Does Inhumanity Breed Humanity? Investigation of a Paradox

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    This essay investigates the thesis that inhumanity breeds humanity. Many questions arise when we try to corroborate it: Can we say anything at all about the inhumanity of human beings? Why did large-scale inhumanity occurring before 1700 not elicit a human rights regime? Was the human rights take-off from 1760 to 1800 triggered by instances of inhumanity, and why did the take-off not last? Why did the human rights idea eclipse after 1800 only to reemerge after 1945? Were war and genocide the sole causes of the human rights revival after 1945 or were there also other factors? Was the breakthrough in 1977 of human rights as a mass movement related to any inhumanity? And, finally, is the contemporary enthusiasm for human rights, with 1998 as its stepping stone, sufficient to make atrocities unthinkable for good? I conclude that, at several moments in history, inhumanity did propel humanity, but also that there are many other instances in which inhumanity only gave birth to more inhumanity. If the inhumanity thesis were necessarily true, we would need more human rights catastrophes to inspire more human rights progress. And that would be a self-defeating paradox.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)451-465
    Number of pages15
    JournalHistory and Theory
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Oct-2012


    • crimes against humanity
    • genocide
    • human dignity
    • humanity
    • human nature
    • human rights
    • inhumanity
    • war

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