Books

Christian Human Rights
Moyn, Samuel. Christian Human Rights. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In Christian Human Rights, Samuel Moyn asserts that the rise of human rights after World War II was prefigured and inspired by a defense of the dignity of the human person that first arose in Christian churches and religious thought in the years just prior to the outbreak of the war. The Roman Catholic Church and transatlantic Protestant circles dominated the public discussion of the new principles in what became the last European golden age for the Christian faith. At the same time, West European governments after World War II, particularly in the ascendant Christian Democratic parties, became more tolerant of public expressions of religious piety. Human rights rose to public prominence in the space opened up by these dual developments of the early Cold War.

Moyn argues that human dignity became central to Christian political discourse as early as 1937. Pius XII's wartime Christmas addresses announced the basic idea of universal human rights as a principle of world, and not merely state, order. By focusing on the 1930s and 1940s, Moyn demonstrates how the language of human rights was separated from the secular heritage of the French Revolution and put to use by postwar democracies governed by Christian parties, which reinvented them to impose moral constraints on individuals, support conservative family structures, and preserve existing social hierarchies. The book ends with a provocative chapter that traces contemporary European struggles to assimilate Muslim immigrants to the continent's legacy of Christian human rights.

Human Rights and the Uses of History
Moyn, Samuel. Human Rights and the Uses of History. New York and London: Verso, 2014. Publisher's VersionAbstract

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.

Rethinking Modern European Intellectual History
McMahon, Darrin M, and Samuel Moyn, ed. Rethinking Modern European Intellectual History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Modern European intellectual history is thriving as never before. It has recovered from an era in which other trends like social and cultural history threatened to marginalize it. But in spite of enjoying a contemporary renaissance, the field has lost touch with the tradition of debating why and how to study ideas and thus lacks both a well-articulated set of purposes and a range of arguments for exactly what it means to pursue those purposes. This volume revives that tradition. 

Recalling past attempts to showcase the diversity and differentiation of modern European intellectual history, this volume also documents how much has changed in recent decades. Some authors are much readier to defend a history of ideas practiced over the long term - once the defining sin of the field. Others go so far as to insist on how ideas are always open to reappropriation and reevaluation beyond their original contexts - suggesting that it is an error to reduce the ideas to those contexts. Others still argue that, under threat from trends like social history, intellectual historians have forsaken any attempt to resolve for themselves how ideas are socially embodied.

The volume also registers old and new trends in history that have affected the study of ideas, including the history of science, the history of academic disciplines, the history of psychology and "self," international and global history, and women's and gender history.

The Breakthrough: Human Rights in the 1970s
Eckel, Jan, and Samuel Moyn, ed. The Breakthrough: Human Rights in the 1970s. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Between the 1960s and the 1980s, the human rights movement achieved unprecedented global prominence. Amnesty International attained striking visibility with its Campaign Against Torture; Soviet dissidents attracted a worldwide audience for their heroism in facing down a totalitarian state; the Helsinki Accords were signed, incorporating a "third basket" of human rights principles; and the Carter administration formally gave the United States a human rights policy.

The Breakthrough is the first collection to examine this decisive era as a whole, tracing key developments in both Western and non-Western engagement with human rights and placing new emphasis on the role of human rights in the international history of the past century. Bringing together original essays from some of the field's leading scholars, this volume not only explores the transnational histories of international and nongovernmental human rights organizations but also analyzes the complex interplay between gender, sociology, and ideology in the making of human rights politics at the local level. Detailed case studies illuminate how a number of local movements—from the 1975 World Congress of Women in East Berlin to anti-apartheid activism in Britain, to protests in Latin America—affected international human rights discourse in the era as well as the ways these moments continue to influence current understanding of human rights history and advocacy. The global south—an area not usually treated as a scene of human rights politics—is also spotlighted in groundbreaking chapters on Biafran, South American, and Indonesian developments. In recovering the remarkable presence of global human rights talk and practice in the 1970s, The Breakthrough brings this pivotal decade to the forefront of contemporary scholarly debate.

