Equalization of labor rights is yet another example of social capital depletion within the family. In many Western countries a certain number of laws (US Equal Pay Act of 1963; the French 1907 Married Woman's Earnings Act), have put an end to what we generally refer to as “protective laws” – which were designed to protect women from certain difficulties of work, but in reality reduced the employment available to women – contributed to the equality of wages between men and women. Thus, over the period of the whole XX century – and the process is still not entirely accomplished in many developed countries even today – many restrictions of women’s labor rights, such as occupational choice (military jobs), rights to do business (tending a bar) and make contracts or freely determine the hours of work (ban on women’s night or long hours work), have been repealed in almost all developed countries. Such egalitarian measures made it possible for women to support themselves without the help of a husband (or family), because they gained the opportunity to earn personal income, which progressively became almost equal to men in every developed country. Personal income plays the role of an insurance, which in case of a divorce assured the subsistence needs of the women without the husband’s (or family’s) help. Thus, the family breakdown is – as many economists argue (for ex. G. Becker) – a direct consequence of the women’s entry into the labor force and rising female incomes under the social justice (equality of treatment) measures. Some authors also recognize that female labor had negatively influenced the fertility, since having children increases opportunity costs (Fukuyama 103), it also contributes to the depletion of family social capital.

As women started to play a socioeconomic role equal to men, such traditional institution as family have started to crumble form all ends. But it was not the progress of women’s labor rights alone that has contributed to this process. Measures such as women’s suffrage and equal access to all education areas intended to equalize the two sexes – and not only education in the home economic areas – have improved the socioeconomic and political status of women, allowing them to get better paying jobs; making them more independent. The financial independence from spousal and parental help contributed to higher number of divorces and undermined the social ties with parents. High education, labor participation, and other women’s social and political activities had also negatively affected fertility rates. Although birth control has strongly affected fertility rates, it has played a minor role, since fertility drop was observed in some Western countries well before the advent of contemporary birth control techniques, which allows us to propose that the equality measures also played a role in the fertility drop.

Thus, the imposed social capital is undermined with the development of the social justice values and equal rights progress by undermining the dependence of the individual upon other members of the interpersonal social institutions. This trend is not only influenced by the progress made in equality of rights and opportunities but was also stimulated by the progress of welfare rights.

1.4. The role of welfare rights in social capital deterioration

1.4.1. Considered as the conflict outcome of working class and bourgeoisie, the welfare rights in a broad sense include many measures pointed at reducing inequalities, which are not inequalities de lege – as in the case with aforementioned women’s rights (see § 1.3.) – but inequalities de facto. Such measures as overall social insurance; worker’s rights enshrinement; creation of public services (health, education, cultural) accessible to all members of the nation; redistribution of wealth (progressive income tax) etc. are pointed – as we have already mentioned (see above §1.2.) – at promoting social justice by reducing inequalities of opportunities. The main socioeconomic consequence of the implementation of these human rights is evident – decline in poverty and material or “existential security” (Inglehart, 13) via redistribution of wealth in society. Social consequences of such transition are two-sided, and can be characterized from positive point of view, i.e. as supportive of social capital, as well as form negative point of view, i.e. as deteriorating social capital. As structure of our study suggests, we will consider here the negative effects of the welfare rights on the social capital.

R. Inglehart had perfectly revealed the current “cultural transition” in modern society, which in our opinion is determined largely by practical realization of egalitarian welfare rights and social justice values. This author points out in particular that satisfaction of the substantial needs of the population has produced some changes on individual, as well as social levels. He draws a conclusion that existential (or material) security of the individual – mostly guaranteed in our opinion by redistributive social justice politics – provided individuals with satisfaction of all of their basic needs and changed their world outlook: the materialistic values were replaced by post-materialistic ones. This perspicacious analysis needs to be developed in order to demonstrate the negative effects of the welfare rights and social justice values upon the social capital, or, more precisely, to explain how material security – guaranteed by the welfare rights – undermined the interdependence of the individuals, and as a consequence, of social capital “…because they [people] are now better able to get along without one another” (Fukuyama, 69).

