Author Archives: Paul Betts

About Paul Betts

Professor of European history at St. Antony's College, Oxford University. He is the author of The Authority of Everyday Objects: A Cultural History of West German Industrial Design (Berkeley, 2004) and has co-edited four books on German history, including (with Alon Confino and Dirk Schumann) Between Mass Death and Individual Loss: The Place of the Dead in Twentieth-Century Germany (Berghahn, 2008), and (with Katherine Pence) Socialist Modern: East German Everyday Culture and Politics (Michigan, 2008). His most recent book, Within Walls: Private Life in the German Democratic Republic (Oxford, 2010), was awarded the Fraenkel Prize by the Wiener Library, London, in 2010. He was joint editor of the journal German History from 2004 to 2009.

Socialism, Social Rights, and Human Rights: The Case of East Germany

Over the course of the Cold War and beyond, Western commentators tirelessly criticized the Soviet Union and its satellite states for ignoring and/or violating human rights in their national territories, despite lip service paid to these cherished ideals. Betts seeks to shift the focus by exploring how human rights were discussed and understood in the Eastern Bloc from the mid-1960s on, using the German Democratic Republic as a case study. Particular emphasis is placed on the ways in which socialist theorists—initially hostile to Western human rights talk—eventually found a way of accommodating human rights with socialist ideals. It is, Betts argues, the materialization of social rights (as opposed to the abstract civil rights of the West) that largely distinguished the socialist understanding of rights in East Germany, dovetailing as they did with broader notions of national sovereignty and socialist civilization.