Human Rights and Neoliberalism

Nils Gilman in the LA Review of Books:

THIS MARVELOUS BOOK is a history of one of the hardest things to explain: why something did not happen. Histories of non-events are inherently difficult to write because of the methodological commitment of historians to stick close to documentary sources, and things that don’t happen rarely leave an obvious documentary trail. In this case, the non-event that Samuel Moyn describes in his new book, Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World, is the institutionalization of a political ethic of material egalitarianism.

The book takes the form of an intervention into two huge historical debates, the first about the history of neoliberalism and the second about the history of human rights, a field whose current contours Moyn helped to define with his 2010 book The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History. The puzzle he seeks to explain is: How is it that the era of neoliberalism, commonly said to have begun in the mid-to-late 1970s, coincides almost perfectly with the triumphant rise of a discourse of human rights? In other words, how can it be that an era whose ethical self-conception was rooted in a transnational movement to prevent abuses such as torture, disenfranchisement, and political imprisonment has also been an era in which national and global economies were remade in ways that have allowed wealthy capital owners to capture the large majority of economic productivity gains, creating in-country inequalities not seen since the late 19th century?

More here.