Moyn Addresses Human Rights and Material Inequality

On September 6th, the second annual Human Rights Lecture@Duke – a new partnership between the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and the Duke Law School – welcomed Samuel Moyn, professor of law and history at Yale University, to Duke. Moyn’s most recent book, Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World (Harvard University Press, 2018), questions why the rise of human rights has occurred alongside enduring and increasing inequality, and why activists seek remedies for need without challenging growing wealth.

Speaking to a full room, Moyn stated that “human rights on paper and human rights movements — until very recently — have said nothing about material inequality. They’ve been a language and they’ve provided a kind of mobilization, belatedly, that takes on sufficient provision. But when it comes to material equality, human rights falls silent.”

“Professor Moyn’s lecture left me pondering a number of issues relating to the relationship between human rights and economic inequality, says Juliette Duara, a Senior Lecturing Fellow at Duke Law School and Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics.  “In particular, I have been mulling whether it is justifiable for a small group to become fabulously wealthy so long as the lives of those at the bottom rung are marginally improved in the process. I think not – but the ‘why not’ is interesting to contemplate.”

Click here to see a video of the talk.

The talk was co-sponsored by The Duke Human Rights Center at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, The Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute, The Center for International and Comparative Law at Duke Law School, the History Department, Sanford School of Public Policy, The Human Rights Archive at the Rubenstein Library, and International Comparative Studies.