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Samuel Moyn

  • Look Back in Anger

    January 31, 2017

    A book review by Samuel Moyn...While Mishra long ago recognized the uses of Western thought in understanding the causes of global rage, in his new book, Age of Anger, he turns to intellectual history to counter civilizational or theological explanations for that rage in its more recent forms. After September 11, 2001, a crew of specialists arose to designate Islam the cause of hatred and violence; their essential goal was to immunize our own way of life from blame and scrutiny. Such analysts could never anticipate how their own states and cultures gave rise to a broader discontent—including in Europe and the United States. After votes for Brexit and Donald Trump, it turns out it was not just “radicalized” Muslim youths who resented elites and resorted to violence as a means of revenge.

  • Beyond Liberal Internationalism

    January 13, 2017

    An essay by Samuel Moyn. The foreign policy consequences of Donald Trump’s election are agonizingly unpredictable. As with any schoolyard braggart, Trump says so much that nobody can ever know which parts he might actually mean. Unlike the devil we knew, Trump defies any attempt to forecast his choices, and therefore to anticipate a response. But if progressives stick to a popular front strategy, uniting in a grand coalition allowing liberals and neoconservatives to define a more responsible approach to Trump’s foreign policy, they could miss the ripest opportunity they have had in a generation to indict the Democratic Party’s profound mistakes.

  • ‘Muslims, immigrants concerned about Trump regime’

    January 6, 2017

    As the whole world speculates how US President-elect Donald Trump would shape the destiny of his country and the world, Harvard-based academic Samuel Moyn, who is in the city, tells Express about what might be in store. THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: As Donald Trump gets ready to assume office as the President of the United States, Muslims and immigrants who have been his targets during the election campaign, are seriously concerned about their future, says Samuel Moyn, Professor of Law and History at Harvard University. Moyn, a specialist in Human Rights and International Law, was in the city to deliver a lecture on the topic ‘Human Rights and Globalisation’. The lecture was organised by the Department of Law, University of Kerala.

  • Diversity and U.S. Legal History

    December 7, 2016

    During the fall 2016 semester, a group of leading scholars came together at Harvard Law School for the lecture series, "Diversity and US Legal History," which was sponsored by Dean Martha Minow and organized by Professor Mark Tushnet, who also designed a reading group to complement the lectures.

  • Trump and the limits of human rights

    November 16, 2016

    An op-ed by Samuel Moyn. The international human rights system, with its diverse global movements, is epoch-making, allowing stigma to be applied to errant states on matters of crucial global concern. But promoting its exclusive relevance in the face of injustice, as if the alternative were apathy or despair, is simply not going to cut it. In fact, the election of Donald Trump furnishes an opportunity to transcend the naïve celebration and apocalyptic criticism of international human rights in the name of balance about their true importance.

  •  Freud’s Discontents

    November 2, 2016

    An article by Samuel Moyn. On the death of Sigmund Freud, W.H. Auden memorably observed that he was “no more a person now but a whole climate of opinion.” And this was 1939—he had seen nothing yet of Freud’s influence. Across the North Atlantic, Freud’s new science of psychoanalysis transformed common sense and was itself transformed in a host of new applications. In the humanistic disciplines, and especially in literary study, engagement with psychoanalysis became almost obligatory. The general public was equally enthralled by Freud’s ideas. His books circulated widely, on college campuses especially, and his thought traversed popular culture from fiction to film... In light of such wide influence, it is rather shocking how swiftly, if just beyond conscious notice, Freud’s relevance has waned in the past two decades.

  • Samuel Moyn

    A Work in Progress

    October 21, 2016

    Harvard Law Professor Samuel Moyn ’01 discusses the potential and the limitations of the human rights movement when it comes to creating just societies.

  • How Civil Liberties Went Mainstream

    September 26, 2016

    A book review by Samuel Moyn. During World War I, Roger Nash Baldwin was running a rag tag organization called the American Union against Militarism when he decided to create a civil liberties bureau, in part because he felt that defending conscientious objection to conscription would serve his wider pacifist goals. He knew that there was no mention of “civil liberties” in the United States Constitution—and that even the phrase itself would be unfamiliar, since it had not much figured in political rhetoric before...Over the course of those three decades, as the story is usually told, Americans were convinced to honor free speech in new ways thanks to heroic judges who had the good sense to agree with civil libertarians. The starring role in this tale is given to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes...Laura Weinrib overturns this simple narrative in her utterly brilliant new book. “The Taming of Free Speech: America’s Civil Liberties Compromise” shows that civil libertarian politics originated out of a trade-unionist movement for economic justice, and that its conscious choice to frame itself as serving constitutional principles above the political fray ironically disarmed the progressive movement out of which it was born.

