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Human Rights at the Crossroads$
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Mark Goodale

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199376414

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199376414.001.0001

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Historical Amnesia, Genocide, and the Rejection of Universal Human Rights

Historical Amnesia, Genocide, and the Rejection of Universal Human Rights

Chapter:
(p.172) 13 Historical Amnesia, Genocide, and the Rejection of Universal Human Rights
Source:
Human Rights at the Crossroads
Author(s):

Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199376414.003.0013

This chapter examines the relationship between human rights and pathologies of power. It explores a so-called “historical amnesia” that both perpetuates a series of false binaries—such as oppressor/oppressed—and prevents the lessons of human destruction within the colonial West from informing our broader understanding of the causal relationship between the deprivation of rights and genocide. And here “pathologies of power” has a double meaning. First, there is the power of intellectual critics of human rights who have minimized the political importance and potential universal resonance of the postwar project of human rights by locating it along an “unbroken chain of Western conceptual and cultural dominance [thatstretches] over the past several centuries.” And second, there is what might be called the pathology of imperial guilt: the ethical and intellectual paralysis that accompanies a historical process of earnest critical reflection on collective sins of the past. It argues that the recognition of collective responsibility for the historical tragedies of colonialism, slavery, capitalist exploitation, and imperial war makes it difficult for Western critics of human rights to acknowledge the full implications of a simultaneous legacy of “liberalism, social democracy, labor agitation, feminism, gay rights advocacy, and anti-racism that [also] characterize much of the social history of the West in the last two centuries”.

Keywords:   human rights, pathologies of power, colonial West, historical amnesia, genocide

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