The Utopian 9 (2012)

Adam Etinson
University of St. Andrews
In the epilogue to his recent revisionist history of human rights, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, Samuel Moyn considers the complex pressures exerted on the modern idea of human rights in light of its utopian status. One of these pressures, according to Moyn, consists in the “burden of politics,” i.e. the need for human rights to do more than offer “a set of minimal constraints on responsible politics,” but to present a bona fide political programme of their own. In this essay review, I reflect on an opposite problem: the complex pressures exerted upon our utopian imagination in light of its habitual association with the modern idea of human rights. In particular, I illustrate the impoverishing effect that a preoccupation with rights can have on our utopian ideals. These reflections form the basis for my argument that, far from aiming as Moyn does to preserve the utopian status of the idea of human rights, we ought to wrest utopian thought free from its preoccupation with rights.
Keywords Utopianism  Human Rights  Rights Theory
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