This paper interrogates what we mean by “development through rights”, in a current time of human rights ‘weariness’ and ‘wariness’. The polarization of human rights into formal freedoms versus substantive equalities remains problematic, given the wider climate of rights scepticism, violations, widening inequalities and social polarization. The discussion returns to debates on the Right to Development (RtD), critically questioning its representation as mythical, and threatening to human rights. The portrayal of RtD as contested and separate from Human Rights-Based Approaches to development (HRBA) obscures a real history of achieved consensus regarding an alternative vision of universality which involves i) human and well-being centredness, ii) active, free and meaningful participation, iii) fair distribution of benefits and iv) emphasis on duties of international cooperation. The divergence of human rights and development (“passing ships”) persists despite the formal consensus and partial espousal of HRBA. While the language of HRBA has gained traction with some actors, RtD has, apparently, not. Minimalist doctrine of human rights coincide with the disturbing contemporary trend for state duty-bearers to redact their own positive ‘general duties’ to respect, fulfil, protect and promote human rights in general, while reframing their duties negatively, to promote ‘governance’ through deregulation, market opening and market ‘solutions’. The RtD interprets democratic politics in terms of emerging socio-economic and cultural rights claims. Doing development through rights reconnects a democratic politics of development to substantive normative concerns, re-orients development towards ethics and reaffirms its human-centred purposes.