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Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights (American Empire Project) Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 15, 2011

3.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Chomskyesque . . . A useful, thought-provoking challenge to the Western human rights consensus."
Publishers Weekly

"An engaging and original look at America's foreign policy, accessible and well researched."
Library Journal

"A prodigiously researched, provocative critique."

"Ideal Illusions forces us to confront a great contradiction: how the noble vision of human rights has been compromised and manipulated to serve the purposes of the national security state and divert attention from deep economic, political, and military pathologies. James Peck's work, based on a rigorous examination of an enormous collection of official and archival documents, is essential, sobering, and eye-opening."
—John Dower, author of Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

"This incisive and sophisticated analysis exposes the 'hidden history that once again reveals just how tied into U.S. national security concerns the evolution of human rights attitudes has been.' Ideal Illusions is a well-documented, impressive account and a timely warning to seek the interests that lie behind appealing rhetoric."
—Noam Chomsky, author of Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy

"In this searing book, James Peck strips away the comforting illusion that, give or take a mistake or two, U.S. foreign policy for the past thirty years or more has been shaped by a dedication to the principles of human rights. He demonstrates how, on the contrary, successive administrations have captured the language of human rights and bent it to America's purpose. In clear and compelling prose, Peck calls on the human rights community to understand the dangers of its reliance on American power—and on American citizens to address the contradictions between a genuine dedication to the rights of humanity and prevailing definitions of U.S. national interests."
—Marilyn Young, author of The Vietnam Wars: 1945-1990

"Ideal Illusions is both a devastating book and a deeply disturbing one. James Peck lays bare any lingering illusions that human rights concerns seriously influence U.S. policy. Yet he goes further: showing how Washington has consciously and cynically manipulated the very concept of human rights to serve the interests of American power."
—Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War

About the Author

James Peck is the author of Washington's China. 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.


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Product Details

  • Series: American Empire Project
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; First Edition edition (March 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805083286
  • ASIN: B005Q5VAY4
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,596,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
mr. peck has written a fascinating book which i read as a warning for what happens when power abuses idealism to justify its unjust policies. peck shows that after vietnam and watergate the usa could not rely anymore on anti-communism to portray itself as a viable alternative, so it needed a new justification and found it in the use of human rights as a tool of foreign policy. of course this didn't mean that washington itself would not violate human rights anymore. not at all, while american human rights organizations claimed the usa was the only world power that could protect human rights, the gulf between rich and poor kept on widening and the human rights of billions of people kept on deteriorating. in fact the idealism on which the american human rights movement was originally based, the ideals of the peace movement and the civil rights movement, was lost. it seemed as if in future one could have human rights without changing fundamentally the global injustice, the growing poverty world wide. the problem for the human rights organizations is now that they can be and are being used by the american state for policies which have nothing to do with human rights and everything with keeping the status quo in tact. what we see at this moment is that the sovereignty of states can be violated by the united states with the argument it is done to protect human rights while in reality the reasons are quite different. what mr peck makes absolutely clear in his historical account is that human rights needs to be based on justice, real justice, otherwise human rights will become injustice being justified by nice words and will finally be corrupted. interesting is the striking difference between an american lobby group as human rights watch and an european broad based organization as amnesty international. as a dutch journalist who travelled extensively through the middle east i was pleased to read such an illuminating book about such an important topic.
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Format: Hardcover
So said the corrupt Ottoman official in Elia Kazan's film, "America, America." James Peck shows the patronizing mentality of the master class remains unchanged through all the permutations of the 20th century. I can recall when "human rights" was considered the catchphrase of leftist and libertarian cranks, to be brushed aside by knowing pragmatists dealing with the Real World. Peck outlines how international human rights ideals, and the civil rights movement at home, became ideological tools in the global arsenal of the Cold War; and continue as "weapons of mass justification" in spreading US hegemony to new frontiers.

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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was disappointed in this book. Unfortunately, the book isn't really writing to persuade, but takes it as a given that the U.S. has manipulated human rights and right fifty years of history from that view point. Many readers will agree with that premise, and they won't be disappointed, the history is thorough. I work professionally in human rights, and I bought this book knowing I would disagree with that premise. I do like to read books that present views differing from my own, however, and read with an open mind. Unfortunately, his chief criticism of human rights NGOs seems to be that they are not pacifist/communist organizations, and that they've limited themselves too much to political rights. Those are also the rights that the U.S. generally espouses (and used against the communists). Peck seems to see that as collusion/co-opting (whereas most find it unsurprising, as both movements arose out of the same vein of enlightenment thinking and US political thought [as opposed to the USG] greatly affected the development of human rights). In short, if you agree with the premise of the book, I doubt you'll be disappointed. If you don't think you do, this book will likely just frustrate you.
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