Booklist | A Critique of Human Rights

The idea of human rights is assumed to be universal. Not so fast, says a Yale prof. Samuel Moyn offers a sharp critique of human rights with a particular interest in economic inequality:

…[I]n “Not Enough,” he ex­am­ines how they have been an­swered by in­ternational lawyers, po­lit­i­cal philoso­phers and hu­man-rights ac­tivists since the end of World War II. He con­cludes that, while the hu­man rights move­ment has not de­lib­er­ately sup­ported the growth of ma­te­r­ial in­equal­ity dur­ing this pe­riod, it has also not done enough to com­bat it: “un­wit­tingly, the cur­rent hu­man rights move­ment ap­pears to be help­ing Croe­sus live out his plan,” Mr. Moyn writes. In gen­eral terms, Mr. Moyn’s book cov­ers much the same ground as his 2010 study, “The Last Utopia,” which also treated the mod­ern his­tory of hu­man rights. In­deed, Mr. Moyn de­scribes his new vol­ume as a “re­write” of the ear­lier one: “What can make the study of his­tory ex­cit­ing is that its in­fin­ity of sources and our change in per­spec­tive can al­low two books on the same topic by the same per­son to bear al­most no re­sem­blance to each other.” De­spite this dis­claimer, there is a ba­sic con­sis­tency in Mr. Moyn’s po­si­tion: In both books he writes as a critic of hu­man rights from the left.

Via WSJ, “Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There,”www.wsj.com/articles/not-enough-review-dont-just-do-something-stand-there-1524170889

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Teaching Children the Basics of Diplomacy

Wouldn’t it be great if children could see different sides of a standoff and resolve their own disagreements?  Emily de Schweinitz Taylor wrote an interesting book that does just that.

 

Rather than assume our children will learn collaborative problem-solving, perspective taking, and empathy in a vacuum, as parent mediators, we take an active stance in teaching our children how to work out their more intense, recurring conflicts with each other. Over time, our children gain the ability to collaboratively problem solve without our oversight. In short, our input of direct communications training during our children’s younger years will help us raise a generation of mediators prepared to handle the conflicts our children will naturally encounter throughout their lives.

via Raising Mediators – Home

 

Powerful Public Speaking

We can always give a better speech.

Speaking is a performance, according to Michael Port of Heroic Public Speaking. Take a look at a these useful insights from an actor-turned-speaking guru, starting with one tip on how to structure your talk.

6. Organize with frameworks.

A clear structure helps you remember what to say, and helps the audience understand what you say. Choose one of these five frameworks for your next talk:

  • Numerical. This framework is easy to use, and flexible. Stephen Covey organized his presentation according to his bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. When he had 60 minutes, he could cover all habits. When he had only 20, he might cover three points.

  • Chronological. Your step-by-step process should go in a particular order, to make it easy to follow.

  • Problem and solution. Audience members want you to solve their problems. For example, you might point out that many people are nervous about speaking in front of groups. Then share how to overcome that same fear of public speaking.

  • Compare and contrast. If you have two different concepts, use them both. Jim Collins structured his presentation, “Good to Great” by comparing and contrasting the pros and cons.

  • Modular: This framework works particularly well in full-day workshops and events. In his live event, Port might divide the day into three modules: performer’s mindset, principles and public speaking master class.

    via Entrepreneur

Ambassador Blackwill on How to be a Successful Diplomat

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What makes a good diplomat?  Robert Blackwill works on  China, Russia, the Middle East, South Asia, and geoeconomics with experience on the NSC, as ambassador to India and as presidential envoy to Iraq. He has a few ideas.

And he should know. As a policy street-fighter he stood up to Donald Rumsfeld with words and arguments, and, according to Andrew J. Grotto, is both “brainy and brawny”:

Blackwill … began his career in the Foreign Service, where he served for 22 years. At the State Department, he worked for Secretaries Kissinger, Haig, and Schultz, and was U.S. ambassador and chief negotiator at the Warsaw Pact talks on conventional forces in Europe from 1985-1987. From 1989-1990, he served as special assistant to President George H.W. Bush, where he advised on European and Soviet affairs, and where Condi Rice was one of his subordinates. He then began an academic career at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he taught international security policy and wrote on Russia, arms control, transatlantic relations, and U.S.-South Asian relations.

Here’s Blackwill’s advice:

Possess an abiding interest in and passion for the art and craft of diplomacy and international relations.  If this subject matter does not feed you, if you do not have a compelling instinct to learn about the world, pursue a different profession.

Demonstrate an analytical temperament. Our current culture encourages ideological predisposition and rigidity.  We are invited to have an opinion without first having a full command of the facts.  Resist the temptation to prescribe before you analyse.  Dean Acheson understood how hard this is, “I was a frustrated schoolteacher, persisting against overwhelming evidence to the contrary in the belief that the human mind could be moved by facts and reason.”

