Synopses & Reviews
What are the origins of human rights? This question, rarely asked before the end of the Cold War, has in recent years become a major focus of historical and ideological strife. In this sequence of reflective and critical studies, Samuel Moyn engages with some of the leading interpreters of human rights, thinkers who have been creating a field from scratch without due reflection on the local and temporal contexts of the stories they are telling.
Having staked out his owns claims about the postwar origins of human rights discourse in his acclaimed Last Utopia, Moyn, in this volume, takes issue with rival conceptions—including, especially, those that underlie justifications of humanitarian intervention
"In examining the development of the concept of human rights, Columbia University historian Moyn (The Last Utopia) takes a penetrating, provocative look at philosophical and political phrases that pepper current political discourse, such as 'human dignity' and 'humanitarian intervention.' Largely a gathering of book reviews for The Nation, Moyn argues for the relatively recent invention of 'human rights' as terminology, locates its use in the 'common parlance' in the 1970s 'with the emergence of dissident movements in Eastern Europe,' links it to 'liberal internationalism,' and suggests that 'history shows how frequently have been offered as justifications for invasion, expansion and annexation.' He scrutinizes the work of contemporary scholars including Lynn Hunt, Jeremy Waldron, Gary Bass, Jenny Martinez, Katherine Sikkink, Samantha Power, Elaine Scarry, and G. John Ikenberry. For unfamiliar readers, voices from the past (Melville, Roosevelt) and present (Bush, Obama) contribute to the accessibility of this dense book. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Samuel Moyn is James Bryce Professor of European Legal History at Columbia University, where he has taught since 2001. His previous books include The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History.