A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

by Mary Ann Glendon
     
 

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This is the story of Eleanor Roosevelt's proudest achievement, one that both she and generations of historians came to see as her greatest contribution to world history. It marks a crucial turning point in her life, just after the death of FDR, when she had to decide who she would be and what she would do now that she was no longer her husband's wife and the First

Overview

This is the story of Eleanor Roosevelt's proudest achievement, one that both she and generations of historians came to see as her greatest contribution to world history. It marks a crucial turning point in her life, just after the death of FDR, when she had to decide who she would be and what she would do now that she was no longer her husband's wife and the First Lady. It was at this time that the Eleanor Roosevelt who has been enshrined in our memories as one of the greatest women in American history was born.

The story begins at the height of the Second World War, when FDR and Churchill met on a ship in the mid-Atlantic to cement their resolve to combat the barbarism of Nazi Germany. Out of that meeting emerged the Atlantic Charter, grounded in Roosevelt's famous four freedoms: The war, he said, was a fight for civilization, a battle to defend mankind's freedom of speech and of expression, freedom to worship God in one's own way, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

One of FDR's most cherished dreams as the war drew to a close was that all of the nations dragged into this conflagration would come together to form an international organization whose purpose would be to ensure that such a war would never happen again. Ravaged by illness and strain, the president would not live to see the birth of his dream. He died a few months before the opening of the United Nations in London, and, to the great chagrin of the American delegation, Eleanor Roosevelt went in his place. She performed so well that she was asked to head one of the UN's most sensitive commissions. Her assignment was to hammer out the world's first international bill of rights, a document that would enshrine Roosevelt's four freedoms and define the rights that every man and woman in every country around the world should enjoy. That document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was the founding document of the modern rights movement. It transformed the language and texture of international relations, gave legitimacy to anti-colonial movements, inspired a new form of activism, and helped bring down totalitarian regimes. It is the primary inspiration for most rights instruments in the world today.

This is the dramatic and inspiring story of that extraordinary achievement, of the remarkable group of men and women from around the world who participated in it and knew, like the framers of the Declaration of Independence, that they were making history. They worked against the clock in the brief window between the end of the Second World War and the deep freeze of the Cold War. As they struggled to achieve their task, Berlin was blockaded by Soviet troops, Israel declared itself a state and war broke out in the Middle East, China's government was overtaken by Mao's Communist insurgency, and India gained independence.

Mary Ann Glendon is the perfect person to tell this story. An award-winning author and prominent figure in the world of human rights, she led the Vatican delegation to the Beijing Women's Conference. She is a distinguished professor of law at Harvard and has a gift for bringing history to life with passion and immediacy. In addition, she was given exclusive access to unpublished personal diaries and letters of key participants in the creation of the Declaration. A landmark work of narrative history, A World Made New is the first book devoted to this crucial moment in Eleanor Roosevelt's life and in world history.

Editorial Reviews

Merle Rubin
Mary Ann Glendon takes the title of her latest book from the conclusion of Eleanor Roosevelt's nightly prayer: "Save us from ourselves and show us a vision of a world made new."

There is the irony of the quest for human rights: The worst enemies of human rights are human beings themselves. Yet in the aftermath of World War II, a group of far-sighted people brought forth a document designed, as Glendon puts it, "to improve the odds of reason and conscience against power and interest."

On Dec. 10, 1948, without a single dissent, the United Nations General Assembly voted to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since then, though its principles have often been violated, the declaration has served as an inspiration and a rallying cry for people all over the world.

The story of how this document came to be written and adopted is fascinating from a philosophical perspective, involving questions like: What is a human being? What is society? How do we balance civil and political liberties with economic and social welfare?

It is equally fascinating from the perspective of diplomacy, showing how a group of individuals, disagreeing among themselves, shepherded the declaration through a minefield of international and interpersonal conflict.

