The Ambivalence of Good examines the genesis and evolution of international human rights politics since the 1940s. Focusing on key developments such as the shaping of the UN human rights system, decolonization, the rise of Amnesty International, the campaigns against the Pinochet dictatorship, the moral politics of Western governments, or dissidence in Eastern Europe, the book traces how human rights profoundly, if subtly, transformed global affairs.
Moving beyond monocausal explanations and narratives prioritizing one particular decade, such as the 1940s or the 1970s, The Ambivalence of Good argues that we need a complex and nuanced interpretation if we want to understand the truly global reach of human rights, and account for the hopes, conflicts, and interventions to which this idea gave rise. Thus, it portrays the story of human rights as polycentric, demonstrating how actors in various locales imbued them with widely different meanings, arguing that the political field evolved in a fitful and discontinuous process. This process was shaped by consequential shifts that emerged from the search for a new world order during the Second World War, decolonization, the desire to introduce a new political morality into world affairs during the 1970s, and the visions of a peaceful international order after the end of the Cold War. Finally, the book stresses that the projects pursued in the name of human rights nonetheless proved highly ambivalent. Self-interest was as strong a driving force as was the desire to help people in need, and while international campaigns often improved the fate of the persecuted, they were equally likely to have counterproductive effects.
The Ambivalence of Good provides the first research-based synopsis of the topic and one of the first synthetic studies of a transnational political field (such as population, health, or the environment) during the twentieth century. Based on archival research in six countries, it breaks new empirical ground concerning the history of human rights in the United Nations, of human rights NGOs, of far-flung mobilizations, and of the uses of human rights in state foreign policy.
About the Author
Jan Eckel, Professor of Modern and Contemporary History and Director of the Institute of Contemporary History, University of Tubingen
Jan Eckel studied history in Germany and Spain, and received his PhD from the University of Freiburg. He is a Professor of Modern and Contemporary History and the Director of the Institute of Contemporary History at the University of Tubingen. He has carried out archival research for this book in the US, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and Chile, and has been awarded several prizes and fellowships for his work in intellectual history in the 'long' 20th century, the history of international politics since the late 19th century, and the history of Holocaust memory.
Table of Contents
1. Prologue: The 'Pre-History' of Human Rights as a Historiographical Problem
PART ONE: 1940s TO 1960s
2. Human Rights Policy in the United Nations
3. Human Rights in the Council of Europe and in the Organization of American States
4. NGOs and Human Rights
5. Human Rights and Decolonization
PART TWO: THE 1970s AND 1980s
6. Amnesty International and the Reinvention of Western Human Rights Activism
7. Human Rights in Western Foreign Policy
8. The Pinochet Dictatorship in International Politics
9. Human Rights, Communism, and Dissidence in Eastern Europe
10. Human Rights in the Postcolonial World