Monday, April 4, 2011

Human Rights in History

Legal historians and scholars of international law may be interested in The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History by Samuel Moyn (Columbia-history), a work that has generated significant interest in policy circles. Moyn excavates the origins and evolution of "human rights." He emphasizes historical contingency and explores the sectarian and "conservative" roots of ideological precursors to human rights--a concept commonly associated with secularism and liberalism. Moyn also dates "human rights," as the term is now deployed in law and policy, to the 1970s, a much later genesis than prior scholarship had presumed. For two opinions about the book, see this review, published in the New York Times, and this one, published in Slate.