  • How Human Rights Were Used to Hurt the USSR and Blunt the Left

    September 13, 2016

    The story goes that human rights rhetoric took down the Soviet Union. The USSR couldn’t stand up to the propaganda onslaught, led by internal and external dissidents propelled by newly-minted human rights language. But the story has more to it, Samuel Moyn, Harvard law and history professor and author of The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, told teleSUR. The Soviet constitution of 1936 “offered more human rights to its citizens than any state in human history”—especially in what would later become known as social and economic rights—he said, but it couldn’t stand up to the romantic moralism of the West. No matter that the United States had not ratified key human rights covenants that the USSR had: one side was weaker and came up short in the war of words.

  • Why the War on Terror May Never End

    June 27, 2016

    A book review by Samuel Moyn. Since the Greeks, we have known of blood feuds of violence and vengeance that repeat in endless cycles, with new rounds only taking the catastrophe further out of control. And since the Greeks, escape routes have been identified and sought — Aeschylus hoped law could provide reconciliation; Jesus later claimed this power for love. But in his disturbing new book, “Spiral,” Mark Danner worries there is no way out of today’s “forever war,” which continues unabated after 15 years. Danner spares no analogy, classical or modern, to raise awareness of this predicament. In our spiral, he says, we are both like Cadmus sowing dragon’s teeth — our victories produce new adversaries — and like the madcap inventors of a perpetual motion machine that continuously recreates the problem it was designed to solve.

  • Local Roots, Universal Rights

    June 6, 2016

    A book review by Samuel Moyn. A few years ago, the British human-rights lawyer Philippe Sands received an invitation to give a lecture in Lviv, Ukraine, the city where his grandfather had been born and lived as a young man. As he prepared his lecture on genocide and crimes against humanity, Mr. Sands learned that the two men responsible for those very concepts—and thus for his own professional concerns—were also intimately connected with the Galician town, which since World War I has passed from Austro-Hungarian through Polish, German, Soviet and Ukrainian hands. One of these two Jewish lawyers, Hersch Lauterpacht, was born near Lviv and spent much time there. The other, Rafael Lemkin, trained in law at the city’s university, where he and Lauterpacht shared some influential teachers. They were also both present at the Nuremberg trials, where the legal concepts they had each forged were pioneeringly used in the case against the Nazis.

  • Rights vs. Duties

    May 16, 2016

    An article by Samuel Moyn. In 1947 Julian Huxley, English evolutionary theorist and director-general of UNESCO, wrote Mohandas Gandhi to ask him to contribute an essay to a collection of philosophical reflections on human rights. Gandhi declined. “I learnt from my illiterate but wise mother,” he replied, “that all rights to be deserved and preserved came from duty well done. Thus the very right to live accrues to us only when we do the duty of citizenship of the world.” Huxley should not have been surprised by the rejection. As far back as Hind Swaraj (1909), his masterpiece in political theory, Gandhi had bemoaned “the farce of everybody wanting and insisting on . . . rights, nobody thinking of . . . duty.” And during World War II, when another Englishman, H. G. Wells, solicited Gandhi’s support for his bill of rights defining war aims, the mahatma recommended that Wells write a cosmopolitan charter of duties instead—a statement of what citizens of the world owe to each other...So we are now very familiar with the claim that all humans everywhere have rights. But we are much less familiar with the notion that rights are protected by the fulfillment of duties.

  • You Must Remember This

    May 4, 2016

    An article by Samuel Moyn. The duty to remember—especially to remember victims lost to political evil—has become one of the most commanding mantras of our culture. Yet it is astonishing how recently this imperative became so authoritative. Kings have raised monuments to their own alleged greatness for millennia, but commemoration of the dead of the wars of nations reached its apogee only in the early twentieth century with the end of World War I and now-familiar invocations of the heroism and self-sacrifice of soldiers for the sake of the nation’s political fortunes.

  • Are human rights really universal?

