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Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry:
(University Center for Human Values)

by Michael Ignatieff

ISBN 0691114749 / 9780691114743 / 0-691-11474-9
Publisher Princeton University Press
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry may raise some hackles for its controversial approach to a sacrosanct subject, but Michael Ignatieff's arguments are carefully wrought and compassionate. Ignatieff is director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, and his work is part history of the evolution of human rights in international politics and part caution that it not become a new religion. He writes, "We need to stop thinking of human rights as trumps and begin thinking of them as a language that creates the basis for deliberation."

The book centers on two essays by Ignatieff. In the second, "Human Rights as Idolatry," he identifies three main challenges to the universality of human rights: Islam, East Asia, and, most interestingly, the West itself. According to Ignatieff, the West is forsaking its political heritage of individualism and thereby eroding the foundations upon which a truly universal system of human rights may be built. In addition to the author's intriguing essays, there is an introduction by Amy Gutmann, as well as comments from K. Anthony Appiah, David A. Hollinger, Thomas W. Laqueur, and Diane F. Orentlicher. The critical reactions to Ignatieff, together with a short response of his own, have the makings of an intelligent and accessible debate. --Eric de Place [via]