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Lecture discusses changing perceptions on human rights

A professor at Yale University lectured on human rights and nationalism at the 55th annual Simon Rawidowicz lecture, “Rights and Nationhood from 1948 to the Present” on Thursday. Professor Samuel Moyn, who also works at Yale, focussed on the changing concepts of human rights before and after 1958.

Moyn began his lecture by prompting listeners to consider the Israeli nationality laws and how they have impacted human rights within the country. He first highlighted the 1948 Declaration, which emphasized equality, and then contrasted it with the first law pertaining to nationality in 1952, which enabled Jewish people automatic entitlement to citizenship and required proof of residency for Palestinians. By reflecting on the discrimination evident in the second law, he discussed the implications of nationhood. “Nationhood protects the rights of some and invalidates the rights of others,” he said.

He discussed the differing perspectives on human rights before and after 1948. He described human rights before 1948 as human rights 1.0, human rights based on the premise of nationalism. He suggested that nationalism became a focal point of human rights during the late 18th century, coinciding with the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Revolutionary actions during this period were equated to human rights. However, revolutionary nationalism within human rights enabled violence, often actions that would today be considered violations of human rights, in favor of creating a people’s public, assuming that a government controlled by the people would prioritize human rights.

He next pointed to human rights 2.0, cosmopolitan human rights rather than nationalist human rights. Human rights 2.0 fights for oppressed minorities, favoring them over the state. Moyn believes that human rights 2.0 is the type of human rights we are most familiar with today. He attributed the development of human rights 2.0 to the fall of socialism and the beginning of decolonization.

Moyn emphasized that the history of discussion regarding human rights is crucial in considering continuing globalization today.

The lecture was sponsored by the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry and the Brandeis University International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life. This is the 55th lecture sponsored by these organization to honor the work of Simon Rawidowicz. Rawidowicz founded the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies program, the first graduate degree at Brandeis, then in 1956 chaired the undergraduate Near Eastern and Judaic Studies department.

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