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Samuel Moyn's argument in The Last Utopia suggests that the origins of human rights, as a "utopian program" to transcend national bounderies, is a contemporary idea (5). It is utopian because the movement's nature is politically neutral while implemented universally beyond ethical and national law standards. Through an explanation of classical Greek concepts, revolutions, and the Enlightenment, Moyn successfully discards previous scholarship that attempts to `date' human rights. Rather, he claims the recent human rights movement only manifested in the 1970s during a time of failed utopias such as communism, fascism, and socialism (3-5). Moyn's reasons that the origin of human rights' importance is to assist scholars in realizing human rights as a last utopian ideal and movement (214). For, "if the past is read as preparation for a surprising recent event," then it is that both the past and the present notions concerning human rights that are "distorted" (11). Yet, Moyn's seeking to discard previous interpretations of philosophy and historiography to establish a contemporary origin for human rights impedes `rights' work already established. In other words, all the world's revolutions and era of Enlightenment have facilitated in setting humanity upon the course toward recognizing human rights. Each step was a gradual shift toward realization. To discard that rhetoric simply for the sake of `dating' human rights in the 1970s, and through an American perspective no less, seems a bit arbitrary as each historical era appears to have interpreted `rights' differently.
To emphasize his points each chapter is constructed to flow chronologically to provide crucial insight into his argument. The treatise opens with a focus on classical rights talk that influenced the revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Moyn shows that the contemporary origins of human rights is not within these earlier ideas. Rather, he claims earlier motivations of individual rights and civil rights were inspired by the creation of state sovereignty. Therefore, the setting of state boundaries were not the same as setting the boundaries for universal human rights. Yet, through Moyn's backward-looking trajectory of history, where he utilizes a contemporary understanding of human rights against earlier constructs, inhibits us from identifying `human rights talk' within original individual rights of man philosophy. That is to say, that Moyn's contemporary definition of human rights does not fit those of ancient history. However, Moyn's transition to the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights at the start of the Cold War falls in line with the recent international trends in the historiography as he shows that human rights became marginalized in order to preserve global national and corporate interests (68-71).
Moyn then explains why the origins of human rights do not rest in the 1940s. He concludes that human rights did not take off during this era due to the creation of new nation-states and the partition of Europe at the onset of the Cold War. It, however, seems more likely that the number of stateless people who roamed Europe in the 1940s, as postulated by Hannah Arendt, also worked against the establishment of a universal human rights movement during this era as well. He attributes the marginalization of human rights to European decolonization and anticolonialism efforts of Middle Eastern nations to claim sovereignty through self-determination as new nation-states.
Moyn is adamant about showing decolonization and anticolonialism in the Middle Eastern nation-states was more about a proclamation to self-determination than it was about disseminating human rights (85). But it stands to reason that if an eventual focus on the individual is forthcoming, then an organization of nation-states is also warranted. That is to suggest that if human rights are to going to find success internationally and universally, the world organization of nation-states must first be established ans consequently stabilized. Nonetheless, Moyn proves again that the origins of human rights are not found in the anticolonial movements either as self-determination toward statehood was their primary goal.
The true utopian project of human rights does not manifest until the 1970s with the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter. Where his inaugural address marked the first time in (human?) history that a leader claimed to embed human rights within foreign policy. To be sure, Carter specifically incorporated human rights rhetoric as an umbrella to encompass, democracy promotion, genocide prevention and a host of other American ideals (158). As Moyn posits, discussions that concerned US foreign policy "were permanently altered, with new relevance for a `moral' option that now referred explicitly to individual human rights" (158). The "moral" turn in US foreign policy was soon corrupted, first by Carters insistence on looking the other way concerning leftist political dictators, and then by the Reagan Administration who conversely went after them. In the later years, human rights became a political device used to justify US foreign invasion (173). In locating the true origin of human rights, Moyn allows future historians to assess the progress of human rights and their consequent mutations. For it is the inevitable outcome that for an egalitarian ideal such as human rights, in order to universally manifest as the law of the land, must be embedded into the absurdity of politics where it must undergo the careful scrutiny of self-interested lawyers and businessmen.