American Exceptionalism and Human Rights

Princeton University Press
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With the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, the most controversial question in world politics fast became whether the United States stands within the order of international law or outside it. Does America still play by the rules it helped create? American Exceptionalism and Human Rights addresses this question as it applies to U.S. behavior in relation to international human rights. With essays by eleven leading experts in such fields as international relations and international law, it seeks to show and explain how America's approach to human rights differs from that of most other Western nations.

In his introduction, Michael Ignatieff identifies three main types of exceptionalism: exemptionalism (supporting treaties as long as Americans are exempt from them); double standards (criticizing "others for not heeding the findings of international human rights bodies, but ignoring what these bodies say of the United States); and legal isolationism (the tendency of American judges to ignore other jurisdictions). The contributors use Ignatieff's essay as a jumping-off point to discuss specific types of exceptionalism--America's approach to capital punishment and to free speech, for example--or to explore the social, cultural, and institutional roots of exceptionalism.

These essays--most of which appear in print here for the first time, and all of which have been revised or updated since being presented in a year-long lecture series on American exceptionalism at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government--are by Stanley Hoffmann, Paul Kahn, Harold Koh, Frank Michelman, Andrew Moravcsik, John Ruggie, Frederick Schauer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Carol Steiker, and Cass Sunstein.

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About the author

Michael Ignatieff is Carr Professor of Human Rights Practice and Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. His numerous books include Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (Princeton) and The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror.
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Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jan 10, 2009
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Law / International
Political Science / International Relations / General
Political Science / World / General
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Michael Ignatieff draws on his extensive experience as a writer and commentator on world affairs to present a penetrating account of the successes, failures, and prospects of the human rights revolution. Since the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, this revolution has brought the world moral progress and broken the nation-state's monopoly on the conduct of international affairs. But it has also faced challenges. Ignatieff argues that human rights activists have rightly drawn criticism from Asia, the Islamic world, and within the West itself for being overambitious and unwilling to accept limits. It is now time, he writes, for activists to embrace a more modest agenda and to reestablish the balance between the rights of states and the rights of citizens.

Ignatieff begins by examining the politics of human rights, assessing when it is appropriate to use the fact of human rights abuse to justify intervention in other countries. He then explores the ideas that underpin human rights, warning that human rights must not become an idolatry. In the spirit of Isaiah Berlin, he argues that human rights can command universal assent only if they are designed to protect and enhance the capacity of individuals to lead the lives they wish. By embracing this approach and recognizing that state sovereignty is the best guarantee against chaos, Ignatieff concludes, Western nations will have a better chance of extending the real progress of the past fifty years. Throughout, Ignatieff balances idealism with a sure sense of practical reality earned from his years of travel in zones of war and political turmoil around the globe.

Based on the Tanner Lectures that Ignatieff delivered at Princeton University's Center for Human Values in 2000, the book includes two chapters by Ignatieff, an introduction by Amy Gutmann, comments by four leading scholars--K. Anthony Appiah, David A. Hollinger, Thomas W. Laqueur, and Diane F. Orentlicher--and a response by Ignatieff.

Micheline Ishay recounts the dramatic struggle for human rights across the ages in a book that brilliantly synthesizes historical and intellectual developments from the Mesopotamian Codes of Hammurabi to today's era of globalization. As she chronicles the clash of social movements, ideas, and armies that have played a part in this struggle, Ishay illustrates how the history of human rights has evolved from one era to the next through texts, cultural traditions, and creative expression. Writing with verve and extraordinary range, she develops a framework for understanding contemporary issues from the debate over globalization to the intervention in Kosovo to the climate for human rights after September 11, 2001. The only comprehensive history of human rights available, the book will be essential reading for anyone concerned with humankind's quest for justice and dignity.