1.4.2. The most important negative consequence of material security of the individual for social capital lies in the fact that the individual becomes less dependent on any traditional social institution (family, neighbors, friends…). Individuals are less dependent on their family, neighbors and friends, since the food, accommodation, education, health and other goods and services are provided by the State and not by the family, friends or neighbors. Thus, social justice values undermine the cohesive unity based on material dependence of the family members or any other traditional social unity on the interpersonal level. Unemployed person, single mother with children, immigrants and other disadvantaged persons’ material needs are no longer (or exclusively) satisfied by family, neighbors or other sorts of communities. Individual no longer has to count on his parents’, children’s, spousal, and their neighbors’ help in order to meet his/hers basic material needs: the welfare state will do that. This is a major change and has significant influence upon the social capital, because the satisfaction of basic material needs is no longer met on the interpersonal level, but via impersonal individual-state relations. Thus, state’s help in satisfaction of one’s basic material needs has undermined the intense interpersonal connectedness (family, neighbors, and friends).

Family ties have paid the ultimate price. Since family ties are more intense than other kinds of social ties, they are also the most burdensome for the individual. Husband and wife, as well as parents and children living under the same roof, have more concessions to make to each other than neighbors or friends for example. The already cited example of independence of a woman from the family ties due to advances in equality of rights seems to be more convincing if we take into consideration the effects of the welfare rights. Indeed, the negative effects for the family of the women’s entry into the labor market and equalization of the male-female income upon the social capital within the family (see above 1.3) were magnified by the welfare benefits. The family and social allowances and state paid kindergarten have certainly further liberated women form the dependence upon other individuals (husband, parents) and thus further undermined the family ties. Kindergartens and public school education provided by welfare state also liberated women from the dependence on the family by allowing them employment and thus sustaining her income. Moreover, kindergartens and public schools also reduced the time the mother spends with her children by replacing family education, which also negatively affected child-mother relation, i.e. interfamily social capital.

The development of the welfare state also undermined the dependence of the elderly or disabled parents on their children, thus reducing the social capital within the family. Indeed, the retirement benefits, guarantied as one of the welfare rights (health insurances, retirement pensions and retirement homes), liberated elderly or disabled parents from the dependence on their children’s support and the necessity to live with their grown children under the same roof.

1.3.3. The aforementioned social ties (family, kin) are the most intense and, therefore, their deterioration is more visible. But the welfare state values have not only undermined those most intense social ties, but also undermined less intense and less visible non-personal social ties (for example in professional sphere).

It is axiomatic that labor unions, and other professional associations, are a major actor in social capital. Most of the sociologists also agree that professional associations’ membership rates and participation in these organizations have been continually falling since the end of the WW II. The only differences in the sociologists’ views lie in the interpretation of the causes of the erosion of the workers membership in such organizations. Some of them – such as those that supporting the idea of the decline in unionization via changes in antistrike legislation – seem not to be very convincing, because the union membership rates are falling overall in developed world, rather than only in the countries were strike legislation was changed. Others – such as those that supports the idea of the decline in unionization because of the changing structure of post-modern economy and especially via the movement form manufacturing centered economy to the services centered economy – seem to be more convincing but also fails under detailed analysis. Indeed, although this purely economic interpretation of the decline of unionization is interesting it seems not to be viable since the same decline can be observed not only in service sector of economy but also in manufacturing one. The interpretation of this decline, which considers it as a decline in demand (Farber, Krueger, 17-19), seems to be more convincing. Indeed, as the labor rights protection advanced through the second half of the XIX century and especially in the XX century, the need of their protection became less important. As a consequence fewer workers wanted to join the unions and to participate in their actions. In other words, satisfaction of workers with labor conditions and social advantages – which were advanced thanks to the welfare state and social justice measures – reduced the necessity in labor unions and contributed to the decline in social capital in workplace.

1.4.4. The example of the deterioration of the social capital in workplace under the beneficial egalitarian effect of welfare state values can be generalized. With the development of the social justice and welfare state values, the majority of the population satisfied not only their basic needs, but also received access to the services, which provided confortable living conditions. This logically reduced the necessity for self-interested political actions.

