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 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.
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.