The difficulties were daunting. One of the participants, Lebanon's Charles Malik, wrote in his diary: "Intrigue, lobbying, secret arrangements, blocs, etc. It's terrible."

A philosophy professor, Malik added: "Power politics and bargaining nauseate me. There is so much unreality and play and sham that I can't swing myself into this atmosphere and act." But that was before he met Eleanor Roosevelt.

Indeed, Glendon's book reminds us that it is almost impossible to overestimate the greatness of Eleanor Roosevelt. In her role as US delegate to the UN, we can only marvel at Mrs. Roosevelt's combination of high principles and political adroitness. Her devotion to noble goals was equaled by her people smarts, as she parried attacks on US policies, defused tensions, and built bridges of consensus.

The declaration was a group effort, and Glendon shows us what a remarkable group they were. Their numbers included Roosevelt and Malik; as well as P.C. Chang, China's Renaissance man; René Cassin, a key figure in de Gaulle's resistance; Carlos Romulo, a fiery Philippine anti-colonialist; and Hansa Mehta of India, who worked to ensure that the declaration would include the rights of women.

Glendon deftly locates these players in the context of an increasingly fraught world. As representatives sought common ground, Arab nations were attacking the new state of Israel, Communists were seizing power in China and Czechoslovakia, and the American-Soviet wartime alliance was falling apart.

A central bone of contention for the framers of the declaration was: To what extent, if any, should the provisions be enforceable? Was it simply, as some argued, a waste of time to issue a declaration that made no provision for punishing violations? Or, if the document were drafted as an enforceable covenant with real teeth, would the US and USSR withdraw their support?

Glendon, a Harvard law professor and a critic of what she considers a combative approach to enforcing rights, defends the less rigorous approach that was in fact adopted. Only the more gradual effects of moral suasion and education, she believes, can lead to the changes that pave the way for legal enforcement of rights. And in this, she argues, the declaration has proved a qualified success, a beacon, showing people the way to a better future.

Glendon mounts a persuasive defense of the declaration's universality. Its framers, as she shows us, consulted a wide range of traditions in defining human rights, creating a structure flexible enough to allow for cultural differences, yet forthright in its enunciation of the fundamentals.

Current mantras of cultural relativism, she points out, give cover to authoritarian leaders seeking to silence criticism, while the growing number of Westerners who have ceased to believe in the idea of truth and falsehood may be even more dangerous.

