After Evil: A Politics of Human Rights

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The way in which mainstream human rights discourse speaks of such evils as the Holocaust, slavery, or apartheid puts them solidly in the past. Its elaborate techniques of "transitional" justice encourage future generations to move forward by creating a false assumption of closure, enabling those who are guilty to elude responsibility. This approach to history, common to late-twentieth-century humanitarianism, doesn't presuppose that evil ends when justice begins. Rather, it assumes that a time before justice is the moment to put evil in the past.

Merging examples from literature and history, Robert Meister confronts the problem of closure and the resolution of historical injustice. He boldly challenges the empty moral logic of "never again" or the theoretical reduction of evil to a cycle of violence and counterviolence, broken only once evil is remembered for what it was. Meister criticizes such methods for their deferral of justice and susceptibility to exploitation and elaborates the flawed moral logic of "never again" in relation to Auschwitz and its evolution into a twenty-first-century doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect.

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Editorial Reviews

ID: International Dialogue - Debra L. Delaet

Original, subtle, and provocative.

Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding - Joe Hoover

Robert Meister's central idea is that human rights since the end of the Second World War have provided a limited and problematic response to the phenomenon of political evil -- particularly slavery, colonialism, genocide, and ethnic cleansing.... The conclusion that Meister drives home is that human rights as they are understood today reconcile us to the given rather than offering grander visions of justice.... Human rights as we know them today are explicitly intended to limit the promise of justice -- both because the horrors of the twentieth century suggest that such promise might come at too high a cost, and because the promise of justice as greater political and social equality is opposed by the post-Cold War powers.

Holocaust and Genocide Studies - Claudia Card

Thoughtful and thought-provoking.


[ After Evil] contains many brilliant, perceptive and thought provoking insights.


Especially rich in exploring the psychological and religious dimensions of human rights practices and discourses, and in listening to those voices, including Islamist ones, that are currently viewed as opposed to human rights, thus helping to render them intelligible.

ID: International Dialogue

Original, subtle, and provocative.

— Debra L. Delaet

ID: International Dialogue
Original, subtle, and provocative.

— Debra L. Delaet

Postmodern Culture
This ambitious and persuasive book charts human rights as an ethical philosophy, a symbolic relation between subjects, and a pervasive ideology of our own relationship to history.

— Daniel Worden

Postmodern Culture - Daniel Worden

After Evil is a large, even magisterial book.... [It] aims to document human rights discourse... as an ideology that transcends any particular instance and operates as a symbolic logic, governing not just international law but our own emotional lives....This ambitious and persuasive book charts human rights as an ethical philosophy, a symbolic relation between subjects, and a pervasive ideology of our own relationship to history.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Robert Meister is professor of social and political thought at the University of California, Santa Cruz. An active participant in California higher education politics, he is director of the Bruce Initiative on Rethinking Capitalism at UCSC and the author of Political Identity: Thinking Through Marx.

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Table of Contents

Preface: My Task Introduction: Disavowing Evil
1. The Ideology and Ethics of Human Rights
2. Ways of Winning
3. Living On
4. The Dialectic of Race and Place
5. "Never Again"
6. Still the Jewish Question?
7. Bystanders and Victims
8. Adverse Possession
9. States of "Emergency"
10. Surviving Catastrophe Conclusion: Justice in Time Acknowledgments Notes References Index

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