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Human Rights and the Uses of History

“The most influential of the [human rights] revisionists.” —Philip Alston, Harvard Law Review
What are the origins of human rights? This question, rarely asked before the end of the Cold War, has in recent years become a major focus of historical and ideological strife. In this sequence of reflective and critical studies, Samuel Moyn engages with some of the leading interpreters of human rights, thinkers who have been creating a field from scratch without due reflection on the local and temporal contexts of the stories they are telling.

Having staked out his owns claims about the postwar origins of human rights discourse in his acclaimed Last Utopia, Moyn, in this volume, takes issue with rival conceptions – including, especially, those that underlie justifications of humanitarian intervention.

Reviews

  • “There is a struggle for the soul of the human rights movement, and it is being waged in large part through the proxy of genealogy ... Samuel Moyn ... is the most influential of the revisionists.”
  • “With unparalleled clarity and originality, Moyn’s hard-hitting, radically revisionist, and persuasive history of human rights provides a bracing historical reconstruction with which scholars, activists, lawyers and anyone interested in the fate of the human rights movement today will have to grapple.”
  • “A most welcome book, The Last Utopia is a clear-eyed account of the origins of ‘human rights’: the best we have.”

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