"It is one thing," she writes, "to acknowledge that the human mind can glimpse truth only partially, quite another to deny its existence altogether." Glendon's fine book enhances our appreciation of the men and women who sought and found a way to enunciate universals.
Christian Monitor.com
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1947, in a world recently ripped apart by the Holocaust, a devastating war and mass displacement, the very idea of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights seemed both impossible and supremely necessary. As the specter of the Cold War loomed, a U.N. delegation, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, began writing what would become the world's first standard statement of human rights. Glendon, a professor of law at Harvard University, has written a compelling, at times thrilling account of how Roosevelt and her cohorts argued and cajoled one another through a series of intellectual, political and moral positions, finally hammering out a statement that was acceptable across national, religious and philosophical lines. While Glendon successfully traces the evolution of the document--which was ratified on December 10, 1948, after six drafts and much debate by the U.N. General Assembly--she also presents a richly textured portrait of a woman driven to public service while simultaneously grieving for her late husband. Roosevelt's politics were also at issue: at one point, she resigned from the U.N. over the U.S. government's initial disapproval of the creation of Israel. Glendon concludes with a legal analysis of the declaration and a lengthy discussion of its applicability today, when many non-Western nations (such as China) claim that the concept of "universal" human rights precepts precludes an acceptance of cultural differences. Glendon's work is a welcome addition to the realm of international law and to the growing body of literature on Eleanor Roosevelt's role in modern politics. Agents, Lynn Chu and Glen Hartley, Writer's Representatives. (Mar. 30) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
When it was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the first formal statement of what the phrase human rights actually entailed. Glendon (law, Harvard) has written a legislative history of the Declaration covering both the negotiation process and the ratification debates and process during the years 1946-52. The book is based on extensive access to the diaries and unpublished memoirs of many of the participants as they worked with the horrors of World War II fresh in their minds and against the backdrop of the rapidly chilling Cold War. While the content and phrasing of the Declaration are the product of the many fine minds and strong personalities who worked on it, Eleanor Roosevelt is here given full credit for facilitating the process and steering the group to a final agreement that incorporated the best from many cultural and religious traditions. Recommended for academic libraries and broad Roosevelt collections.--Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A worthy review of the history and impact of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights,"the polestar of an army of international human rights activists." Glendon (Law/Harvard Univ.; A Nation Under Lawyers, 1994) guides the reader through the drafts and redrafts of a document that has been compared to the Declaration of Independence and the French 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man. As a member of the UN Commission on Human Rights and chair of the draft committee, Eleanor Roosevelt used her prestige and popularity to shepherd a document that affirmed the"brotherhood" of human beings in society and spelled out their rights to life, liberty, and"security of person," as well as more controversial civil, political, social, and economic rights. Her committee included Arabs and Jews, Chinese, Russians, and Brits, each with different definitions not only of"rights" but of the relationship and responsibilities of the state to the individual and vice versa. While Roosevelt was the best-known committee member, she wrote very little of the actual Declaration and, regrettably, came to be a mouthpiece for the US State Department on some issues. Nevertheless, she directed a hardworking group, with meetings running late into the night and discussions continuing at her teas and dinner parties. Glendon gives equal credit to committee members whose faith, determination, and skills at negotiating compromise built bridges between Moslem and Christian, for instance, over issues concerning women and marriage. The United Nations General Assembly accepted the Declaration without providing enforcement mechanisms, but this did not bother Roosevelt. She believed strongly that despite its lackoflegal muscle, it would serve as a"moral beacon" for all nations, and in concluding chapters Glendon argues that this is precisely the case. As much about the process and the players as the issues, but worthwhile, sometimes inspiring, reading for students of the shifting politics of human rights. (b&w photos, illustrations)

From the Publisher
“Riveting and important...Glendon tells this story with vivid detail and narrative drive.”
—The Washington Post

“Vividly written and evenhanded, A World Made New is an important, potentially galvanizing book, and in this frightful, ferocious time, marked by war and agony, it is urgent reading.”
—Blanche Wiesen Cook, Los Angeles Times

“A terrific story, and Glendon tells it well....An illuminating and unexpectedly timely book.”
—The New Republic

“The definitive account...Anybody concerned with the question of human rights in today’s world will need to read it and refer to it.”
—The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679463108
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/20/2001
Edition description:
1 ED
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.57(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt



Excerpt

Politics, it has been said, is "the arena where conscience and power meet, and will be meeting until the end of time."

Conscience so often fares poorly in such encounters that we celebrate the occasions when Power gives her more than a tip of the hat. In April 1945, as delegates from fifty lands gathered in San Francisco for the United Nations founding conference, Power was much on display. Battleships leaving the Pacific harbor with men and materiel were a grim reminder that the war with Japan was still raging. The tides of war in Europe, however, had turned in favor of the Allies, and the "Big Three" (Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States) had begun jockeying for the positions they would hold in the new world order. As part of their planning for the postwar era, the Allies invited to the San Francisco conclave all states that had declared war on Germany and Japan by March 1, 1945.

The Allied leaders had agreed in principle on the need for an international organization to prevent future aggression, assure the stability of frontiers, and provide a means for resolving disputes among nations, but the most vigorous supporter of the idea was Franklin Roosevelt. The American president was mindful that the failure of the first such organization, the League of Nations, was due in no small measure to President Woodrow Wilson's inability to convince the Senate to ratify the treaty establishing it. A driving force behind the League's formation after World War I, Wilson had been bitterly disappointed.

