Monday, September 2, 2013

Conference: Beyond Merchant and Missionary. Samuel Moyn and the quest for a holistic history of Human Rights, 1945-present

On September 30, 2013, the the Royal Netherlands Historical Society will host a conference on "Beyond Merchant and Missionary. Samuel Moyn and the quest for a holistic history of Human Rights, 1945-present," in The Hague. The program is here. Here's the idea:

In recent years in the United States many books have been published on the post-War history of Human Rights. In particular Samuel Moyn’s contribution has made some challenging points. The modern concept of human rights, he says, differs radically from older claims of rights, like those that arose from the French Revolution. According to Moyn, human rights in their current form cannot be traced to the Enlightenment, nor to the humanitarian impulses of the 19th century nor to the impact of the Holocaust after World War II. Instead he sees them as dating from the 1970s, exemplified by the efforts of the Carter presidency to make human rights a pillar of United States foreign policy and the Helsinki Accords.

Whereas Moyn focuses mainly on the United States, the situation on the other side of the Atlantic – in self-proclaimed Human Rights pioneering country the Netherlands in particular – might be different and perhaps even more interesting. Here Moyn’s analysis raises new questions on the recent history of the Human Rights debate in the Netherlands that are interesting not only to scholars who are directly involved with the topic, but even more to those who are working on the history of social movements, politics and religion, for in all these fields the need for the Netherlands to be an international pioneer on the topic was the subject of heated discussion.

However, in the Netherlands Human Rights is a very specialized field that consists mostly of lawyers and a handful of anthropologists and International Relations scholars. Especially the latter group has focused extensively on the history of Human Rights, but mainly on one aspect – the response of the Dutch government to violations by other countries and the truth and fiction of the so-called Dutch international pioneering or missionary role. What is missing so far is a more comprehensive and interdisciplinary narrative including elements of political history and social movements, memory, intellectual history, economics and (legal) philosophy. What is further lacking is a clear focus on the European Union reality in which the Netherlands exists. Samuel Moyn’s contributions and questions are a reason and a framework for the revitalization of the study of the history of Human Rights.

With this conference we are preparing the way for a new, comprehensive and interdisciplinary analysis of Human Rights history (1945-2013). We are bringing together different disciplines, but also renowned academics and talented young professionals. We intend to trigger those who study Human Rights to ask new questions and those who are working in an adjacent area to include the concept of Human Rights and the ideas of the Human Rights movement and to face legal-philosophical complexity in their analysis.