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3rd Gerald Stourzh Lecture on the History of Human Rights and Democracy

Michael Geyer
Revolutionäre und postrevolutionäre Kämpfe um die Menschenrechte in der Atlantischen Welt im späten 18. und im 19. Jahrhundert

11 May 2011

Michael Geyer is Samuel N. Harper Professor of German and European History and co-founder as well as director of the Human Rights Program at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on German and European contemporary history, also from a transnational and comparative perspective, and he has published on the history and theories of globalization. In his work on the history of human rights, Michael Geyer is particularly interested in the question why, at certain times, human rights matter, while at others they do not. 

Selected publications: Ed. with Hartmut Lehmann: Religion und Nation – Nation und Religion: Beiträge zu einer unbewältigten Geschichte (Wallstein 2004); How the Germans Learned to Wage War: On the Question of Killing in the First and Second World Wars. In: Paul Betts, Alan Confino, Dirk Schuman (Eds.), Between Mass Death and Individual Loss: The Place of the Dead in Twentieth-Century Germany (Berghahn Books 2008), 25-50; Ed. with Sheila Fitzpatrick: Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared (Cambridge University Press 2009).

Homepage Michael Geyer

Abstract

After 1800, the formerly powerful construct of natural law and the rhetoric of human rights lose their power and only reappear sporadically in times of revolutionary crises in Europe and the American Civil War. One century later they gain fresh impetus as a language of (international) human rights. The question arises what we can do with this evidence and how we can interpret the weak afterlife of human and natural rights. One answer is to point to the enormous diversity of the language of human rights. Another answer is to recognize its short-term disappearance and to demonstrate the long-term success of human rights. The lecture will take this fading of human rights seriously because it shows that human rights are liable to be destroyed, and that "constant and prudent care" (G. Stourzh) is necessary to preserve them.

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