Ishay structures her chapters around six core questions that have shaped human rights debate and scholarship: What are the origins of human rights? Why did the European vision of human rights triumph over those of other civilizations? Has socialism made a lasting contribution to the legacy of human rights? Are human rights universal or culturally bound? Must human rights be sacrificed to the demands of national security? Is globalization eroding or advancing human rights? As she explores these questions, Ishay also incorporates notable documents—writings, speeches, and political statements—from activists, writers, and thinkers throughout history.
Must we fight terrorism with terror, match assassination with assassination, and torture with torture? Must we sacrifice civil liberty to protect public safety?

In the age of terrorism, the temptations of ruthlessness can be overwhelming. But we are pulled in the other direction too by the anxiety that a violent response to violence makes us morally indistinguishable from our enemies. There is perhaps no greater political challenge today than trying to win the war against terror without losing our democratic souls. Michael Ignatieff confronts this challenge head-on, with the combination of hard-headed idealism, historical sensitivity, and political judgment that has made him one of the most influential voices in international affairs today.

Ignatieff argues that we must not shrink from the use of violence--that far from undermining liberal democracy, force can be necessary for its survival. But its use must be measured, not a program of torture and revenge. And we must not fool ourselves that whatever we do in the name of freedom and democracy is good. We may need to kill to fight the greater evil of terrorism, but we must never pretend that doing so is anything better than a lesser evil.

In making this case, Ignatieff traces the modern history of terrorism and counter-terrorism, from the nihilists of Czarist Russia and the militias of Weimar Germany to the IRA and the unprecedented menace of Al Qaeda, with its suicidal agents bent on mass destruction. He shows how the most potent response to terror has been force, decisive and direct, but--just as important--restrained. The public scrutiny and political ethics that motivate restraint also give democracy its strongest weapon: the moral power to endure when the furies of vengeance and hatred are spent.

The book is based on the Gifford Lectures delivered at the University of Edinburgh in 2003.

¿Cuáles son los límites a la represión y la suspensión de garantías cuando se persigue el terrorismo global?

En tiempos de terrorismo, la tentación de no tener piedad puede ser irresistible. Pero la preocupación de que una respuesta violenta nos haga moralmente iguales a nuestros enemigos nos empuja hacia el extremo opuesto. Quizás no haya mayor reto político en la actualidad que intentar ganar la guerra contra el terror sin perder nuestro espíritu democrático.

En El mal menor Ignatieff recorre la historia moderna del terrorismo y el antiterrorismo, desde los nihilistas de la Rusia zarista hasta la inaudita amenaza del terrorismo islamista. A la vez, muestra cómo la respuesta más potente frente al terror ha sido la fuerza, contundente y directa, aunque comedida, ya que la ética política que motiva la moderación proporciona a la democracia su mejor arma: el poder moral de aguantar cuando acechan la venganza y el odio.

«Las democracias han descubierto lo implacables y determinados que podemos llegar a ser cuando nos atacan, y han adoptado muchos "males menores" -interrogatorios, entrega de presos, detenciones preventivas- con el fin de evitar el mal mayor de capitular ante el terrorismo. Este libro pretende definir qué males menores pueden ser permisibles bajo la ley, siempre y cuando estén sujetos al riguroso sistema de "justificación mediante procedimiento contradictorio".»
Michael Ignatieff, en el nuevo prólogo a esta edición

«Una argumentación impecable sobre cómo equilibrar seguridad y libertad ante el nuevo tipo de amenaza planteada por los terroristas de hoy. Este libro es un punto de partida esencial para liberales y defensores de las libertades civiles en la lucha contra los difíciles desafíos morales y políticos planteados por la guerra contra el terror.»
Publishers Weekly

«Excepcionalmente sofisticado, proporciona el contexto mundial e histórico tan necesario para la guerra contra el terrorismo. La gran diversidad de estudios de caso permite a Ignatieff desacreditar cualquier enfoque simplista del terrorismo.»