To prevent a repetition of that debacle, Roosevelt had begun speaking to the American people about his hopes for anew world organization during the war. "Nations will learn to work together," he insisted, "only by actually working together."

In a radio address on Christmas Eve 1943, he emphasized that the main purpose of such an organization would be to keep the peace. The United States had no interest, he said, in Allied domination over other nations: "The doctrine that the strong shall dominate the weak is the doctrine of our enemies—and we reject it."

Now, with the confidence born of approaching victory, Roosevelt believed the time had come to make up for the mistakes of the last peace. Shortly after his inauguration in January 1945, he told Congress of his hopes to replace the old international system of "exclusive alliances and spheres of influence" with a "universal organization in which all peace-loving nations will finally have a chance to join."

Eleanor Roosevelt had long shared those hopes. When her husband asked her to accompany him to the opening session of the UN founding conference in April, and on a trip to England and the continent in May, she was delighted—not least because his enthusiasm allayed her growing anxiety about his health. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins had objected that a trip to the war zone would be too dangerous, but the president replied that he expected the war to be over by then. He had long looked forward, he told Perkins, to a victory tour with the First Lady at his side: "Eleanor's visit [to England] in wartime was a great success. I mean a success for her and for me so that we understood more about their problems. . . . I told Eleanor to order her clothes and get some fine things so that she will make a really handsome appearance."

With spring flowers in bloom and war's end at last in sight, an exuberant president began to prepare for the San Francisco conference.

The features of the future UN that were of most interest to the Great Powers had been settled already at two much more exclusive meetings. In the summer and fall of 1944, representatives of Britain, China, the United States, and the USSR had met at Dumbarton Oaks to do preparatory work on what would become the UN Charter. One month earlier, at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire, the Allies had established the main institutions of the postwar economic order—the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank).

Determined to avoid Wilson's main error, Roosevelt actively courted Republican support for the United Nations. When the time came to choose representatives for San Francisco, he made a point to include prominent GOP leaders: former Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen, future Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and Senator Arthur Vandenberg, the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Soviets went along with the project, but without much enthusiasm. Their chief concern for the immediate postwar period was to protect the frontiers of the motherland from renewed aggression. On the eve of the Normandy invasion, according to former Yugoslav Communist Party official Milovan Djilas, Stalin told Djilas: "Perhaps you think that just because we are the allies of the English we have forgotten who they are and who Churchill is. They find nothing sweeter than to trick their allies. . . . Churchill is the kind who, if you don't watch him, will slip a kopeck out of your pocket. . . . Roosevelt is not like that. He dips in his hand only for bigger coins."

George F. Kennan, a shrewd observer then serving in the U.S. embassy in Moscow, sized up Russia's position this way: "Insofar as Stalin attached importance to the concept of a future international organization, he did so in the expectation that the organization would serve as the instrument for maintenance of a US-UK-Soviet hegemony in international affairs." That arrangement could be satisfactory to the Soviets only if Britain and America accepted the sphere of influence the USSR was establishing in Central and Eastern Europe in the summer of 1944.

Churchill and the British Foreign Office were skeptical of the Soviet Union's value as a partner in promoting future peace and wary of Stalin's expansionist aims. Anthony Eden, Churchill's foreign minister, viewed Soviet policy as "amoral" and the American attitude as "exaggeratedly moral, at least where non-American interests are concerned."

Meet the Author

Mary Ann Glendon is Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University. She led the Vatican delegation to the Beijing Women's Rights conference in 1995, the first woman ever to lead a Vatican delegation, and has been featured on Bill Moyers's World of Ideas. She is the author of Rights Talk; A Nation under Lawyers; Comparative Legal Traditions (a classic textbook on international law); Abortion and Divorce in Western Law, winner of the Scribes Book Award; and The Transformation of Family Law, winner of the Order of the Coif Prize, the legal academy's highest award for scholarship. She lives in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

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