Transcribed from This is Hell! Radio’s 27 June 2014 episode and printed with permission. Edited for space and readability. Listen to the full interview:
“Human rights really only make sense when we think about them in a world after empire.”
Chuck Mertz: On the line with us right now is historian Samuel Moyn. Good morning, Samuel.
Samuel Moyn: Hi, thanks for having me.
CM: Samuel Moyn is author of Human Rights and the Uses of History and is the Bryce professor of European legal history at Columbia University, where he has taught since 2001. His previous books include 2012’s The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History. Samuel’s book Rethinking Modern European Intellectual History, which he co-wrote with Darren M. McMahon, was published in paperback earlier this year, and he co-authored two books last year: 2013’s Global Intellectual History, which he wrote with Andrew Sartori, and The Breakthrough: Human Rights in the 1970s with Jan Eckel.
Here’s how you describe your writings in your new book: “the emphasis of these essays falls on distinguishing the abuses from the uses of history for thinking about the present and future of one of the most central notions and one of the most illustrious political movements of our time: Human Rights.”
AntiNote: Freelance photographer Alexander Belenkiy posted these photographs* on his livejournal this month, after a trip to Sochi. This is the ghost town he encountered there, only six months after the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Alexander points out in his own commentary that the Olympic Village is not completely abandoned; indeed he took care to include photographs of people there. Ultimately this deepens the images’ chill by providing a sense of scale. Hearing that the Sochi Olympics were a $50 billion waste is somewhat stultifying; seeing the vastness of this crime in (literally) concrete terms really leaves an impression.
“What’s abnormal is not the worst. What’s normal, for example, is world war.”
The 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War takes place in a growing atmosphere of global conflict. The world seems to be once again teetering on the verge of catastrophe. A wave of violence is spreading around the globe, leaving destruction and death in its wake. This surge towards war has developed a momentum that at times seems uncontrollable. Palestine, Ukraine, Libya, Syria, Iraq – the list of conflicts is growing and war is once again becoming normal.
The anniversary of World War One should be a time of deep reflection for the left. How was it possible that the vast majority of the socialist parties in Europe could drop their avowed internationalism and fall in behind the imperialist war adventures of their countries’ elites? How could they become so subsumed with nationalism and chauvinism that they allowed millions of young men to fall on the battlefields?
AntiNote: More and more people are beginning to notice and remark upon the rapidly intensifying nature of state authority in the United States, typified by the militarization of local police forces but also noticeable in related areas of the penal and immigration systems. Phrases like ‘prison-industrial complex,’ ‘school-to-prison pipeline,’ and ‘the carceral state’ are finding their way into mainstream discourse. More familiar terms like ‘political prisoners’ and ‘show trial’ appear to have regained some of the resonance they had lost through years of overuse or their near-exclusive application only to Other contexts.
Perhaps it is just a matter of my own perception, but I find it is becoming more common to encounter news stories and public figures—not to mention friends and family—looking askance at manifestations of state authority that in the past were, for most people, an unremarkable feature of an unremarkable status quo.
Of course, the authorities aren’t doing themselves any favors. The media is still hesitant to use appropriately critical terminology, but we are being ever more frequently confronted with concrete instances of obvious and frankly appalling overreach, misconduct, abuse, and illegality of authorities, from high profile police killings of unarmed black men to refugee internment camps to cruel experimental executions.
People are beginning to draw parallels and make unfavorable comparisons to historical systems of authority that we have been taught to despise and condemn out of hand. The Gulag. The Stasi. Jim Crow. It is no longer necessarily a violation of Godwin’s Law to refer to brownshirts.
This is a sign that many people are not merely calling into question previously accepted (or, more likely, ignored) aspects of the system—like solitary confinement, child prisoners, forced deportations, and the War on Drugs, to say nothing of surveillance—but also its fundamental underpinnings: most famously capitalism, but also prisons and borders as such, or the state monopoly on violence.
We are living in a crucial time. The American state’s legitimacy in the eyes of its people is in decline at the same time that its capacity for violence against these same people is increasing. Of course this is true of many states, currently, and has been true of the United States for longer than many of us more privileged (read: white) Americans may realize. But as dissent increases and also becomes increasingly dangerous, there needs to be a clear-eyed and open discussion about what to do when we inevitably come face to face with the terrible power we would try to dismantle.
Peter Gelderloos is not satisfied with the current boundaries of this discussion. In an interview with Tavis Smiley and Cornel West last fall, he explained why. Á propos of the current debate about ‘proper’ responses to state violence that was sparked by the police murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the ‘riots’ that continue, Antidote presents the second in our series of authorized Smiley and West transcripts. Enjoy!
The verdicts for the second group of defendants in the Bolotnaya Square case – brought against participants in the Russian protest movement of 2011-12 – will be announced on 18 August in Zamoskvoretsky Court in Moscow. The prosecutor has asked the court to sentence Alexander Margolin and Alexei Gaskarov to four years in prison; Ilya Gushchin to three years and three months in prison; and Elena Kokhtareva to three years and three months suspended, with four years of probation. All four defendants have been charged under Article 212 Part 2 (involvement in riots) and Article 318 Part 1 (use of non-threatening violence against a public official) of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. On 4 August, 28-year-old Alexei Gaskarov made his closing statement in court. This is the complete text of his speech.
AntiNote: The following is an extended excerpt of a radio interview, edited for readability. Transcribed and printed with permission.
Since this talk between host Chuck Mertz and author Iain Sinclair (from This is Hell! Radio’s 17 May 2014 episode) covered a lot of ground and went in many different directions, we have removed large portions of it for reasons of space and clarity. We therefore encourage you to listen to the whole thing right here!
Our ‘edition’ narrows the scope of the discussion, which centered on a latter-day exploration of the Beat Generation and their haunts, to just haunts. That is, we found the portions of Chuck and Iain’s conversation that centered on place, cities, and our place in cities to be most complementary to topics we cover on Antidote. Further, much of the discourse about the gentrification and commercialization of—and our alienation and expulsion from—urban landscapes lacks the poetic and emotional sensitivity that this conversation contains. We find this fresh, humane approach both affecting and appropriate to the real pain that underlies our objections to the neoliberal ‘development’ of cities we call home—a pain that can be expressed in the question, “Why doesn’t the city I love, love me?”Continue reading →