Such change has major consequences for political participation: if originally political demands were focused on individual concerns of politically acting person, those demands subsided and progressively replaced by political demands centered on issues not necessarily tied to personal interests of politically acting individual. Political and civic engagement became more fluid; participation in political and civic actions became less formal and less intense, since the participants do not have to defend their own interests; members’ loyalty to participation in associative organizational life was reduced. As Putnam put it “[…] inward-oriented phase of creating social networks paved the way for the later, outward-oriented phase of political action” (Putnam, 399), which was made possible by the general elevation of the quality of life of majority of the population by redistributionist egalitarian effects of social justice and welfare state values.

Benevolent, altruistic social and political actions were initially the initiatives of the tiny fringe of middle-class reformers, i.e. people who were well-off. As material prosperity propagated onto the masses thanks to the welfare state and social justice measures and elevated the living standards among majority of the population up to creating a significant middleclass, the attention of majority of the population turned towards achieving benevolent, altruistic political and social goals and less towards achieving more intense self-centered goals. In other words, the quality of life and satisfaction of the basic needs of majority of the population, changed thanks to the welfare state and social justice values, altered the nature of political action. As self-interest political actions subsided, the social capital was depleted because voluntary, benevolent political actions lacks personal interest, which makes political participation more intense, persistent, and stable; the absence of necessity for a satisfied individual to act politically in order to pursue self-interest goals and unite for those purposes with the others – which by nature are more intense than the benevolent ones – made political action generally more fluid, participation in political and civic actions less formal, and weakened the loyalty members with regards to participation in associative organizational life.

Thus, social capital was undermined as the political and civic participation in the modern world became less intense except for the participation in the self-help and self-support groups or other self-interested social life initiatives (association of anonymous alcoholics for example), which grew as a necessity to complement the depletion of the traditional highly intense interpersonal social capital forms (family), which originally provided the individual the same help and support. In other words, we can conclude that welfare state and social justice values have contributed to the deterioration of the social capital even on a broader, not just interpersonal level.

2. The role of human rights in construction of broad social capital

It would be wrong to make a conclusion that socially negative effects of human rights are limited only to the traditional interpersonal social capital forms (kin, neighbors, family…). As we have seen, human rights also undermined the broad forms of social capital. At the same time, the most visible deteriorating social capital effect of human rights can actually be observed with regards to the traditional, interpersonal social capital institutions, because one of the main aims of human rights is to protect the individual against any kind of oppression (state, community, other individuals), traditional social capital institutions included, but this sort of social capital is also more intense, more visible and, as a consequence, its depletion is also more evident.

Unlike traditional interpersonal level or community scale social capital, which (as we have seen) contradicts the very idea of human rights as founded upon inequality, hierarchy, and submission, broad national capital had received support from human rights, which were needed to hold the nation together. In other words, whereas traditional interpersonal social capital institutions have paid the highest price under the pressure of human rights, they encouraged wide (national) social capital.

Although the main objective of human rights is to protect the individual against any sort of oppression (state, community, other individuals), some of the goals of human rights are indeed aimed at supporting the social capital on a wide, non-interpersonal national level. Indeed, the very idea of human rights supposes universal, egalitarian values, which logically – as opposed to previous, aristocratic concept of society – created social cohesion on a more broad – initially on a national, later on a universal – level within the societé sans classes. A. de Tocqueville has demonstrated that democracy, egalitarian, and even liberal values have produced socially cohesive effects on a wide, national scale. We have to show here exactly how this effect has been produced, and why this effect is significant for a broad nationwide level, as well as why it has been transformed today into a broader – universal, mankind social capital.

2.1. The role of democracy in construction of social ties

The embodiment of the liberties and human rights necessary for democracy to function (right to vote, freedom of assembly), as well as establishment of the special procedures (elections) and institutions (assemblies), institutionalized the new form of social cohesion by creating conditions for participation of the individual in political decision-making process. The basic human rights, via which democracy expresses itself (right to vote), as well as the institutions through which it takes shape (assemblies), created new domain of interaction between people, where they were enabled to participate in process of elaboration of law applicable to them and in the process of designation of those by whom they going to be governed. A. de Tocqueville has correctly pointed out that “…il suffisait d’accorder à la nation tout entière une représentation d’elle-même …afin de multiplier à l’infini pour les citoyens, les occasions d’agir ensemble et de leur faire sentir …qu’ils dépendent les uns des autres” (195). In other words, this author finds out a direct connection between democratic institutions and increase in interaction between the citizens and the sentiment of their interdependence, i.e. elements of a broad nationwide social capital.