«Necesitamos consejos sensatos y calmados para equilibrar los intereses de la seguridad y la libertad. Eso es lo que ofrece este extraordinario libro. Ignatieff acerca la historia, la filosofía, la ley y la moralidad democrática al problema. Un libro fascinante.»
The New York Review of Books

«Un ensayo profundo en el que un destacado intelectual público plantea una de las grandes preguntas de nuestro tiempo: ¿cómo pueden las sociedades occidentales mantenerse fieles a los valores liberales de apertura y libertad cuando derrotar el terrorismo a menudo requiere el secreto y la coacción?»
Foreign Affairs

«En un tiempo de fractura, ¿dónde podemos encontrar orden y estabilidad? Debemos fijarnos en los pequeños detalles, pasar del amplio mundo de la política, los mercados y el sistema internacional al mundo más pequeño y más íntimo de la familia, el barrio y la esquina.»

A medida que la globalización nos reúne económicamente,
¿convergen también nuestros valores?

Michael Ignatieff, intelectual de primera fila internacional, emprende un viaje por ocho naciones en busca de respuestas. Las virtudes cotidianas, una propuesta moral original, valiente y persuasiva, presenta sus descubrimientos y su interpretación de los efectos morales de la globalización -y de la resistencia a ella.

A partir de diálogos con brasileños de las favelas, africanos que viven en chozas, granjeros japoneses o pandilleros en Los Ángeles y monjes en Myanmar, Ignatieff se encontró con que, mientras que los derechos humanos son, siacaso, el lenguaje de los Estados y las élites liberales, el lenguaje moral con el que se identifica la mayoría de la gente es el de las virtudes cotidianas: la tolerancia, el perdón, la confianza y la resiliencia.

Estas virtudes cotidianas son el sistema operativo moral en ciudades globales y barrios oscuros por igual, el cimiento que permite el experimento multicultural funcione y, en definitiva, la clave para la reconciliación y la solidaridad, a escala local y global.

«Un libro importante. Las virtudes cotidianas son un sistema operativo de código abierto, una lengua vernácula moral mediante la cual los miembros de diferentes grupos étnicos y religiosos pueden vivir, si no juntos, uno al lado del otro.»
Kieran Setiya, The Times Literary Supplement

«Una lectura reveladora.»
Simon Winchester, The New York Review of Books

«Un librito admirable.»
James Traub, The New York Times Book Review

«Ignatieff combina poderosos argumentos morales con una escritura maravillosa.»
David Herman, New Statesman

«Michael Ignatieff lleva mucho tiempo siendo un modelo de internacionalismo liberal, y lo que él tiene que decir es importante en sí mismo y el reflejo de un temperamento que evoluciona en el tiempo. La habilidad literaria de Ignatieff convierte la lectura en una experiencia maravillosa, se esté o no de acuerdo con sus polémicas tesis sobre ética y derechos humanos. Indispensable para cualquier lector interesado en política internacional.»
Samuel Moyn, autor de The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History

«Michael Ignatieff ha escrito su libro más importante. Habla de los dilemas morales de nuestro tiempo en un lenguaje que se enfrenta a las profundas contradicciones entre las lenguas universales que manejan las élites globales y las "virtudes cotidianas" de los ciudadanos comunes, que cobran vida en contextos locales en lenguas locales.»
Janice Stein, Universidad de Toronto

«En este libro extraordinario, Michael Ignatieff viaja por el mundo con el fin de explorar dos cuestiones aparentemente opuestas: lo que nos separa y lo que permite a comunidades de extraños vivir hombro a hombro. Duda de que un único código legal, religioso o filosófico sea capaz de unirnos. La globalización en lo económico no conlleva globalización en nuestros corazones.»
Adam Roberts, Universidad de Oxford

«Michael Ignatieff es un historiador, periodista y pensador excepcional. Las virtudes cotidianas es una incorporación cautivadora, original y elegantemente escrita al resto de su maravillosa obra. En un mundo globalizado aquejado de una terrible desigualdad, Ignatieff hace una defensa moral de la ilustración, con un nivel de sofisticación apto para expertos en teoría política y, al mismo un compromiso con el mundo real que da gran fuerza a la obra.»
Gary Bass, Universidad de Princeton

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