On who advocated for the Declaration of Human Rights

Samuel Moyn says the history holds some surprises.



Samuel Moyn says the history holds some surprises.


There was a Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. At that time, there were a bit over 50 countries in the United Nations – it was still the era of empire – and of those 50-odd countries, most were Christian countries. The bulk of the countries in the world were transatlantic countries or Latin American countries. And that was, if you like, the Christian zone of the world, especially at that time.

When we look into those countries, we find a lot of public Christianity. The elites of most of these countries have some relationship to the Christian religion, so I don’t think we should be surprised that this is the moment when there’s a linkage between Christianity and human rights. 

Now when we look at who’s enthusiastic, it’s then that we really get even more of a sense of the relevance of Christianity, because there is a diversity of people in all of these places. But the strange thing – maybe strange for some – is that we find those who self-identify as Christians and, even more surprisingly, those who self-identify as conservatives who are pressing this idea the hardest in public debate of the era.