In The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, Samuel Moyn attempts to
correct the recent historiography of human rights and international law. He
criticizes historians who fail to understand that theories of contemporary human
rights, which envision rights in a world not dominated by the sovereignty of
nation-states, did not evolve out of historic discussions of political and human
rights. Moyn argues that international lawyers and advocates who fail to
understand that today's idealistic definition of human rights arose unexpectedly in
the 1970s lack the understanding and drive to properly advocate for today's
utopian vision of rights. In making this claim, he rejects what historians might call
a "whig" approach to human rights history -a historical narrative that reveals a
clear evolutionary path toward progress. This Book Review examines Moyn's
claims and discusses the origin of the term whig history. It then suggests that whig
approaches to history, although possibly inaccurate, in fact have a persuasive power
which advocates of human rights and international law could use to further
Moyn's idealistic aims.
"On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Human Rights Law: Reading Samuel Moyn's The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History,"
Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal: Vol. 15
, Article 5.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yhrdlj/vol15/iss1/5