The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the History of Cosmopolitanism

Professor Samuel Moyn, History, Columbia University

Co-presented with the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights at the University of Sydney

8 August

This talk revisits the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) with an eye to judging its place in the history of cosmopolitanism. Typically, it is read as the fulfillment of cosmopolitan striving. I argue that since various cosmopolitanisms have competed through recorded history, the UDHR should be regard as expressing one universalist vision among others. The puzzle from the present day is that it was so peripheral to its contemporaries. The talk investigates why.


Professor Samuel Moyn

Samuel Moyn is a Professor of History at Columbia University. His most recent book, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (2010) has been described as ‘the most important work on the history of human rights yet to have been written’ (Paul Kahn, Yale University), a ‘provocatively revisionist history’ (G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs) and a ‘brilliant and bracing new book’ (Yehudah Mirsky, Democracy). He is a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), the recipient of Guggenheim and American Council of Learned Societies fellowships, and the winner of numerous prizes for teaching and research. He is currently the Irving S Ribicoff Visiting Professor of Law at Yale University, has lectured at the Columbia Law School and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and will teach at Harvard Law School in 2013.