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Proffesional Book Review of The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History - Essay Example

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Book Review: The Last Utopia: human rights in history In The Last Utopia, Samuel Moyn posited an interesting perspective: that human rights is a relatively new phenomenon. Moyn’s assumption is that instead of emerging out of the rationalism and humanism of the classical Greece, the enlightenment of Europe or out of the humanist impulses of the 19th century, the concept was born only during the presidency of Jimmy Carter in the 1970s…
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Proffesional Book Review of The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History
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Download file to see previous pages Fortunately, Mr. Moyn is a historian, teaching modern European intellectual history at Columbia University. The publication of this book has been eagerly awaited and it is largely attributed to Mr. Moyn’s reputation in human rights circles. He is widely regarded human rights academic and has previously published several books under his name such as A Holocaust Controversy and the Origins of the Other. The Last Utopia contains remarkable historical readings based on a wide range of legal documents and primary speeches. If one were to judge the merit of this book on this account alone, it would have been exemplary for the sheer breadth of historical information collected. But is that enough to validate his proposition? The framework articulated in Moyn’s book is that the human rights movement alleged originated “seemingly from nowhere”1 within the 1950s and 1960s periods. He identified some semblance of movement – a depoliticized and reactionary initiative to political events that transpired mostly within the struggles for independence among colonized nations. The book is particularly credible when it imposed the idea of an internationalist utopia of human rights arising from the failures in these struggles for national self-determination. In addressing these developments, the world supposedly became aware and proactive in the desire to ensure human dignity, which was driven by largely by American, British and French thinkers and, henceforth, policymakers. Moyn used an approach that could be likened to a historical regression in a systematic inductive method. He began with the discussion of modern human rights definition and proceeded on tracing the trajectory of historical narrative that led to the development of such concept. The outcome of the process is one of the impressive achievements of the book. It included interesting themes and historical issues that are not normally found in similar texts and studies. For instance, there is the case of his analysis of W.E.B Du Bois work and its impact on Pan African struggle for independence from European powers. There was also Moyn’s examination of the life and career of Louis Henkin, an influential scholar of international law and foreign policy.2 He is widely credited for his role in the American human rights policies particularly during his stint at the United States Department of State. These individual cases in addition to global events and themes (i.e. the development of European political thought) depicted human rights trends and demonstrated Moyn’s excellent grasp of the modern concept of human rights. There is, however, a sense of narrowness to his fundamental argument. By positing that human rights – that with a truly internationalist and universal characters - is a recent phenomenon, he was rejecting previous developments that qualify within those parameters. For example, the movement against slavery has been international and universal in scope and they are not unlike his human rights criteria of being international in character and moral in passion. The same goes in the case of the 19th century development, when the laws of war were drafted. There are so many critical events, figures, thoughts and issues that Moyn cannot possibly explain from his limited position. One is reminded of the Red Cross. This ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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