New Birth of Freedom

From The New York Times:

Cooper-popup Human rights have come to dominate international discourse, but while this fact is often portrayed as the culmination of a centuries-old tradition, Samuel Moyn, a professor of history at Columbia University, takes a different view. The modern concept of human rights, he says in “The Last Utopia,” differs radically from older claims of rights, like those that arose out of the American and French Revolutions. According to Moyn, human rights in their current form — applicable to all and internationally protected — can be traced not to the Enlightenment, nor to the humanitarian impulses of the 19th century nor to the impact of the Holocaust after World War II. Instead, he sees them as dating from the 1970s, exemplified by President Jimmy Carter’s effort to make human rights a pillar of United States foreign policy.

Today’s human rights movement emerged “seemingly from nowhere,” Moyn says, as a depoliticized, moral response to disillusionment with revolutionary political projects, specifically the anticolonial independence struggles of the 1950s and ’60s. Moyn credibly juxtaposes the hopes placed in a new internationalist “utopia” of human rights against the failure of national self-determination to guarantee human dignity.

More here.