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Book Launch: Human Rights for Pragmatists, by Jack Snyder

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  • UserJack Snyder (Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Relations at Columbia University), and Emma Mackinnon and Sharath Srinivasan (University of Cambridge)
  • ClockTuesday 16 May 2023, 17:00-18:30
  • HouseS1, ARB.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Anusha Arumugam.

In his book “Human Rights for Pragmatists: Social Power in Modern Times”, Jack Snyder holds that human rights are among our most pressing issues today, yet rights promoters have reached an impasse in their effort to achieve rights for all. Human Rights for Pragmatists explains why: activists prioritize universal legal and moral norms, backed by the public shaming of violators, but in fact rights prevail only when they serve the interests of powerful local constituencies. Jack Snyder demonstrates that where local power and politics lead, rights follow. He presents an innovative roadmap for addressing a broad agenda of human rights concerns: impunity for atrocities, dilemmas of free speech in the age of social media, entrenched abuses of women’s rights, and more.

Exploring the historical development of human rights around the globe, Snyder shows that liberal rights–based states have experienced a competitive edge over authoritarian regimes in the modern era. He focuses on the role of power, the interests of individuals and the groups they form, and the dynamics of bargaining and coalitions among those groups. The path to human rights entails transitioning from a social order grounded in patronage and favoritism to one dedicated to equal treatment under impersonal rules. Rights flourish when they benefit dominant local actors with the clout to persuade ambivalent peers. Activists, policymakers, and others attempting to advance rights should embrace a tailored strategy, one that acknowledges local power structures and cultural practices.

Constructively turning the mainstream framework of human rights advocacy on its head, Human Rights for Pragmatists offers tangible steps that all advocates can take to move the rights project forward.

In this talk, Emma Mackinnon (University Assistant Professor in History, University of Cambridge) and Sharath Srinivasan (David and Elaine Potter Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge) discuss with Jack about this book.

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This talk is part of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights Events series.

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