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. 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.