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Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights (American Empire Project) [Kindle Edition]

James Peck

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Book Description

From a noted historian and foreign-policy analyst, a groundbreaking critique of the troubling symbiosis between Washington and the human rights movement

The United States has long been hailed as a powerful force for global human rights. Now, drawing on thousands of documents from the CIA, the National Security Council, the Pentagon, and development agencies, James Peck shows in blunt detail how Washington has shaped human rights into a potent ideological weapon for purposes having little to do with rights—and everything to do with furthering America's global reach.

Using the words of Washington's leaders when they are speaking among themselves, Peck tracks the rise of human rights from its dismissal in the cold war years as "fuzzy minded" to its calculated adoption, after the Vietnam War, as a rationale for American foreign engagement. He considers such milestones as the fight for Soviet dissidents, Tiananmen Square, and today's war on terror, exposing in the process how the human rights movement has too often failed to challenge Washington's strategies.

A gripping and elegant work of analysis, Ideal Illusions argues that the movement must break free from Washington if it is to develop a truly uncompromising critique of power in all its forms.




Product Description

Review

"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."
--"Kirkus"

""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

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.


Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 682 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; Reprint edition (15 Mar. 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004GHN2LW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #920,127 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an empire trying to justify injustice 13 Feb. 2012
By stan van houcke - Published on Amazon.com
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I'm Here Only for the Good I Can Do." 16 Feb. 2013
By R. L. Huff - Published on Amazon.com
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.
2 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A more honest title would be "A History of Human Rights, assuming that they were co-opted by the US" 7 Dec. 2011
By Just Some Guy - Published on Amazon.com
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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