Samuel Moyn

Not Enough

Human Rights in an Unequal World

Harvard University Press 2018

New Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in LawNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in World AffairsNew Books Network September 4, 2018 Zeb Larson

Samuel Moyn’s The Last Utopia traced the evolution of the human rights revolution and argued that human rights as an ideology took the place...

Samuel Moyn’s The Last Utopia traced the evolution of the human rights revolution and argued that human rights as an ideology took the place of socialism and other utopian ideologies that failed. In his new book, Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World (Harvard University Press, 2018), Moyn examines human rights from a different perspective, namely its inability to challenge the rise of inequality across the world. Moyn argues that this development wasn’t inevitable from a historical perspective and was the result of decisions made by politicians and social priorities articulated by philosophers beginning in the twentieth century. As a consequence, human rights has coexisted alongside inequality, unable to meaningfully critique it.

Moyn begins by looking at the French Revolution, which he asserts was the first government that explicitly thought in egalitarian terms for its citizens. Noting that the welfare state was ironically a project of right-wing nationalist governments, Moyn argues that the postwar welfare states nevertheless embraced egalitarian impulses that not only established protections for their citizens but established ceilings on the kinds of wealth that that they could enjoy. In the Global South, newly independent states also embraced ideologies that would do the same. However, development economists instead emphasized poverty reduction campaigns that sought to provide marginal protections for the indigent without limiting the growth of wealth; this was matched by philosophers who reflected this same concern. The result was a human rights revolution focused more on subsistence and protections for the worst off that never tried to fight rising inequality.


Zeb Larson is a PhD Candidate in History at The Ohio State University. His research is about the anti-apartheid movement in the United States. To suggest a recent title or to contact him, please send an e-mail to [email protected].

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