Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Samuel Moyn on human rights in history
The Last Utopia
Human Rights in History
by Samuel Moyn
(Belknap Press, 2010)
Human rights offer a vision of international justice that today’s idealistic millions hold dear. Yet the very concept on which the movement is based became familiar only a few decades ago when it profoundly reshaped our hopes for an improved humanity. In this pioneering book, Samuel Moyn elevates that extraordinary transformation to center stage and asks what it reveals about the ideal’s troubled present and uncertain future.
For some, human rights stretch back to the dawn of Western civilization, the age of the American and French Revolutions, or the post–World War II moment when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was framed. Revisiting these episodes in a dramatic tour of humanity’s moral history, The Last Utopia shows that it was in the decade after 1968 that human rights began to make sense to broad communities of people as the proper cause of justice. Across eastern and western Europe, as well as throughout the United States and Latin America, human rights crystallized in a few short years as social activism and political rhetoric moved it from the hallways of the United Nations to the global forefront.
It was on the ruins of earlier political utopias, Moyn argues, that human rights achieved contemporary prominence. The morality of individual rights substituted for the soiled political dreams of revolutionary communism and nationalism as international law became an alternative to popular struggle and bloody violence. But as the ideal of human rights enters into rival political agendas, it requires more vigilance and scrutiny than when it became the watchword of our hopes.
1. Humanity Before Human Rights.
2. Death Through Birth.
3. Why Anticolonialism Wasn't a Human Rights Movement.
4. The Purity of this Struggle.
5. International Law and Human Rights.
6. The Burden of Morality.
7. "Human Rights" in the New York Times.
8. Human Rights in the 1940s.
9. Human Rights between 1968 and 1978
Samuel Moyn is Professor of History at Columbia University.
See Samuel Moyn's lecture on "The Last Utopia" (video, 48 minutes).
An excerpt from his new book appears in "The Nation" (August 30 -September 6, 2010), entitled "Human Rights in History". Also see his "On the Genealogy of Morals" from "The Nation" in 2007.