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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Booklist | Scorecard Diplomacy

Can a top 20 list (or bottom 10?) be a tool to make countries behave? A new book by Judith G. Kelley of Duke University makes sense of the value that comes from doing rankings and grading in an effort to change state behavior.

Scorecard Diplomacy by Judith Kelley shows that public grades can evoke countries’ concerns about their reputations and motivate them to address thorny problems

If you aren’t familiar with Kelly’s work, take a look.

Kelley’s work focuses on how states, international organizations and NGOs can promote domestic political reforms in problem states, and how international norms, laws and other governance tools influence state behavior. Her work addresses human rights and democracy, international election observation, and human trafficking. Her Project on International Election Monitoring led to a book, Monitoring Democracy: When International Election Observation Works and Why It Often Fails (Princeton 2012), which was “One of Choice’s Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013” and also received the Chadwick F. Alger Prize, which recognizes the “best book published in the previous calendar year on the subject of international organization and multilateralism.” The work behind Scorecard Diplomacy: Grading States to Influence Their Reputation and Behavior was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and another from the Smith Richardson Foundation.

 

Source: Scorecard Diplomacy

Booklist | The Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner

Gaining and using power is an old subject–and at the core of politics diplomacy, and leadership. So this new book by Dacher Keltner upends the traditional Machiavellian interpretation by arguing that you become more powerful through “empathy, collaboration, open mindedness, fairness, and generosity.” That’s the good news.

The bad news? Obtaining power sows the seeds for our downfall.

This is the “paradox” of Keltner’s title: it is true that being nice is the best path to power, but achieving power reliably turns people nasty. “The seductions of power,” as he puts it, “induce us to lose the very skills that enabled us to gain power in the first place.” Research demonstrates that people who feel powerful are more likely to act impulsively: to have affairs; to drive inconsiderately; to lie; to argue that it is justifiable for them to break rules others should follow; and, in one entertaining study by Keltner and his colleagues, to steal sweets from children. Rich people even shoplift more than the poor. All in all, accumulating power seems to trigger a tendency to self-absorption: in experiments, when people are asked to draw the letter E on their own foreheads so that others can read it, powerful people are more likely to draw it the right way round to themselves, and backwards to onlookers. In a literal sense, they no longer see the world from other people’s perspective.

Source: The Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner review – how success triggers self-absorption | Books | The Guardian

 

Booklist | Best Diplomacy Books of 2015

Add these 2105 books that focus on the history, practice, and key issues in diplomacy to your reading list:

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Worldmaking: The Art and Science of American Diplomacy by David Milne – the most important rethinking of American foreign policy, dividing key thinkers between artistic and scientific approaches

Realpolitik: A History by John Bew – unraveling a German contribution and distinguishing it from the realist school of thought

The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire by Susan Pedersen – explores the first grand attempt at international governance and a failed attempt to outlaw war

The Deluge, by Adam Tooze – an original take on the interwar period as power gravitated from Europe to the US

ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger – the must-read book to understand the Middle East disruptor

King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant by Stephen Church – commemorating the 800th anniversary of a foundational doc

Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist by Niall Ferguson – making the case that he cannot be ignored as a major diplomatic strategist, an effort to “revise the revisionists

Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman by Greg Grandin – on his institutionalizing failures, using intuition over facts, and forming the foundation for neoconservative missteps

Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy by Micah Zenko – avoiding groupthink by thinking like the other side

The Power of the Past: History and Statecraft by Hal Brands (Editor), Jeremi Suri (Editor) – what can policymakers really learn from history?

Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century by Alistair Horne – a longtime writer of military history isolates a key factor

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turtle – how technology makes it harder for us to be together, diminishing empathy

The New York Review Abroad edited by Robert B Silvers with introductory updates by Ian Buruma – around the world in 27 essays

 

Global Economics

Inequality: What Can be Done? by Anthony Atkinson – to follow up on Piketty’s big idea last year, how about a solution?

The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa’s Wealth by Tom Burgis – revealing how Africa sits at the bottom on of the global industrial chain

Digital Gold: The Untold Story of Bitcoin by Nathaniel Popper – from a global joke to a movement and new currency

Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science by Dani Rodrik – taking on the dismal science in the form of a defense

 

Country Focus

 

Global Rules: America, Britain, and a Disordered World by James E. Cronin

Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel, by Dan Ephron – a murder that didn’t make peace inevitable or settle the big Israeli debate

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator by Oleg V. Khlevniuk, translated by Nora Seligman Favorov

Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean From Columbus to the Present Day by Carrie Gibson

How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People
by Sudhir Hazareesingh

The Invention of Russia: The Journey from Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War by Arkady Ostrovsky

The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq by Emma Sky

The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War and the Business by Alex de Waal

 

Finally, take a look and James Lindsay’s complication of ten American foreign policy influencers who died in 2015. Happy New Year!

