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There can be little doubt that the history profession is experiencing a turn to the present. The post-2016 “crisis of democracy” has only dramatized it. Long-standing anxieties over presentism have crumbled under the weight of recent events. They have proven little match for Brexit, Trump, the rise of strongmen in the world writ large, racial injustice, and the pandemic. The turn to the present, however, is at times marked by undeniable provincialism—one that consistently offers a narrow perspective for understanding new and emerging global realities. Some historians, for instance, have taken on the role of liberal watchmen ready to strike the tocsin against suspected fascism, but they regularly do so by focusing on Europe's fascist past of the 1930s to explain the contemporary order. Or consider the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. In the search for solutions, scholars proved quick to make historical comparisons to the great war economies of World Wars I and II, but appeared little bothered by the possibility that taking inspiration from Europe's age of extremes might “lead us to look for enemies and scapegoats.” So with the George Floyd protests: certain scholars and pundits likened them to the 1968 student protests in France and the United States, even as other scholars pointed out the historical shortcoming of the comparison.
This is the first global examination of the historical relationship between Christianity and human rights in the twentieth century. Leading historians, anthropologists, political theorists, legal scholars, and scholars of religion develop fresh approaches to issues such as human dignity, personalism, religious freedom, the role of ecumenical and transatlantic networks, and the relationship between Christian and liberal rights theories. In doing so they move well beyond the temporal and geographical limits of the existing scholarship, exploring the connection between Christianity and human rights, not only in Europe and the United States, but also in Africa, Latin America, and China. They offer alternative chronologies and bring to light overlooked aspects of this history, including the role of race, gender, decolonization, and interreligious dialogue. Above all, these essays foreground the complicated relationship between global rights discourses - whether Christian, liberal, or otherwise - and the local contexts in which they are developed and implemented.
This chapter introduces the main themes of this volume and its contribution to the existing scholarship on Christianity and human rights. Whereas the “classical” historiography on this subject has tended to focus on the much older origins of human rights – rooting them in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Protestant Reformation, or the Enlightenment and Age of Revolutions – this volume builds on a “new” historiography that focuses on the much more recent origins of human rights. The chapters explore the various interactions between Christianity and human rights theory in the twentieth century, not just in Europe and North America but also in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The introduction reflects on how this history changes our understanding of both human rights and the history of Christianity. It attends in particular to the ways that Christian accounts of human rights have supported but also contested the dominant liberal rights model and stresses the political ambiguities and internal diversity of Christian human rights discourse as it developed globally in the twentieth century.
In his Mémoires, published in the year of his death in 1983, Raymond Aron—the French sociologist and Cold War champion of liberalism—astonishingly remarked that as a man of high culture Carl Schmitt could have never been a Nazi. Aron's defenders have typically downplayed his mature views on Schmitt: for how else could the main defender of the liberal faith in France devote himself to salvaging the reputation of the greatest antiliberal of the age? This essay argues, however, that Aron's bizarre statements about Schmitt actually provide a crucial aperture into the nature of Aron's liberalism. I will begin by placing Aron's comments about Schmitt within his Clausewitz project of the 1970s. Aron took Schmitt as a guiding inspiration even as he sought to overcome Schmitt's existential interpretation of Clausewitz. By doing so, Aron hoped to establish a rational foundation for political action. Yet Aron's attempt to contain Clausewitz would not only lead to a renewal of interest in Schmitt's thought; it would also revive Aron and Schmitt's correspondence that had lain dormant since the early 1960s. As the 1970s advanced, this would have implications for how Aron viewed Schmitt, especially in light of the critical German reception of Penser la guerre, Clausewitz. This essay concludes by looking at the intellectual legacy of Aron's Schmittian inspirations—at just the time he became the avatar of contemporary French liberalism
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