In a pre-democracy era people have not decided what rules would apply to them; that was at the monarch’s, feudal lords’ or a master’s discretion. Their political role was minimal; their interactions were limited to the economic or kin relations, resting mostly on interpersonal interactions. On the contrary, the possibility of contributing to the elaboration of general rules applicable to them, as well as participation in election of those by who they were to be governed, has not only created conditions for participation of the citizens in decision-making process, thus creating social capital, but also stimulated the interactions on a more broad (national) level.

Moreover, the advent of the modern democratic (political and civil) rights, procedures and institutions made this participation regular. Indeed, where previously people participated in political action only punctually by trying to influence the decision-making bodies mostly in cases of dissatisfaction with the applied rules (uprisings, grievances) and with no certain effect, regularly organized elections, democratically elect assemblies working on a full time basis made it possible for people to participate in this process on a regular basis, allowing them to constantly discuss the decisions that were taken by democratically elected assemblies and regularly participate in elections.

Democratically passed legislation is more likely to be respected by the citizens. It is a fact that in democratic societies people are more prone to respect the law, to the making of which they have contributed if even indirectly, because it is harder to break the law which you have contributed to making than the law that was imposed on you without your consent. Of course it does not mean that there is less criminality in democratic societies – as there are other factors in pre-democratic societies that have contributed to upholding and respecting the common norms of behavior (religion for example), as well as other factors to uphold the common norms in non-democratic societies (fear for example) – but it is certain that democratically made laws are more likely to be respected, at least by those who have contributed to making them and thus it is a social capital contributor.

With the advent of democracy, social capital could be realized in institutionalized form of assemblies, agoras, or other legislative democratic institutions, within which social cooperation between members of society is created. This is especially visible on a local level of democratic institutions. Indeed, on a municipal level democratic (civil and political) rights and institutions have strongly contributed to the social capital construction, because the inhabitants often realize the participation in local affairs personally by participating in referendums or in local assemblies’ activities, and their participation is usually more intense because they interact to protect their direct personal interests. Participation in local affairs is often exercised by inhabitants via personal involvement in municipal assembly affairs, which supposes necessary cooperation between inhabitants and they act more intensely because they are directly concerned with the decisions made on a local level.

But the more significant contribution of the modern democracy with regards to the social capital is that it has helped construct a special sort of social capital – wide, non-imposed social capital on a nationwide scale. Although citizens rarely personally participate in a nationwide assembly work, they do this indirectly via the election of those assemblies’ members, and it would be wrong to deny that such institutions and rights do not constitute some sort of social cohesion. Nationwide social capital constructed within nationwide democratic intuitions is less intense, less visible in part due to its impersonal nature (citizens rarely participle personally in nationwide democratic intuitions) but also due to its voluntary nature. Those are the most problematic shortcomings of the modern forms of social capital, which make such sorts of social capital less visible and less intense than previous, traditional interpersonal forms of social capital, or some imposed, hierarchical forms of even broader social capital forms of pre-modern era.

The democracy itself – considered as an ensemble of rights, procedures and institutions – had created conditions necessary for a wide, national, non-imposed, non-interpersonal social capital to exist. Those rights, institutions and processes elevated the person to the status of the citizen; opened new domain of cooperation with others members of society and made possible the formation of the nation by creating the sense of attachment of the citizen to a wide community.

2.2. The role of liberal values in social capital construction

The role of liberal values in social capital construction could be apprehended on the example of the freedom of press, which, in terms of the UN’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as freedom of opinion and its expression, is considered as one of the most important human rights. This fundamental liberal value has been only progressively incorporated into Western countries’ legislation during modern times by inter alia repealing of legislative acts restricting this freedom trough censorship or licensing (Licensing of the Press Act 1662).It is worth pointing out that the process of liberalization of the press and book publishing does not have a precise starting point; it has been developed over several centuries (for example lapse of the Licensing Act took place in 1695, whereas the Index Librorum Prohibitorum was repealed only in 1966); and – in some, even developed countries, this process was subject to backlashes. Nonetheless, the contradictory character of this process and progressive gains of the freedom of press allowed for such communication instruments as a print press or books to be established and to exert a strong cohesive effect from social point of view, which – contrary to the traditional institutions of social capital, characterized by interpersonal relations – has exercised this positive socially cohesive effect on a non-interpersonal, wide (national) level.

