A lecture by Professor Thomas W. Laqueur (Helen Fawcett Professor of History, University of California Berkeley)
The lecture will be followed by a symposium at CRASSH on Friday 29 October entitled Death. Please click on the link at the right hand side of the page for information.
'Rights' and to a lesser degree 'human rights' developed in a variety of explicitly political contexts; teaching the history of these ideas in theory and practice involves examining claims and counter-claims by, or on behalf of, rights bearing subjects or their opponents, in a political arena. 'Humanitarian' and 'humanitarianism' have on the other hand claimed to be above the fray, to stand for a posture toward humanity that is politically anodyne. This view has endured despite two centuries of criticism; it has risen from suspect status in the nineteenth century to inform the thinking of an important part of the human rights community broadly understood. I want to talk about how to negotiate in the classroom the tensions between a legalistic and manifestly political account of human rights on the one hand and the possibility of a-political care for human welfare as a moral ideal on the other.