Write well and quickly. Nurture your ability to rapidly produce quality prose.  Read and learn from great writers.  Try George Orwell, E. B. White and John McPhee.

Be verbally fluent and concise. George Shultz observes that listening is an underrated way of acquiring knowledge.  Pay attention, speak only when necessary and keep your comments brief.  These are not qualities highly prized in academia.

Ensure meticulous attention to detail. Whether your work is going to the President or Prime Minister, to your immediate superiors or to your peers, each deserves a flawless product.  Don’t accept less of yourself.  Jeff Bezos stresses, “If you don’t understand the details of your business you are going to fail.”

Be a tough and effective negotiator. Getting to yes is not the objective of a diplomat.  Begin instead with what best serves your country’s national interests and then seek to achieve a negotiating outcome as close to those requirements as possible.  Adopt clear red lines and do not compromise beyond them.  And as James Baker advises, “Never let the other fellow set the agenda.”

Build long-term physical and mental stamina. With the exercise of power and responsibility comes continuous 12-16 hour days, filled with pressure and stress.  Be fit.

Accept dangerous assignments. Diplomats frequently serve in menacing locales, sometimes die in the line of duty.  From Libya to Iraq to Afghanistan and beyond, this is not a line of work only conducted in rarefied surroundings.  Reflect on your degree of anticipated personal courage before entering this profession.

Study history. Former Harvard faculty giants Ernest May and Richard Neustadt eloquently counsel thinking in the context of time.  They insist that knowledge of history does not provide exact policy prescriptions in present circumstances, but it does illuminate choices and raise central questions of policy formulation and implementation.  A good start is Henry Kissinger’s A World Restored.

Prudently speak your opinion to power. Be ready to disagree with evolving policy when it really matters.  But choose your dissenting moments wisely.  Don’t badger your principal.  And if such policy differences become paramount, don’t whine.  Resign.

Be loyal and truthful to your boss. Never question outside of government a decision made further up your bureaucratic chain of command, no matter how much you disagree with it.  Once such a decision is made, your professional duty is to try your best to implement it.  There is nothing courageous in disavowing your Administration’s decision in whispered tones in social settings.  And never misrepresent or lie to your official superiors, no matter how expedient it might appear at the moment.  If you do so, you should be fired.

Cultivate policy resilience. If the Duke of Wellington never lost a battle, most generals do – and so will you. Expect periodic policy defeats and energetically move on to the next challenge.

Acquire relevant work experience. Invest time, energy and effort in your own professional development.  Don’t thirst for too much power and responsibility too soon.  In diplomacy – as in most endeavours – experience is a crucial component of success.  As Renaissance painters demanded, apprenticeship is a necessary step in professional enhancement.  Would you hire a plumber who was academically well versed in water distribution, but had never installed a pipe?

Know your political ideology. No matter how flattering a foreign policy job proposal may be, ask yourself whether your ideology is compatible with that of the offering institution.  Not to do so is to invite endless professional pain and torment.

Take advantage of luck when you encounter it. When Napoleon was asked what kind of generals he looked for, he responded “lucky ones.”  Be ready when events in the world provide policy opportunities you can exploit.  Getting on a personal professional wave you can ride – and that you want to ride – is also importantly a matter of good fortune.  Relentless attention to the other fourteen characteristics enumerated here will put you in the best position to partially make your own luck in your career.

via Harvard Belfer Center 

Fixing State

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Long before REXIT, Eliot Cohen wrote this advice to the next Sec State. Sounds ahead of its time now.

The State Department is indeed due for a reorganization—but it would have been wise to have at least a core staff in place to do it, and to have done it by listening and learning the business of diplomacy first, and leaving the management consultants to work their magic on failing bricks-and-mortar retail companies, which they may understand, rather than foreign policy, which they probably do not. This is not the immediate task in any case. What Pompeo will need to do rather, is to get the department up and running again, and doing the day-to-day foreign-relations work of maintaining America’s role in the world.

via the Atlantic

Strobe Talbott on Totalitarianism

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The word has been tossed around during recent elections, but it means something real. History helps most to get a sense of what totalitarianism really means.

From a notable issue of the NYTBR, former Deputy Secretary of State and Russia observer Strobe Talbott writes this short summary of Russian history–where the first two-thirds captures the connection between Stalin and Hitler and adds context to a well-known historical epoch.

A hundred years ago, a malignant form of governance, both modern and barbaric, slouched towards St. Petersburg to be born. As it grew, it swept across Eurasia, enveloping the largest territorial state on the planet and cloning itself elsewhere. As the decades passed, the monstrosity was given a name: totalitarianism.

via Stalin, Hitler and the Temptations of Totalitarianism – The New York Times