Global Intellectual History
Moyn, Samuel, and Andrew Sartori, ed. Global Intellectual History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Where do ideas fit into historical accounts that take an expansive, global view of human movements and events? Teaching scholars of intellectual history to incorporate transnational perspectives into their work, while also recommending how to confront the challenges and controversies that may arise, this original resource explains the concepts, concerns, practice, and promise of “global intellectual history,” featuring essays by leading scholars on various approaches that are taking shape across the discipline.

The contributors to Global Intellectual History explore the different ways in which one can think about the production, dissemination, and circulation of “global” ideas and ask whether global intellectual history can indeed produce legitimate narratives. They discuss how intellectuals and ideas fit within current conceptions of global frames and processes of globalization and proto-globalization, and they distinguish between ideas of the global and those of the transnational, identifying what each contributes to intellectual history. A crucial guide, this collection sets conceptual coordinates for readers eager to map an emerging area of study.

The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History
Moyn, Samuel. The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 2010. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Human rights offer a vision of international justice that today’s idealistic millions hold dear. Yet the very concept on which the movement is based became familiar only a few decades ago when it profoundly reshaped our hopes for an improved humanity. In this pioneering book, Samuel Moyn elevates that extraordinary transformation to center stage and asks what it reveals about the ideal’s troubled present and uncertain future.

For some, human rights stretch back to the dawn of Western civilization, the age of the American and French Revolutions, or the post–World War II moment when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was framed. Revisiting these episodes in a dramatic tour of humanity’s moral history, The Last Utopia shows that it was in the decade after 1968 that human rights began to make sense to broad communities of people as the proper cause of justice. Across eastern and western Europe, as well as throughout the United States and Latin America, human rights crystallized in a few short years as social activism and political rhetoric moved it from the hallways of the United Nations to the global forefront.

It was on the ruins of earlier political utopias, Moyn argues, that human rights achieved contemporary prominence. The morality of individual rights substituted for the soiled political dreams of revolutionary communism and nationalism as international law became an alternative to popular struggle and bloody violence. But as the ideal of human rights enters into rival political agendas, it requires more vigilance and scrutiny than when it became the watchword of our hopes.

The Modernist Imagination: Intellectual History and Critical Theory
Breckman, Warren, Peter E Gordon, Dirk Moses, Samuel Moyn, and Elliot Neaman, ed. The Modernist Imagination: Intellectual History and Critical Theory. New York: Berghahn Books, 2009. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Some of the most exciting and innovative work in the humanities currently takes place at the intersection of intellectual history and critical theory. Just as critical theorists are becoming more aware of the historicity of theory, contemporary practitioners of modern intellectual history are recognizing their potential contributions to theoretical discourse. No one has done more than Martin Jay to realize the possibilities for mutual enrichment between intellectual history and critical theory. This carefully selected collection of essays addresses central questions and current practices of intellectual history and asks how the legacy of critical theory has influenced scholarship across a wide range of scholarly disciplines. In honor of Martin Jay's unparalleled achievements, this volume includes work from some of the most prominent contemporary scholars in the humanities and social sciences.

Democracy Past and Future
Rosanvallon, Pierre. Democracy Past and Future. Edited by Samuel Moyn. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Democracy Past and Future is the first English-language collection of Pierre Rosanvallon's most important essays on the historical origins, contemporary difficulties, and future prospects of democratic life.

One of Europe's leading political thinkers, Rosanvallon proposes in these essays new readings of the history, aims, and possibilities of democratic theory and practice, and provides unique theoretical understandings of key moments in democracy's trajectory, from the French Revolution and the struggles for universal suffrage to European unification and the crises of the present. In so doing, he lays out an influential new theory of how to write the history of politics. Rosanvallon's historical and philosophical approach examines the "pathologies" that have curtailed democracy's potential and challenges the antitotalitarian liberalism that has dominated recent political thought. All in all, he adroitly combines historical and theoretical analysis with an insistence on the need for a new form of democracy. Above all, he asks what democracy means when the people rule but are nowhere to be found.

Throughout his career, Rosanvallon has resisted simple categorization. Rosanvallon was originally known as a primary theorist of the "second left", which hoped to stake out a non-Marxist progressive alternative to the irresistible appeal of revolutionary politics. In fact, Rosanvallon revived the theory of "civil society" even before its usage by East European dissidents made it globally popular as a non-statist politics of freedom and pluralism. His ideas have been shaped by a variety of influences, ranging from his work with an influential French union to his teachers François Furet and Claude Lefort.

