Patrick William Kelly at the LARB:
If human rights are to survive our fraught present and endure in the future, it is incumbent upon scholars to adopt a far more critical stance toward the study of human rights than they have so far been willing to do. Of course, academics have responded to the urgency of this crisis in a myriad of ways, and some had warned of the coming catastrophe from the politics of human rights. Despite the assault on human rights, some scholars cling to an uplifting and triumphalist story of the rise of human rights, one that leaves us both unable to understand the present and incapable of navigating the future. In this myth, humanity’s history is rendered as a slow but steady account of progress that will culminate in an Elysium of human rights. Far from helping us make sense of the challenges of our confusing present of human rights, these quixotic quests ransack the past in search of feel-good narratives of moral ascent and stirring stories of “hope” in the future — as if the misrepresentation of the past will magically bring about a brighter future in the name of human rights.