Human Rights and Revolutions

Review: Erickson on Wassertrom, Grandin a.o.

Jeffrey N. Wassertrom, Greg Grandin, Lynn Hunt, and Marilyn B. Young, eds. Human Rights and Revolutions. Second Edition. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007. 225 pp. Table of contents, bibliographical references, index. $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7425-5513-6; $27.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7425-5514-3.

Reviewed by: Christian W. Erickson, Department of Political Science, Roosevelt University.Published by: H-Human-Rights (February, 2008)

Rights and Revolutions, Paradoxes and Promises

This edited volume explores the complex status of human rights in the midst of revolutions, revolutionary regimes and movements. The volume deliberately explores the complex nexus of revolution and rights to examine fundamental questions involving the conflict between universalistic, relativistic, and particularistic/interpretive conceptualizations of human rights. The authors detail how conceptions of rights are shaped by revolutionary moments, which are characterized by the most comprehensive extensions of rights, yet also provide the impetus to some of the most violent negations of rights.

Mark P. Bradley, in the first chapter "Introduction: Human Rights and Revolutions" situates the volume within three dominant approaches to the study of revolution: gradualism, skepticism, and polarized binaries. He finds all of these wanting for their respective limitations. Bradley views the contributions to this volume as enabling the reader to move beyond the contradictions inherent in each of these approaches to an investigation of both the universal and the particular.

This theme is taken up by Lynn Hunt in "The Paradoxical Origins of Human Rights," wherein she points out that at the moment when the French "Universal Declaration of the Rights of Men and Citizens" was being promulgated, the praxis of rights in the midst of this revolutionary moment was fraught with paradoxes. Jeffrey Wasserstrom echoes this in "The Chinese Revolution and Contemporary Paradoxes" which traces the complex relationship between the various promises of rights during both before, during, and after the Chinese revolution. In this piece Wasserstrom cautions against idealizing the pre-European contact, pointing out that Europeans did not need to instruct the dominant Hans in demonizing other ethno-linguistic groups. He also warns against simple explanations for fluctuating parameters of rights under the protean situation in the PRC.

The next section examines [...]