Moyn's anticipated book on human rights and equality (or, is Moyn a lumper now?)


By Lael Weinberger, JD/PhD candidate at the University of Chicago's law school and history department. Follow him on Twitter @LaelWeinberger.

History and State of the field

Samuel Moyn has his long-awaited book on human rights and economic inequality due out in March 2018. It promises a to cover a long history indeed. But the publisher's webpage describes the book as follows:

The age of human rights has been kindest to the rich. Even as state violations of political rights garnered unprecedented attention due to human rights campaigns, a commitment to material equality disappeared. In its place, market fundamentalism has emerged as the dominant force in national and global economies. In this provocative book, Samuel Moyn analyzes how and why we chose to make human rights our highest ideals while simultaneously neglecting the demands of a broader social and economic justice.

In a pioneering history of rights stretching back to the Bible, Not Enough charts how twentieth-century welfare states, concerned about both abject poverty and soaring wealth, resolved to fulfill their citizens’ most basic needs without forgetting to contain how much the rich could tower over the rest. In the wake of two world wars and the collapse of empires, new states tried to take welfare beyond its original European and American homelands and went so far as to challenge inequality on a global scale. But their plans were foiled as a neoliberal faith in markets triumphed instead.

Moyn places the career of the human rights movement in relation to this disturbing shift from the egalitarian politics of yesterday to the neoliberal globalization of today. Exploring why the rise of human rights has occurred alongside enduring and exploding inequality, and why activists came to seek remedies for indigence without challenging wealth, Not Enough calls for more ambitious ideals and movements to achieve a humane and equitable world.

Sam Moyn entered the field of human rights with his influential and provocative book, The Last Utopia (2010), which had a significant influence on the development of human rights historiography. One of the most important points in Last Utopia was historical discontinuity, the classic "splitter" move. It was a sharp critique of long narratives (what I like to call the "deep history" narratives) about human rights, that move from the ancients to the Universal Declaration to the present. Now his latest book promises a history stretching back to the Bible. I'm intrigued! Has Moyn become a lumper now? In any case, I'm looking forward to the book.