First Anderson provides a long quote from a Moyn article in The Nation, pointing out the somewhat questionable origins of international human rights in the 40's:
From a global perspective, the brief career of human rights in the 1940s is the story of how the Allied nations elevated language about human rights as they reneged on the earlier wartime promise—made in the 1941 Atlantic Charter—of the self-determination of peoples. Global self-determination would have spelled the end of empire, but by war’s end the Allies had come around to Winston Churchill’s clarification that this promise applied only to Hitler’s empire, not empire in general (and certainly not Churchill’s). ... Human rights turned out to be a substitute for what many around the world wanted: a collective entitlement to self-determination. To the extent they noticed the rhetoric of human rights at all, the subjects of empire were not wrong to view it as a consolation prize.Anderson, with some extensive personal experience in the international human rights field finds that this "accurately captures in my own experience as an NGO person who first volunteered to do work for Human Rights Watch in 1983". But from this he goes on to talk about a convergence of views between Moyn's more liberal-left position and Anderson's more conservative-right:
My own speculative view is that the human rights movement is in decline as the “apex values” of the international system — at least insofar as it means core individual human rights in the sense that both I and Moyn, on the basis of the Nation article, would mean. For one thing, in my view those human rights, and the universal conception of them, shelters not in the UN system but under US hegemony. The Obama administration has both diagnosed and embraced decline of the form of loose American hegemony that permits those values to be treated as “universal” by organizations like HRW, or funders like George Soros; if and as American hegemony declines (or to put it in Moyn’s historical terms, as the Allies of WWII and their enabling rhetoric fades as a tool of legitimacy) then so too human rights in that substantive meaning.
That does not mean that the rhetoric of human rights fades; rather, its content is redefined to other ends, and as a tool, it is defanged so as to ensure that — contra the vision of Moynihan — it is no longer a tool to go after bad regimes, excepting, of course, the United States and Israel. The Obama administration largely embraces that — human rights as a way of confessing that we are all sinners, and so it is not necessary to single anyone out.So then Anderson sees two strands of foreign policy emerging in the current US administration:
In my take on the Obama administration and human rights, it has two wings, the liberal internationalist wing and the New Liberal Realist wing. The latter are those of Hillary Clinton’s general outlook — time to put aside childish things and get on with managing American decline, and with handing out the rhetoric necessary to fend off the problems of the world so that the intellectual firepower of the administration can focus on re-making the US domestically as a European social-democracy. Plus there’s that China-creditor problem.
The former wing, the liberal internationalists, however, who might otherwise have been thought to incline to more stern idealism, are comfortable with that for three reasons, I’d suggest. One is that they have a further belief that a weaker America — given its tendency to elect non-liberal-internationalist presidents and Congresses, and the general atavism of the American people — is better for liberal internationalism....Outside the US, and perhaps outside the West generally, the future for "human rights", even with the scare quotes, looks increasingly dim:
My guess is that the future transcendental value, the apex values language of the UN system particularly, will morph very gradually from human rights to some version of global welfare, development, human security, income transfer, and all sorts of terms that do not carry baggage for the developing world, or the rising new great powers, in terms of obligations.
But “human rights,” in the hands of the NGOs like HRW and at the UN, seems to me likely to gradually convert over to a version of global religious communalism claims; a language of individual human rights gradually shifted over into a language for the protection of religious communalism, and Muslim global sensibilities in particular. The leading human rights organizations, Amnesty and HRW, already seem to see themselves in something like that role (global New Class managers of group identity relations, to put it in Telos-ian shorthand), positioning themselves as guardians of communalist sensibility as against Western publics.But these excerpts can't do justice to a detailed and complex analysis -- in this case especially, you really need to read the whole thing.
At any rate, at some point the present managers of American, and by extension Western, decline and their cynically idealist counterparts will be gone. We can only hope that those who take their place will once again bring with them some awareness of America's exceptional origins, and some self-confidence in the cultural value of the individual and the rights thereof that America once stood for, and may still.