Outrageously padded, but worth it for Ignatieff's contribution.

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HUMAN RIGHTS AS POLITICS AND IDOLATRY

Cogent analysis of the crusade for human rights—from its origins to its present status as a surprisingly influential movement that sometimes oversteps its bounds.

Prolific novelist, journalist, and historian Ignatieff (Virtual War, 2000, etc.) discerns the beginning of the human-rights movement in the antislavery crusade of the 18th century, after which it languished until galvanized into new life by the barbarism of WWII. Before that war, only states had rights under international law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 granted individuals the right to challenge unjust laws or oppressive customs. Most states (the USSR included) ratified this and other human-rights treaties, confident they would remain a pious set of clichés that could be ignored. In fact, movements such as Amnesty International wield a modest amount of genuine influence. The US and the UN ignored the subject for decades, dipped a toe into the water by criticizing South Africa in the 1970s, and now devote major, though often ineffective efforts to protecting human rights. Even dictators take notice—a bad human-rights record makes it difficult to get international loans or attract business. Despite its successes, the movement is under increasing attack from Asian and Islamic nations as well as many western intellectuals. The author gives a sympathetic analysis of its problems. Fifty years ago, oppressive governments were the chief human-rights villains. Today, the greatest abuse occurs in places where weak governments cannot maintain order, and anarchy rules: Rwanda, Kosovo, Somalia, Lebanon. Ignatieff urges the movement to pay more attention to the balance between the rights of states and the rights of citizens. His views ring true, and he writes lucidly. Unfortunately, his essays occupy only 100 pages; the volume is doubled by commentaries from four scholars who agree with Ignatieff on all except minor points but whose writing doesn’t match his own.

Outrageously padded, but worth it for Ignatieff's contribution.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-691-08893-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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