Thursday, April 7, 2011

Moyn, "The Rights of Man Return"

On the heels of Tomiko's post on Samuel Moyn's The Last Utopia, I noticed this essay in Dissent, on the "return of the rights of man." Moyn argues that
we should beware of reducing the Middle Eastern revolution to local foreign policy spats—and therefore to our human rights. To find a parallel for what we see today, we have to go further back, to well before international human rights had been invented as a foreign policy conundrum.

In fact, the Middle Eastern revolution seems to be most of all about an earlier idea that we have lost the ability to talk about—what used to be called the “rights of man,” not our more recent notion of human rights, along with the activities and institutions Westerners have devised around it.

From their first deployment in the French Revolution through the century of liberal nationalism that climaxed and seemingly disappeared in twentieth-century decolonization, the rights of man were the slogan of revolutionaries. The votaries of the rights of man threw off grizzled despots and sclerotic bureaucracies in the name of humanity and nationality together. And they faced the problem of constituting the “people” or “nation” that was now said to rule instead.

You can find the rest here.