An Unconventional History of Human Rights
By David E. Anderson
An excerpt: In a provocative and contrarian new book, “The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History” (Harvard University Press, 2010), Columbia University professor Samuel Moyn outlines the moral and political dilemmas in which the movement currently finds itself, describing his subject as “the place of human rights in the history of moral opinions and modern schemes of progressive reform.”
Moyn takes a revisionist and decidedly minority stance compared with more conventional histories of human rights. Generally, historians mark the beginning of human rights with the revolutions—American and French—of the late 18th century, with traces leading back to the Bible and Greek philosophy and forward to the 1945 formation of the United Nations and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But Moyn rejects these usual starting points, instead positing the 1970s, and especially the crucial year of 1977, as the true moment of the birth of the human rights movement.
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