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Human Rights in World History [Paperback]

Peter N. Stearns

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Book Description

June 11 2012 0415507960 978-0415507967 1

Defended by a host of passionate advocates and organizations, certain standard human rights have come to represent a quintessential component of global citizenship. There are, however, a number of societies who dissent from this orthodoxy, either in general or on particular issues, on the basis of political necessity, cultural tradition, or group interest.

Human Rights in World History takes a global historical perspective to examine the emergence of this dilemma and its constituent concepts. Beginning with premodern features compatible with a human rights approach, including religious doctrines and natural rights ideas, it goes on to describe the rise of the first modern-style human rights statements, associated with the Enlightenment and contemporary antislavery and revolutionary fervor. Along the way, it explores ongoing contrasts in the liberal approach, between sincere commitments to human rights and a recurrent sense that certain types of people had to be denied common rights because of their perceived backwardness and need to be "civilized". These contrasts find clear echo in later years with the contradictions between the pursuit of human rights goals and the spread of Western imperialism.

By the second half of the 20th century, human rights frameworks had become absorbed into key global institutions and conventions, and their arguments had expanded to embrace multiple new causes. In today’s postcolonial world, and with the rise of more powerful regional governments, the tension between universal human rights arguments and local opposition or backlash is more clearly delineated than ever but no closer to satisfactory resolution.

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About the Author

Peter N. Stearns is Provost and Professor of History at George Mason University. He is Series Editor for Routledge's Themes in World History and founder and editor of the Journal of Social History. He is co-author of Premodern Travel in World History (2008) and author of Childhood in World History (2nd edition 2010), Globalization in World History (2009) Sexuality in World History (2009) Gender in World History (2nd edition 2006) and Western Civilization in World History (2003) all in this series.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Using this for textbook Oct. 1 2012
By M. Izady - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a nice account of the development of the topic of human rights in the West and can well serve as a suitable introductory textbook on history of human rights. And this without being encumbered by 8 pounds of needless and useless pages of splitting hair on this or that issue. But certainly this is not an ideal textbook. In fact, I have not found an ideal book on the subject to use for my college classes on this newish topic. My wife as usual, tells me "If you don't like it, then write your own buster!" Very apt observation which shuts me up nice and good, and prevents me from being over critical of the works of others who ACTUALLY finished and published theirs.

However, that does not mean I cannot be a bit critical. Somehow it seems this work was rushed through some kind of deadline as it is rife with typos, more so in some chapters than others, as well as incomprehensible sentences that pop in as frequently. It also rambles unnecessarily, wasting time and attention on total irrelevancies or going on tangent. A good editor--not the current airheads who are too busy answering phones than editing a written academic work--could have turn this otherwise informative work into a much much better book by weeding out the rambles, catch the typos and rephrase some sentences.

There are also historical inaccuracies and the general lack of knowledge by the author of anything non-Western: philosophers, politicians, political and social evolution of the rights of man in those other 90% of the world society, etc etc. He is not alone. This malady is pervasive in the West (and in the East, where they know even less about us as we know about them!) Which means, the book should have been retitled BY THE EDITOR(s) "Human Rights in Western History" which would have been accurate while keeping the book as valuable all the same. Most of us really need just the history of human rights in the West any way, even if we pretend to care about the rest of world (of which we know nothing substantive and beyond the maddeningly superficial headlines).

I do recommend this book as a textbook, however. It is a good work. No need looking for anything better, because there are none. Remember Voltaire: "Better is the enemy of good."

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