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Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry Michael Ignatieff Edited and with an introduction by Amy Gutmann With commentary by K. Anthony Appiah, David A. MICHAEL IGNATIEFF is a London-based commentator with the BBC and CBC. He was spread of human rights represents moral progress, in other words, are. In Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, Michael Ignatieff sees both progress and retrenchment. Since the Universal Declaration of Human.

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There’s a problem loading this menu right now. Though economic rights — such as the right to basic subsistence — are still largely aspirational, that doesn’t mean they are not deeply important to human-rights advocates and their critics in much of the world. In the second, “Human Rights as Idolatry,” he identifies three main challenges to the universality of human rights: Get to Know Us.

Those looking for specific policy proposals for addressing these difficult issues may be unsatisfied. I can’t say I’m entirely convinced, mind you.

If there is a minimal standard that human-rights advocates can count on it is the inviolability of the body. He then explores the ideas that underpin human rights, warning that human rights must not become an idolatry.

Edited and introduced by Amy Gutmann. I have heard the author speak on foreign policy issues and find him to be a generally capable foreign policy commentator. The opening essays introduce a range of concerns within the contemporary human rights movement.

Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry by Michael Ignatieff

Throughout, Ignatieff balances idealism with a sure sense of practical reality earned from his years of travel in zones of war and political turmoil around the globe. Though Ignatieff is an elegant writer, and though he makes an important contribution in his discussion about the centrality of deliberation, a lot of what he has to say seems oddly out of sync with the reality of contemporary human-rights activism.

I s the world moving forward or backward when it comes to honoring and protecting basic human rights? A philosophical liberal and a strong believer in the power of constitutions, Ignatieff boldly confronts difficult issues. Skip to main content. A History of Humanitarianism. Orentlicher, along with Ignatieff’s response. The activist tendency to present a “a set of moral trump cards” is part of what Ignatieff sees as the problem of “human rights as idolatry.


It is now time, he writes, for activists to embrace a more modest agenda and to reestablish the balance between the rights of states and the rights of citizens.

A vibrant array of nongovernmental organizations — from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International at the global level to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Tunisian Human Rights League at the local one — report on and agitate against human-rights abuses in almost every country, and their campaigns command attention.

He poses some tough and uncomfortable questions about the limits of the movement’s power and reach, noting that “few mechanisms of genuine accountability connect [nongovernmental agencies] and the communities in civil society whose interests they seek to advance. The strength in this sensible, dense collection of essays about the burgeoning human rights movement lies not in the answers it gives but in the questions it raises.

One might say the same about the United States, which since September 11 has detained thousands of immigrants without charges or access to counsel, questioned legions of other Arab-American men around the country, and set up military tribunals — lacking in basic due-process protections — to try suspected terrorists. The two essays that form the core of Ignatieff’s book were originally delivered as lectures at Princeton University in The problem, as Ignatieff recognizes, is that such a task is beyond the capacity of the human-rights community.

But there are problems, too. International Human Rights Law: In the spirit of Isaiah Berlin, he argues that human rights can command universal assent only if they are designed to protect and enhance the capacity of individuals to lead the lives they wish.

Overall, there is not much of value in this book. The Best Books of Home Magazine Blogs Tapped: And yet just in the last decade, at a time when the human-rights movement’s influence seemed greater than ever, the fire walls proved at times to be paper thin.


Since the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights inthis revolution has brought the world moral progress and broken the nation-state’s monopoly on the conduct of international affairs. It could have done the same in Rwanda, had the Irghts States seen Central Ignatiefff as being as vital to its national interest as is Central Europe. The respondents cordially critique Ignatieff’s practical arguments as watered down and morally relativist. And what about the death penalty as practiced by Alabama and Texas and condemned by Amnesty International — traditionally the most minimalist of human-rights groups — and by every European ally of the United States?

Get fast, free shipping with Amazon Prime. But concentrating on civil and political rights has not been sufficient to pursuade some in developing countries that activists are properly concerned about issues of basic sustenance. A World in Disarray: Amazon Renewed Refurbished products with a warranty.

In a recent New York Times article, he suggested that “the question after September 11 is whether the era of human rights has come and gone,” citing evidence that a number of countries, including China, Egypt, Russia, the Sudan, and even Australia, are exploiting the war against terrorism to cloak their human-rights abuses. They might have tempered Ignatieff’s well-framed arguments with a wider range of experience.

If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support? In much of Africa and Asia, it is the perceived selectivity of many Western human-rights advocates, not their broader concerns, that undermines their credibility.

Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry by Michael Ignatieff

Don’t have a Kindle? In a passage that should shame us all, Ignatieff writes:. In a passage that should shame us all, Ignatieff writes: Add all three to Cart Add all three to List.