Socially cohesive effect of the press and literature is widely accepted. A. de Tocqueville has pointed out that the newspapers play a decisive role in social capital construction: “When men are no longer united amongst themselves by firm and lasting ties, it is impossible to obtain the cooperation of any great number of them, unless you can persuade every man whose concurrence you require that this private interest obliges him voluntarily to unite his exertions to the exertions of all the rest. This can only be habitually and conveniently affected by means of a newspaper…” (Tocqueville, 517, 518).

Socially cohesive role of the press can also be indirectly proven by the fact that regular newspaper readers are generally more socially active members of society. Indeed, the fact that “Compared to demographically identical nonreaders, regular newspaper readers belong to more organizations, participate more actively in clubs and civic associations, attend local meetings more frequently, vote more regularly, volunteer and work on community projects more often, and even visit with friends more frequently and trust their neighbors more” (Putnam, 218), can be considered as “a mark of substantial civic engagement”. In other words, newspaper readership can be observed amidst the socially active members of society precisely because it is a social capital instrument.

J. Habermas also highlighted the role of the press and literature in transformation of the public sphere, which was transformed from an interpersonal level of relations, first developed in saloons and cafés, to a wide non-interpersonal level. Moreover, as literacy grew, the press as well as books became more accessible, integrating larger and larger strata of the population into communication process and thus playing a socially cohesive role on a wider level. Advent of mass media achieved this integration on a nationwide level, while Internet created a basis for a universal integration into mankind, with an exception only in cases of some countries where freedom of speech – and as a consequence, access to a free Internet – is not guaranteed (North Korea) or not fully implemented (China).

Without denying the role of the progress of communication technologies, we can affirm that it is precisely the freedom of press, freedom of opinion and its expression that is responsible for the development of press and consequently the wide social capital formation. This is especially true for a free press on a national level, where it is precisely the liberalization of press – i.e. lifting of censorship and licensing measures and progressive gains of the freedom of press – which allowed for such social capital instruments as print press or books to play a socially cohesive role.

2.3. The role of equality in construction of the social capital

A. de Tocqueville advanced the idea that equality of conditions (égalité des conditions) is dangerous for the social unity. This is partially true (see above 1.3), but considering this question thoroughly we can only partially agree with such notion due to the fact that forms of social capital that could be undermined by this humanistic value are based on a contradiction of the very concept of human rights. Equality has destructive effects mostly for traditional social capital institutions, as well as for communitarian forms of social capital, whereas it is beneficial for wide, national or universal forms of social capital. Indeed, social capital forms and institutions that are endangered by equality are created within communities (racial, gender, sexual orientation) or traditional social capital institutions (family, kin), where it is based on inequality or forced submission – i.e. values contradicting the very idea of human rights – or where it is a form of reaction against inequality (social capital within communities), whereas it is mainly beneficial for a broad, national scale social capital. Now that we establish that equality undermines only the traditional – those that contravene the very idea of human rights – forms of social capital, as well as such negative forms of social capital established mostly as a reaction to inequality, we can admit that the effects of equality on social capital can only be positive if considered on a broad, national or universal level.

Although equality is universal in its positive effects for national social capital, those effects were different throughout history.

On the first stage of historical development of modern human rights, equality was conceived mostly as simple equality of rights of citizens. This concept of equality was explained as a response against the privileges of some strata of the population and especially against the privileges of the clergy and nobles (aristocracy) under the Ancien Regime. The idea of such equality was affirmed during the French revolution (Liberté, égalité, fraternité) and clearly formulated in the Article 1 of the French Declaration, which emphasizes the necessity to put an end to the inequalities based on “social distinctions”: “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good”.

