The Long History of Human Rights: Review of Samuel Moyn, Christian Human Rights

Witte, Jr., John
This Essay assesses Samuel Moyn's revisionist argument that human rights were born only in the mid-twentieth century and then mostly as a shrewd Christian response to the secular liberalism and communist materialism that endangered the Church's political interests and influence. This account largely ignores the West's enduring and evolving tradition of rights, which have been an integral part of its commitment to the rule of law and constitutional order. Jurists since classical Roman and
more » ... l times used rights language to define the law's protection, support, limitations, and entitlements of various persons and groups in society, and to map the proper interactions between political and other authorities and their respective subjects. Early modern Catholics, Protestants, and Enlightenment liberals built on this tradition, setting out most of the rights that the twentieth century declared to be universal rights of humankind. Moyn exaggerates the conservative Catholic influences on the mid- twentieth-century international human rights movement, and fails to credit the wide range of religious and philosophical views that were equally influential. And he exaggerates the secular character of contemporary human rights discussions, and fails to recognize the essential role of religion and belief in making rights real.
doi:10.17613/naqe-yk58 fatcat:gkqyugpt2za63pp7m5najpwudu