The World Reimagined: Americans and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century

In This Review

The World Reimagined: Americans and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century
By Mark Philip Bradley
Cambridge University Press, 2016
320 pp.
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Beginning in the second half of the twentieth century, people in the United States and around the world started talking about freedom and justice in strikingly new ways. The UN’s 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the starting point for what would become a revolution in global political culture. In this landmark book, Bradley illuminates this transformation, focusing less on the drama of great-power politics than on subtle shifts in how elites and activists outside of government visualized and verbalized the rights and obligations of people within an emerging postwar community of nations, tracking how talk of human rights went from an “exotic aspirational language” to an “everyday vernacular.” In a multitude of small steps, symbolic moments, breakthroughs, and setbacks during the postwar decades, ideas about human rights wove themselves into narratives about the United States’ identity and role in the world. Sensibilities in Africa, Asia, and Europe also changed dramatically. But Bradley’s arresting account of the rise of a global human rights imagination makes its most profound statements on the subject of the United States’ changing—and, unfortunately, declining—position within this evolving moral landscape.