- Series: American Empire Project
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Metropolitan Books; Reprint edition (February 28, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805094660
- ISBN-13: 978-0805094664
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #382,391 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights (American Empire Project) Paperback – February 28, 2012
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Customers who bought this item also bought
About the Author
James Peck is the author of Washington's China. The founder of the Culture and Civilization of China project at Yale University Press and the China International Publishing Group in Beijing, he has written for The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications. He lives in New York City.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
But it seems Peck has taken a rather narrow, postwar/cold war view of the subject. Nothing was substantially different about this rhetoric from its imperial predecessors. Subduing the Boxers in China, ending the African slave trade, freeing Cuba from Spain, bringing Christian enlightenment and "good government" to lost heathens everywhere - all of this was justified in the broadest religious and humanitarian terms of Western idealism for their generation. And there was always the divide between "good imperialism" and "bad imperialism" - exemplied by the contest between the Atlantic Powers and fascism, continued with scarcely a blink in the internal and external cold war with the "communist empire." Men in the US Government like the Dulles Brothers encompassed the entire era with no sense of contradiction.
Peck also glosses over the differences between Carter and Reagan in their human rights promotion. Reagan was a late convert to the idea, most notably by avoiding the rescue of Ferdinand Marcos in the "Peoples' Power" Yellow Revolution of the Philippines - much against the Gipper's first reaction. Even so there was little pretense of even-handedness: the likes of Patricia Derian would never be found in Reagan's administration. His first cabinet consisted entirely of hardliners who preferred military confrontation, for whom Carter's human rights rhetoric was pure sissiness. The growth of the human rights industry made it an unavoidable asset even to die-hard reactionaries.
As another reviewer suggests, the focus on individual human rights, at the expense of social rights, is a legacy of the eighteenth century's "bourgeois revolutions." The middle class individual citizen was the highest expression of human evolution; freeing him from all external constraints (and social responsibilities) in asserting his ego identity the endgame of "good government." Peck demonstrates how this became a rationalization for the rich and powerful, where - as in so much else - one has all the human rights one can afford. Instructive also is how rights rhetoric is continuously employed as a justification for mass bombing, as in the former Yugoslavia, for ending "genocide"; in Afghanistan, in the name of "womens' rights"; or for gutting social safety nets as part of one's "freedom to choose."
It's also ironic how the "communist empire" lost its side of the cold war by abandoning its earlier social missionary sense, settling into the corruptions of power, and finally capitulating to the competition. Thus modern triumphalist pundits pontificate on the "inevitable collapse" of a "failed system." Yet there seemed nothing inevitable about said collapse to the cold war crafters of ideas. Their rivals instead seemed marching from success to victory across the nations and mens' minds. It was the West, so they worried, that was intellectually flabby, uninspiring, being left behind.
Peck also writes that enlightened criticism of past mistakes only reinforces the continued employment of the same methods with the same results. Empires never "learn the lessons" of their Vietnams: they can't admit the fundamental conflict of interest between power and justice without political suicide. Empires which finally do - like Britain or Gorby's USSR - are in "decay", exiting the stage of history. As long as the US can dress aggression and greed in Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes of doing good, of "humanitarian intervention," admitting that it has yet to live up to its ideals, the illusions of empire are in place; and the empire itself safe from them.