Despite the fact the principle of equality was intended to be universal, this humanistic value initially only partly contributed to the national social capital construction. What was accomplished in the name of the liberal ideas on the verge of the modern era is only the imperfect idea of equality, which is limited only to the idea of the equality of rights and only amidst those to whom such equality is guaranteed. As such, some members of society had equal rights de lege, others – not. Moreover, even among those who had equal rights de lege, inequalities de facto – such as differences in wealth – continued to play socially destructive role. The examples of discriminations under formal equality conditions are many: the process of equalization in rights has not changed the poor' conditions of life of the have-nots until the advent of welfare state, deplored by Victor Hugo in his “Miserables”; Jim Crow’s era segregationist policy of “equal but separated”, which guaranteed equal protection under the law to all citizens, but de facto only perpetuated profoundly unjust conditions of life of African Americans in US; equality of rights of women and men, which was embodied in main legislative and constitutional acts of the developed countries in the middle of the XX century, created legal (formal) equality between woman and man, but even today, continues passionate claims for equal representation of the women in national parliaments or equal pay for equal work for men and women.

Indeed, this kind of formal (or legal) equality allowed to integrate mainly the white male bourgeoisie into the political decision-making process by stripping the monarch and aristocracy of their privileges, completely neglecting to integrate the oppressed working class, disadvantaged gender and minorities into this process. Thus, according to this concept of equality (despite its apparent universal character), the social capital could not be created universally on the national level since some strata of the population was de facto reduced to condition of economic dependence or was even de facto discriminated against, despite the proclaimed equality.

The conditions necessary for a truly universal social capital on a national level were created only when equality was conceived not as a simple legal (or formal) equality of rights of citizens, but when measures of social justice and welfare state allowed to create conditions of economic equality by creating wealth redistribution system throughout the nation, as well as establish equalization measures that would allow equal access of different categories of population to education, jobs, health services, etc. This second stage evolution of equality, as a human right to have the same opportunities, was conceived not only as a right of every citizen to have equal rights but also as a right to have an amount of resources and social services necessary for a decent subsistence. This redistributionist concept of equality allowed for every citizen to satiate their primary and secondary needs (sufficient economic resources as well as necessary for quality life social services) and consequently, appease social tensions between different strata of the population, thus contribute to the general social capital construction via alleviation of social tensions.

2.4. The role of the welfare rights in social capital construction

One has to keep in mind that cohesive role of welfare state can be observed on a large social (national or universal) level, whereas on a small-scale, interpersonal level (family, kin) welfare state values have the opposite effect (see above 1.4). Here we are talking only about the nationwide (or universal) positive effects of welfare rights.

Welfare human rights redistributed the wealth between the members of society and guaranteed the access of the large strata of the population to main social services, thus satisfying the basic needs of a large stratum of the population. This satisfaction of basic needs abated the necessity of the individual to struggle for them. Material abundance provided for the large strata of the population, brought in by welfare state, abated this necessity on a broad social scale and thus pacified the overall social relations.

R. Inglehart has perfectly demonstrated that material abundance and security of the individual in postindustrial societies reduced the social class conflict. We agree with this position, but it is worth emphasizing the role of the access of the individual to all basic needs provided by welfare state, which abated the sense of necessity to struggle for them, thus reducing the primal instincts in every member of society. This consistent psychological pattern spread amidst the overall population primarily due to the effects of the welfare state, produced a society of individuals with satisfied needs, significantly reducing the number of various social conflicts. In other words, this change has undeniably contributed to the broad social capital reconstruction.

On the contrary, the individual in state of material or physical vulnerability is reduced to the animal-kind of state. In such situation the individual is constantly forced to undertake actions necessary for the alleviation of his/hers socioeconomic conditions or even to struggle for his own survival. Only sociocentric institutions (e.g. religion, state, community) could inhibit this animosity, restrict and pacify interpersonal struggle for subsistence needs and alleviation of the socioeconomic conditions by force or intense moral values. For a long time religion, and Church especially, played this role by imposing for example redistribution of wealth and goodwill actions in favor of the poor or other disadvantaged categories of the population in the name of mercy.

