Human rights as a form of idealism

Today Scott McLemee published an interview with me concerning my recent book The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Cambridge, Mass., 2010).

As I argue in response to one of Scott’s questions, I am skeptical of attempts to see international human rights yesterday and today as merely a “liberalism of fear” that is restricted to the cause of staving off political evil.

As I put it in the interview:

[T]hat wasn’t true in the 1970s, since several of those who most bitterly scorned prior utopias transmuted their idealism into new forms associated with human rights, rather than dropping idealism altogether. And it certainly isn’t true now, when human rights have expanded—notably in the global south—far beyond their original antitotalitarianism to embrace a host of causes of improvement, intersecting humanitarianism and development.

As our editorial collective notes in our initial programmatic statement, it is crucial to take the “redemptive” moment of human rights languages and movements seriously, and my hope is that the journal will explore this critical problem.

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About Samuel Moyn

Samuel Moyn is JHenry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale Law School and professor of history at Yale University. He has written several books in his fields of European intellectual history and human rights history, including The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Harvard, 2010), and edited or coedited a number of others. His most recent books are Christian Human Rights (Penn, 2015), based on Mellon Distinguished Lectures at the University of Pennsylvania in fall 2014, and Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World (Harvard, 2018).