Is There Only Room for One Utopia?

The title of Samuel Moyn's The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History is misleading. It isn't really a history of human rights; instead, it's an outline of how human rights rose to prominence as a defining political issue in the years after World War II. But it doesn't really do that either: all too often, Moyn alludes to people and events, rather than describing or explaining them, so his argument he's trying to make is sketched rather than drawn.

And he definitely is making an argument. In a nutshell, he believes that human rights have become important because other utopias have failed. The great socialist experiments of the 20th Century either imploded or (in the Chinese case) transformed themselves into free-market capitalism, whose promises of opportunity and prosperity are now a hollow joke. Moyn thinks that freedom of speech, freedom of worship, and basic human dignity aren't better ideas than those—they're just the only ones left standing.

Which makes me wonder: is this why most techies shrug off concerns about surveillance and censorship? Is it because their utopia—their Singularity—doesn't leave room for others?

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