Human Rights and “Neoliberalism”

Much ink has now been spilled on the historical origins of human rights. That debate will continue no doubt. I have surveyed the wreckage in a recent review essay (in English here, but for some similar thoughts auf Deutsch see here) but there is no doubt that problems large and small remain to resolve.

One of the biggest is how to formulate the historical relationship between humanitarianism and human rights. In my view, the best thing to say is that the former is old and the latter (conceptualized as the quest for an international regime pursued by transnational movements) is new, though humanitarianism certainly did create many   norms originally framed outside an individualist or rights-based paradigm that contemporary movements have now put in one.

A new debate, however, has arisen, and to me it is much more interesting than continuing to scavenge among the early constituents of our human rights era. It is a debate — especially if along the lines of my book The Last Utopia you adopt my chronology — that engages the historical relationship between human rights and market fundamentalism.

Continue reading