Moyn on Human Rights and Neoliberalism

The coupled birth of the concept of human rights and of market fundamentalism in the 1970s has sparked the question of their common genealogy. For Naomi Klein, as summarized in the words of Susan Marks, both are tied by the "neo-liberal version of 'private' capitalism, with its now familiar policy prescription of privatisation, deregulation and state retreat from social provision," as human rights emerged as a "non-political creed". Samuel Moyn, author of The Last Utopia and Human Rights in History, in which he traced the emergence of Human Rights, called attention to the importance of this debate and offered his particular take on it.

In an article in Humanitarianism & Human Rights entitled Human Rights and "Neoliberalism" Moyn explains that, rather than being the "ideological mystification of market fundamentalism," human rights and market fundamentalism are not linked by any "significant causal relationship":

Human rights and market fundamentalism share some negative conditions (e.g., the collapse of welfarism and socialism) as well as some ideological affinities. Putting them in the same picture, however, is interesting not because there is any significant causal relationship between them (and certainly not that human rights have actually abetted neoliberal victories). Rather, their companionship illustrates that if human rights languages and movements and regimes have been successful on some fronts, they have been disappointing on others. If human rights and market fundamentalism are frères ennemis, the sad fact is that human rights have failed to allow the enactment of much resistance against their more powerful sibling. To put it differently, historical companionship is bad enough.

Samuel Moyn will write more on this question in an upcoming essay to be published in the collection Law and Contemporary Problems.

Visit Humanitarianism & Human Rights to read the article in full.