In my brief rejoinder, I will focus on the criticisms for the sake of ongoing discussion — most of which reveal the biases and exclusions in the book’s coverage, when it comes to the past or the present. And I want to cop to those, clearly, totally, and upfront.
For a close reader of Moyn’s work on human rights, the differences between Not Enough and The Last Utopia are head-spinning. Where the latter attacked the very idea of historic continuity in explaining the human rights movement that emerged in the 1970s, Not Enough builds an entire narrative on continuities. The result is an aspirational history for a reformed human rights movement, a history of roads not taken that can still be reclaimed. By not heeding his own lessons from Last Utopia, Moyn understates the emergent human rights movement’s inability to contest what became neoliberalism.
I read Moyn’s book as a break from my work as a judge in a human rights court. It was a treat, deliciously U.S.-centric, in spite of the author’s effort in mentioning “the rest of the world” so obviously excluded from the “we” which sometimes appears.
Not Enough offers important insights into some of the failures of the existing human rights movement, at least in its mainstream form. Drawing on these, as well as my own experience with the access to medicines movement, I’ll offer a few thoughts on the shape of a human rights yet to come.
Not Enough is a sweeping, erudite account of the place of human rights in debates about equality from the pioneering days of the Jacobin state in revolutionary France, through the mid-twentieth century welfare state, and the grand decolonial visions of the New International Economic Order (NIEO). With that said, there are two central points on which I find Moyn’s argument lacking: the presentation of “the human rights movement” as some sort of monolith, and Moyn’s understanding of the genesis of inequality under capitalism and, relatedly, the conceptualisation of capitalism, as such.
In his latest book, Sam Moyn contrasts the international human rights movement’s focus on achieving “sufficiency,” with more egalitarian conceptions of national welfare and global justice that aspired to curb the unbridled concentration of private wealth. Importantly, however, the book also insists that human rights are not synonymous with forms of neoliberal economic rationality that led to the post-war welfare state’s dismantling.
Samuel Moyn’s Not Enough provides a fast-paced narrative of the surprising ways we got to where we are now in our moral and political imagination of what is politically possible. While usefully reflecting the 1970s optimism that international law could reduce global inequality, it mischaracterizes the New International Economic Order (NIEO) and leaves open the question of precisely how neoliberalism displaced its utopian aspirations.
Moyn’s work could be (and in some ways is) a history of a world we have lost, but it’s also an impassioned call for the just world we have not yet had.
Did the Human Rights movement fail? In his new book, Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World, Samuel Moyn responds in the affirmative. He argues that the international human rights movement narrowed its agenda to address the sufficiency of minimal provision, leaving the movement impotent in the face of rising global inequality and attacks on social citizenship at…