Booklist | Ian Kershaw’s ‘To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949’ 

Vytautas The Great War Museum Kaunas, Lithuania

Could the Great War have been avoided? Ian Kershaw’s new book offers an explanation:

Kershaw argues that World War I could have been forestalled if Vienna had acted with speed to punish Serbia for its complicity in the murder of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; it had the Kaiser’s reckless blank check for punishment, but as Kershaw puts it, the Austrian Empire “knew only two speeds, slow and dead stop.” By the time Vienna sent its ultimatum to Belgrade, three weeks after the assassination, Russia, with France in tow, had encouraged the Serbs to be more bloody-minded. More bloody-minded, in my own judgment, than justified.

Kershaw identifies a second missed opportunity to avert mass slaughter. He writes that even as Russia started to mobilize in the summer of 1914 — much before Germany — “a firm British declaration of neutrality . . . might even at a late hour have prevented general war. But Grey’s disastrous hesitation meant that the room for diplomatic initiatives vanished.” Pretty well every history nods to the poetic prescience of Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary, in the foreboding he expressed on Aug. 3. Standing by his big window overlooking Horse Guards Parade, he watched the gas lights being lit in the street below and said: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” They were, though Grey lived to see Europe, with the lights on, begin to fumble its irresolute way to World War II.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story

Source: Ian Kershaw’s ‘To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949’ – The New York Times

Kissinger the Freedom Fighter – WSJ

A new book by Nial Ferguson makes that case that Kissinger was an “idealist”, of sorts. Is his book, Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist, credible?

As Kissinger observed, there was something unforgivable about the way the “protest movements [had] made heroes of leaders in repressive new countries,” oblivious to “the absurdity of founding a claim for freedom on protagonists of the totalitarian state—such as Guevara or Ho or Mao.” The student radicals failed to see that they were living through a fundamental transformation of the postwar international order. “The age of the superpowers,” Kissinger announced, “is drawing to an end.”

Source: Kissinger the Freedom Fighter – WSJ

Booklist | Best Diplomacy Books of 2014

My top picks from the past year for books relevant to diplomacy and international affairs:

The Professor and the President: Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the Nixon White House by Stephen Hess. Serious debates between a president and his policy advisor–and former UN ambassador. This great book was written by Moynihan’s deputy, now a notable political scientist.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. This is the “it” book of the year and one that is still shaping the debate. As Tyler Cohen writes in Foreign Affairs, “Every now and then, the field of economics produces an important book; this is one of them. Thomas Piketty’s tome will put capitalist wealth back at the center of public debate, resurrect interest in the subject of wealth distribution, and revolutionize how people view the history of income inequality.”

How Asia Works by Joe Studwell comes with recommendations from leading economists and Bill Gates alike (don’t miss his Lego stop motion short). It addresses the high economic growth of the Asian Tigers and tries to be a “how to” guide based on the past 50 years of economic and political history.

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos. A reminder that nobody knows where China is heading–but that listening to the voices of Chinese people can at least give us useful insights into what the country is.

The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Kai Bird tells the story of the spy who was “All Things Middle East” and embodied the highest tradecraft skills and public service ideal while spending his career focused on a tumultuous region. Well-written and carefully crafted by Bird, we are well-served with this treatment.

Global Crisis: War, Catastrophe, and Climate Change in the Seventeenth Century by Geoffrey Parker, called “a magesterial work” by Lisa Jardine in FT, lays out the case in more than 900 pages for linkages between a period of intense temperature changes (up to 2 degrees) in the 1600s and political, social, and economic upheaval. The thesis has been in play since the 1970s but Parker returns with more analysis, sources, and arguments to make his case. An important book to at least consider how climate and society could be linked–especially as we may be living through a similar era. (See Parker’s short article in the Chronicle.)

Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy by Francis Fukuyama is a powerful sequal book and deep explanation of how political institutes develop form a notable political philosopher.

The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor by William Easterly brings back one of my favorite development thinkers taking on dominant paradigms of field with arguments on behalf of the people for whom development should work. This book isn’t as ground shaking as his earlier one (The White Man’s Burden) but it advances his thinking with clear, insightful writing and adds to our understanding of how development ought to work.

Honorable Mentions

Gandhi Before India by Ramachandra Guha covers Gandhi’s early years in India, England and South Africa. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald in what was supposed to be the must-read book of the year. The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest Is Good for the West by Charles Kenny is an optimistic development read that has a few points to quibble with but makes an interesting (and important) point against zero-sum thinking.