More of the Same? Human Rights in an Age of Inequality

February 23, 2018

A review on Lawfare of Kathryn Sikkink’s “Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century” (Princeton, 2017).


Reading the introduction to Kathryn Sikkink’s latest book, “,” one cannot help but feel optimism. Sikkink’s book defends a powerful thesis: Human rights work, and they will continue to work. The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice, as long as we keep fighting the good fight for human rights. And, crucially, Sikkink aims to show that this optimism needn’t rest on faith alone. It can be justified by the best empirical evidence we have on the effects of human rights law and the human rights movement.

Sikkink’s argument for this conclusion may be divided into two parts. First, we have evidence that human rights (which I treat here as shorthand for human rights law and the human rights movement) have been effective in bringing about positive change in the past. (Call this the “backward-looking” part of her argument.) Second, we have no good reason to doubt that they will continue to do so in the future. (Call this the “forward-looking” part.) In this review I will consider the two parts of Sikkink’s argument in turn, dealing at greater length with the issues raised by the second.

Read the full review on Lawfare.