How were human rights invented, and what is their turbulent history?
Human rights is a concept that only came to the forefront during the eighteenth century. When the American Declaration of Independence declared "all men are created equal" and the French proclaimed the Declaration of the Rights of Man during their revolution, they were bringing a new guarantee into the world. But why then? How did such a revelation come to pass? In this extraordinary work of cultural and intellectual history, Professor Lynn Hunt grounds the creation of human rights in the changes that authors brought to literature, the rejection of torture as a means of finding out truth, and the spread of empathy. Hunt traces the amazing rise of rights, their momentous eclipse in the nineteenth century, and their culmination as a principle with the United Nations's proclamation in 1948. She finishes this work for our time with a diagnosis of the state of human rights today.
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Lynn Hunt, former president of the American Historical Association and professor of history at UCLA, is the author of Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution and co-author of Telling the Truth About History.From Publishers Weekly:
This comprehensive work traces the development of human rights from its conceptual roots in the Enlightenment to its full expression in the United Nation's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Hunt begins with a wonderfully detailed lexicographical survey of 18th century uses of rights language ("rights of man," "natural rights," "rights of humanity") to show the many currents that led to the first modern declaration of human rights, the Bill of Rights. She then triangulates the upswing in rights language with both the appearance of the novel of letters (such as Rousseau's Julie and Samuel Richardson's Pamela and Clarissa) and the rise of portraiture in the mid- to late-18th century. These particular art forms, she argues, fostered a sense of individuality in their audience and empathy for their subjects, most frequently "regular folks" rather than nobles, royalty, or saints. She then takes the reader through 250 years of rights legislation, covering the French Revolution's Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, various anti-torture measures and 20th century campaigns against human rights violations, among others. Despite the obvious academic grounding of this sweeping work, it is aimed at a wider audience and will appeal to most readers interested either in the history of human rights or in European or American history.
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