Ingelhart had perfectly explained – although he has also added other factors – that greater satisfaction of one’s own basic needs and decent socioeconomic conditions have shifted the order of personal priorities. Without being concerned for one’s own socioeconomic needs – delivered by the welfare state – individual’s attention has been liberated from necessity to achieve immediate material personal interests. Although, individuals were indeed turned in part to the achievement of non-material personal interest (Ingelhart, 313, 320), post-materialists also give more attention to the achievement of non-personal values (e.g. minorities’ rights). Distraction from personal material interests, as well as postwar humanistic values (see 2.4.), developed in individuals a sense of community, compassion towards others, kindness, mercy, which are no longer supported by traditional sociocentric institutions (religion). Thus, social cohesion is a derivative of welfare state, which contributed to pacification of social relations and construction of broad (universal) social capital.

In advanced societies, the objective of a greater social justice was realized at the end of XIX and throughout the XX century, as achievement of social rights and redistribution of wealth via progressive income taxation. The main social conflicts between workforce and the wealth holders prompted governments to undertake measures of redistribution of wealth, as well as to entitle the poor – majority of the population at this time – with the basic social rights and advantages. Thus was archived a middleclass society in which each member’s basic needs are satisfied and decent socioeconomic conditions are provided to everyone (or almost everyone). Such redistribution of wealth in society had reduced the poverty, which is clearly a factor of social disruption on a broad (national) level, as well as diminished trust and crime rates, which are in part due to the poverty levels.

Some authors claim that this argument is false, because “Modern societies, despite being richer overall, have become more unequal, or have otherwise experienced economic turbulences and job losses that have led to social dysfunction” (Fukuyama, 65). We can gainsay such ideas by saying that they do not consider the situation globally, which – compared to developing countries – is not changed dramatically even during economic turbulences. The basic needs of every member of society are globally satisfied; the quality of life of the majority of the population is not undermined at such level that the majority of the population losses access to the basic social services (education and minimal health services…). The inequalities of the developed countries that we can observe during the economic turbulences are not such that the majority of the population could be impoverished and placed in the position of the necessity to struggle for subsistence needs or even basic social advantages. Moreover, democratic institutions of the developed countries are still there and will contribute to redistribution of wealth – unequally dispersed during economic crises – and heal such social dysfunctions.

2.4. The role of post WWII humanistic values in construction of universal social capital

By reducing the necessity to fight for one’s own subsistence needs, the welfare rights produced such feelings as compassion to the others, kindness and mercy; pacified human relations, and thus contributed to the construction of social capital. There are various forms of social capital that are empowered by welfare rights; they not only gave rise to national social capital, but also largely exceeded this form of social capital by prompting the advent of a larger (universal) form of social capital, which includes mankind or even exceeds human community by including even animals (animal fundamental rights). Nonetheless, the fact that welfare rights had transformed social capital via consolidation of national and contribution to the establishment of a larger – universal – form of social capital, there is another set of fundamental humanistic values that played significant role in the establishment of a universal social capital on the scale of humanity as a whole. We are talking about humanistic values that generated by the atrocities committed under the Nazi regime.

WW and Holocaust experience have changed our moral values; reshaped, renewed the conception of our human rights. New bills of rights have been drafted (Universal Declaration of Human Rights), new supranational institutions been created to enforce these renewed values (Council of Europe and its European court of human rights; International criminal court etc.). Huge changes have also been made on a national level: new (renewed) catalogues of human rights have replenished constitutional acts; constitutional courts have been established, brining the end of legicentrism in European countries.

Those are the direct consequences of infringements on human rights made by democratically elected assemblies of some countries during the WWII. These are the consequences of the distrust towards the modern democratic organization of political power, or the almighty power of democratically elected assemblies of the Nation-state. In other words, as Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it “…disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind…” brought United Nations to the necessity to “…reaffirm their faith in fundamental human rights…” and proclaim those renewed rights, heralding institutional changes within the nations, as well as on a supranational (international) level. In other words, it is “the end of rights of Man” (Arendt, 267), which we could observe during the WWII, that caused the rebirth and renewal of the conception of the human rights during the postwar era.

Special features of the new human rights were shaped as a direct reaction to the barbarous acts committed during WWII. The essence of the renewed human rights is in their reaffirmed universality, which was denied by barbarous acts carried against ethnic, religious, political and other minorities, is what emphasized the attention on A. Arendt (Arendt, 267-304). Besides the emphasis of the postwar human rights on barbarous acts (slavery, torture, and other inhuman or degrading treatments), which were committed during the WWII on a massive scale, they mainly focused on universality, antiracist and antidiscrimination values, which are the direct reaction against the antiminorities acts committed during the WWII and denied universal character of human rights.