    April 19, 2016

    An interview with Sam MoynIn the aftermath of the Second World War, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed a set of rights for all humankind, belonging to each of us simply by virtue of being human. Universalism - that they belong to everyone, everywhere - is the key idea that grounds human rights, it gives them meaning, application and authority. Talking to legal philosophers, historians, sceptics and advocates, Helena Kennedy QC explores the philosophical and historical foundations of human rights. Are they really universal or is this just moral posturing on a grand scale, a legal fiction, a philosophical sleight of hand?

  • David Kennedy on ‘How Power, Law, and Expertise Shape Global Political Economy’

    April 8, 2016

    In his latest book, 'A World of Struggle: How Power, Law, and Expertise Shape Global Political Economy,' Professor David Kennedy points to widespread uncertainty and ambivalence about the world and explores 'the role of expertise and professional practice in the routine conflicts through which global political and economic life takes shape.'

  • Why Did Humanity Ignore the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

    April 1, 2016

    An op-ed by Sam MoynThe most interesting question to ask about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948, is why it was ignored in its own time, even as it is celebrated in our own. The reason, I believe, is that the document reflected not a breakthrough internationalist minimalism but a small part of a familiar nationalist welfarism, in which a concern for civil liberties was not separated from economic and social entitlements.

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    Harvard Corporation agrees to retire HLS shield

    March 14, 2016

    The Harvard Corporation has approved the recommendation of the Harvard Law School Shield Committee to retire the HLS shield, which is modeled on the family crest of an 18th century slaveholder.

  • Law School committee recommends retiring current shield

    March 4, 2016

    A committee of Harvard Law School faculty, students, alumni, and staff established in November by Dean Martha Minow has recommended to the Harvard Corporation that the HLS shield — which is modeled on the family crest of an 18th century slaveholder — no longer be the official symbol of Harvard Law School.

  • Justice Delayed: The Political Origins and Uncertain Future of Global Justice

    January 27, 2016

    An op-ed by Samuel Moyn. Since the 1970s, "global justice" has surged as a central topic in Anglophone political theory and philosophy. Why? A typical account, for instance from Martha Nussbaum, credits contemporary philosophers with transcending "the frontiers of justice," courageously leaving behind arbitrary limits normally imposed on distributive justice beyond borders. This option - there are now competing positions in the field - frequently labels itself cosmopolitan. The idea is that it took up a philosophical legacy going back to the Greek and Roman Stoics, who first called for "citizenship of the world," before Enlightenment thinkers such as Immanuel Kant revived their visionary program. I think much work in global justice is genuinely inspiring, but I want to offer two qualifications.

  • Jorge Gonzalez S.J.D ’13: A career shaped by interdisciplinary and global perspectives

    January 6, 2016

    Inspired by the interdisciplinary approach so many at Harvard Law School brought to studying law, Jorge Gonzalez S.J.D '13 is deploying that same approach in his own teaching and curricular development, translation work, and research.

  • Committee exploring whether Harvard Law School shield should be changed

    November 30, 2015

    Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow has announced the creation of a committee to research if the school should continue to use its current shield. The shield is the coat of arms of the family of Isaac Royall, whose bequest endowed the first professorship of law at Harvard.

  • Harvard Law School Will Reconsider Its Controversial Seal

    November 30, 2015

    On the heels of an incident of racially-charged vandalism on campus, Harvard Law School Dean Martha L. Minow has appointed a committee to reconsider the school’s controversial seal—the crest of the former slaveholding Royall family that endowed Harvard’s first law professorship in the 19th century...Law professor Bruce H. Mann will serve as the chair of the committee, according to Minow’s email. Mann will be joined by Law professors Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Annette Gordon-Reed, Janet E. Halley, and Samuel Moyn...Two students and an alumnus will also serve on the committee.

  • The Beauty and the Costs of Extreme Altruism

    November 8, 2015

    A book review by Samuel Moyn...That such a life—a uniquely fortunate one in the annals of history—is essentially unearned in a world of horrors is a truth that our culture keeps at bay most of the time. But disquiet about it erupts all the same, in some people more than others. What if you were so often troubled by the incongruity between your sense of material comfort and the destitution of others, or unable to find routine defenses against it, that you felt you had to change your life entirely? “It was never a new idea that people are selfish,” Larissa MacFarquhar observes in one of the lapidary aphorisms scattered throughout Strangers Drowning, her masterpiece of a book about those among us who decide to drop everything and become extreme altruists.

