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6th Gerald Stourzh Lecture on the History of Human Rights and Democracy

A. Dirk Moses
Human Rights and Genocide:
A Global Historical Perspective

21 May 2014

A. Dirk Moses is Professor of Global and Colonial History (19th-20th centuries) at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. Besides global and colonial history his research interests include transnational and international history, genocide and ethnic cleansing, memory studies, intellectual history, and the history of modern Germany.

Selected publications: German Intellectuals and the Nazi Past (Cambridge University Press, 2007); ed. with Bart Luttikhuis, Colonial Counterinsurgency and Mass Violence: The Dutch Empire in Indonesia (Routledge, 2014); ed. Empire, Colony, Genocide: Conquest, Occupation, and Subaltern Resistance in World History (Berghahn Books 2008); ed. Genocide and Settler Society: Frontier Violence and Stolen Indigenous Children in Australian History (Berghahn, 2004).

Homepage A. Dirk Moses

Abstract

Defending human rights and preventing genocide are understandably regarded as paramount imperatives of national and international politics. The political and moral achievement of painful learning processes, they are the product of a post-Holocaust and post-totalitarian memory regime of relatively recent origin, although often traced to the Enlightenment, if not Antiquity. The nation-state stands at the centre of attention as the violator of individual and group rights; activists and NGOs seek to contain Leviathan's excesses. In this lecture, Dirk Moses contextualises the emergence of this "negative politics" (Michael Walzer) in the global system as it has developed since the eighteenth century. The nation-state and its correlate, self-determination, have played a more complex role in generating human rights abuses and mass violence than commonly supposed. Does the nation-state as such require taming or the unequal global system that throws up challenges like environmental disaster and economic exploitation which the language of human rights defence and genocide prevention are ill equipped to discuss?

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