Well known throughout Europe as a historian, political theorist, social critic, and public intellectual, Pierre Rosanvallon was recently elected to a professorship at the Collège de France, Paris, a position held at various times by Claude Lévi-Strauss, Michel Foucault, and Pierre Bourdieu. Democracy Past and Future begins with Rosanvallon's groundbreaking and synthetic lecture that he delivered upon joining this institution. Throughout the volume, Rosanvallon illuminates and invigorates contemporary political and democratic thought.

Origins of the Other: Emmanuel Levinas between Revelation and Ethics
Moyn, Samuel. Origins of the Other: Emmanuel Levinas between Revelation and Ethics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The French-Jewish thinker Emmanuel Levinas (1906–1995) is today remembered as the central moralist of the twentieth century and remains a major presence in the contemporary humanities. In this book, written in lucid and jargon-free prose, Samuel Moyn provides a first and controversial history of the makings of his thought, and especially of his trademark concept of “the other."

Restoring Levinas to the intellectually rich and combative atmosphere of interwar Europe, Origins of the Other overturns a number of views that have attained almost stereotypical familiarity. In a careful overview of Levinas's career, Moyn documents the philosopher's early allegiance to the great German thinker Martin Heidegger. Showing that Levinas crafted an idiosyncratic vision of Judaism, rather than returning to any traditional source, Moyn makes the startling suggestion that Protestant theology, as it spread across the continent in new forms, may have been the most plausible source of Levinas's core concept. In Origins of the Other, Moyn offers new readings of the work of a host of crucial thinkers, such as Hannah Arendt, Karl Barth, Karl Löwith, Gabriel Marcel, Franz Rosenzweig, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Jean Wahl, who help explain why Levinas's thought evolved as it did.

Moyn concludes by showing how "the other" assumed an ethical bearing (long after its first invention) when Levinas's thought crystallized in Cold War debates about intellectual engagement and the relation of morality and politics. An epilogue relates Levinas's Totality and Infinity to current philosophical discussions in Europe and America and reflects on the difficult relationship between philosophy and religion in the modern world.

A Holocaust Controversy: The Treblinka Affair in Postwar France
Moyn, Samuel. A Holocaust Controversy: The Treblinka Affair in Postwar France. Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2005. Publisher's VersionAbstract

How has the world come to focus on the Holocaust and why has it invariably done so in the heat of controversy, scandal, and polemics about the past? These questions are at the heart of this unique investigation of the Treblinka affair that occurred in France in 1966 when Jean-Francois Steiner, a young Jewish journalist, published Treblinka: The Revolt of an Extermination Camp. A cross between a history and a novel, Steiner’s book narrated the 1943 revolt at one of the major Nazi death camps. Abetted by a scandalous interview he gave, as well as Simone de Beauvoir’s glowing preface, the book shot to the top of the Parisian bestseller list and prompted a wide-ranging controversy in which both the well-known and the obscure were embroiled.

Few had heard of Treblinka, or other death camps, before the affair. The validity of the difference between those killing centers and the larger network of concentration camps making up the universe of Nazi crime had to be fought out in public. The affair also bore on the frequently raised question of the Jews’ response to their dire straits.

Moyn delves into events surrounding the publication of Steiner’s book and the subsequent furor. In the process, he sheds light on a few forgotten but thought-provoking months in French cultural history. Reconstructing the affair in detail, Moyn studies it as a paradigm-shifting controversy that helped change perceptions of the Holocaust in the French public and among French Jews in particular. Then Moyn follows the controversy beyond French borders to the other countries—especially Israel and the United States—where it resonated powerfully.

Based on a complete reconstruction of the debate in the press (including Yiddish dailies) and on archives on three continents, Moyn’s study concludes with the response of the survivors of Treblinka to the controversy and reflects on its place in the longer history of Holocaust memory. Finally, Moyn revisits, in the context of a detailed case study, some of the theoretical controversies the genocide has provoked, including whether it is appropriate to draw universalistic lessons from the victimhood of particular groups.