  • Faculty Books In Brief—Fall 2015

    October 5, 2015

    “Choosing Not to Choose: Understanding the Value of Choice,” by Professor Cass R. Sunstein ’78 (Oxford). Choice, while a symbol of freedom, can also be a burden: If we had to choose all the time, asserts the author, we’d be overwhelmed. Indeed, Sunstein argues that in many instances, not choosing could benefit us—for example, if mortgages could be automatically refinanced when interest rates drop significantly.

  • Pope Francis has given up on human rights. That’s a good thing.

    September 21, 2015

    An op-ed by Samuel Moyn. Pope Francis has been called a great champion for the downtrodden. Yet unlike many progressives throughout the West who admire him, he rarely expresses his concerns about the plight of the poor in terms of human rights. This silence is significant. In the 1930s and ’40s, Popes Pius XI and XII proclaimed human rights as humanity’s highest values. Their defense decisively influenced the authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. During his own storied visit to America in 1979, the newly elected Pope John Paul II insisted on the importance of human rights, especially freedom, and was lionized for facing down the communist empire of his Eastern European homeland. No one interested in how human rights became the idea of our time can ignore how Christians learned to champion them. But they changed their meaning in the process. This is changing under Francis, and that might be a good thing.

  • Do Human Rights Increase Inequality?

    May 26, 2015

    An article by Samuel Moyn. Imagine that one man owned everything. Call him Croesus, after the king of ancient lore who, Herodotus says, was so "wonderfully rich" that he "thought himself the happiest of mortals." Impossibly elevated above his fellow men and women, this modern Croesus is also magnanimous. He does not want people to starve, and not only because he needs some of them for the upkeep of his global estate. Croesus insists on a floor of protection, so that everyone living under his benevolent but total ascendancy can escape destitution. Health, food, water, even paid vacations, Croesus funds them all. In comparison with the world in which we live today, where few enjoy these benefits, Croesus offers a kind of utopia. It is the one foreseen in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), a utopia that, though little known in its own time, has become our own, with the rise in the past half-century of the international human rights movement — especially now that this movement has belatedly turned its attention to the economic and social rights that the declaration promised.

  • Toward total war

    February 17, 2015

    One hundred years ago, in the first two months of 1915, what was then called the Great War — puzzled over by experts gathered at a Harvard conference on Friday ― established its most enduring historical signatures...Moderated by Dean Martha Minow of the Law School, the title of the first panel, “The Transnational Theater of War,” was a reminder, Minow said, of the unprecedented global nature of the conflict. ..In the same panel, Samuel Moyn, a Harvard professor of law and history, was to talk about “Aggression and Atrocity: From the Great War to the Forever War.”

  • Meet this year’s new HLS faculty

    September 9, 2014

    A host of new faculty members arrived at Harvard Law School this academic year, and over the summer, Dean Martha Minow announced two new faculty who will join HLS in 2015.

  • The promise World War I couldn’t keep

    August 11, 2014

    An op-ed by Samuel Moyn. The guns of August 1914 unleashed a debate that is still with us: Can the laws of war actually impose limits on how war is carried out? Germany invaded Belgium, violating that nation's neutrality -- which was guaranteed by treaties stretching back to the 19th century. This act horrified the world -- as would the civilian occupation policies that marked German rule in Belgium, Northern France, and elsewhere during the long years of trench warfare. The question of how much international law should be respected during wartime has resurfaced repeatedly through the 20th century -- in America, it has come up frequently since 9/11, especially surrounding the "torture debate."

  • Historian of human rights joins Harvard Law faculty

    February 18, 2014

    Samuel Moyn '01, a leading historian and prize-winning author, will join the faculty of Harvard Law School starting July 1, 2014 as professor of law. Moyn currently serves as James Bryce Professor of European Legal History in the Columbia University history department.

  • Recent Faculty Books – Fall 2014

    November 21, 2010

    In his essays, Samuel Moyn considers topics such as human rights and the Holocaust, international courts, and liberal internationalism. Skeptical of humanitarian justifications for intervention, he writes,“[H]uman rights history should turn away from ransacking the past as if it provided good support for the astonishingly specific international movement of the last few decades.”