In 2010, Samuel Moyn published The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, which offered an alternative historical explanation for the origins of human rights. In particular, Moyn rejected narratives that viewed human rights as a long-term historical product of the Judeo-Christian tradition, The French Revolution, or Enlightenment rationalism, arguing that human rights as it is now understood began to emerge only during the 1970s. Prior to this, according to Moyn, rights were connected to the nation-state and had nothing to do with an international standard of morality or justice. In addressing critiques of The Last Utopia, Moyn has given considerable attention to the relationship between human rights and religion, conceding that there is, undoubtedly, a relationship between Christianity—Catholicism in particular—and human rights, but arguing that the “death of Christian Europe” by the 1960s “forced a complete reinvention of the meaning of human rights embedded in European identity both formally and really since the war” (“Personalism, Community, and the Origins of Human Rights,” 2010).
In this series, contributors offer their thoughts on Moyn’s article “Personalism, Community, and the Origins of Human Rights,” which became a central focus (see excerpt below) in his forthcoming book, Christian Human Rights (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015). Contributors also respond to “Christian Human Rights,” the introductory essay written for this series.