Specific implications of those new values in life are many. We could limit our developments on this point to the quote by Harald E.L. Pins: “As a direct offshoot of the 1948 "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," it sought to dismantle any scientific justification or basis for racism and proclaimed that race was not a biological fact of nature but a dangerous social myth. As a milestone, this critically important declaration contributed to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court desegregation decision in “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka”. Thus, the pockets of discrimination – which concerned not only ethnic, religious or political minorities, but were also undoubtedly most unjust to those categories – were the main objective of the new human rights, and all efforts of post WWII era were directed against different sorts of inequality, discrimination and injustice. Moreover, this objective was not confined within the nation; it included all mankind.

As we have pointed out (see 2.2), equalization of conditions – which is attained trough equality of rights and opportunities – contributed to the formation of broad forms of social capital by calming the relations trough equalization of conditions between unequally endowed categories of population. The specificity of the post WWII human rights has changed this paradigm of equalization progress. Indeed, if in previous era equalization measures primarily concerned the inequalities de lege, or de facto inequalities of wealth and contributed to pacify mainly the relations between the aristocracy and bourgeoisie, and then pacify the relations between the bourgeoisie and the working class, the post WWII human rights have replenished the idea of equalization by the values of equalizing conditions not between well-off and have-nots, but also between the majority and different minorities of the population, as well as between nationals and non-nationals, thus further contributing to the overall social cohesion.

The socially cohesive effect of these new values concerned the discriminations of all sorts against different (primarily ethnic) minorities and non-nationals. Those categories are less integrated into society of nationals (majority), social cohesion of which is underpinned by language, religion, cultural traditions... New human rights, without destructing those factors of social cohesion of the ethnic majority of nationals, have created a basis for social cohesion, exceeding this narrow circle by building social unity of mankind, or contributing to the establishment of a universal social capital. This universal social capital is not limited to the national territory, within which the social unity is henceforth created between not only the majority of nationals, but also between them and different ethnic, religious, and other kinds of minorities living within national borders, but largely exceeds national borders and includes the whole humanity. Interestingly enough, such transformation of social capital under the effects of the new human rights also had negative impact for social capital (but only indirectly); tolerance to different minorities and non-nationals contributed to stimulate current waves of massive immigration into developed countries, which raised anti-immigration concerns, and undermined social cohesion between the native populations of developed countries and the newly arrived due to significant differences of culture (S. Huntington).


Different factors have played – and continue to play – a role in depletion and reconstruction of different forms of social capital. Among such we can cite immigration, which currently has significant role in deterioration of social capital in developed world or the development of new communication technologies, which role in reconstruction of interpersonal (as well as broad, universal) social capital is undeniable.

Among different factors of transformation of social capital, human rights play a significant role. In relation to the social capital, human rights play positive and negative roles, thus contributing to depletion and construction of social capital. Such effects of human rights on social capital could differ depending on a form of social capital. To simplify, human rights have undermined intense, interpersonal forms of social capital, mainly existing within the traditional social capital institutions (family, kin), but at the same time, strongly invested into broad (national, universal) forms of social capital.

In what concerns the depletion of social capital within the traditional, interpersonal social capital forms, human rights have undermined them – inter alia – because they contradict the very idea of human rights. Such effect of human rights upon traditional social capital institutions is produced among other things, because the social capital formed within the traditional social institutions (family, kin) was originally imposed, based on hierarchy and submission, i.e. incompatible with such human rights values as equality of rights for example.

The positive role of human rights with regards to social capital is mainly perceptible on a broad, non-interpersonal, mostly national or universal scale. Among other things, such effects can be explained by the very nature of human rights, particularly because of their universal character, which supposes that if such effects are possible, they are produced precisely on a universal scale. Indeed, universality, as one of the distinctive characteristics of human rights supposes that the same rules apply to all members of humanity and that any person has the same opportunities and access to the same minimum of basic goods and services, which – among other things – pacifies social tensions, and thus largely contributes to the broad forms of social capital construction.

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