IPT Book Reviews

Title: Historical Change & Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1994  Positive Review
Editor: Olwen Hufton
Publisher: Basic Books, 1995

Basic Books
10 East 53rd St.
New York, NY 10023-5299
$25.00 (c)

The seven chapters of this 280-page book were originally lectures delivered at the annual Amnesty International conference held in 1994.  They are primarily historical analyses of the tension between the state and individual rights.  Of particular interest is the chapter by Patterson which claims that freedom is not natural and suggests that contemporary resistance to freedom is not an aberration but rather the continuance of the historical pattern of government that institutionalizes slavery in one form or another.  The feminist chapter is a fascinating presentation of an often overlooked historical reality the activities of freed slave women.  The roots of feminism in poor women who built a good life is a surprising antidote to the current arrogant neglect of poor women by contemporary feminists.  The most frightening chapter is the analysis of the destruction of personal rights in Nazi Germany.  There are similarities to the present conditions in the United States that may assist in understanding how citizens of the country that has stood for personal rights over the rights of government are now voluntarily surrendering their rights to a state that has few external or internal constraints.

The system established by the state to respond to accusations of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children has been experienced by many as a conflict between personal rights and the rights of the state to intervene, exercise authority, and impose sanctions and punishments on individuals.  This book will help in understanding how [his may, in fact, be the case.  There is, however, little suggestion or guidance in the history as to how individuals may respond.  It appears that the practice of torture by states did not disappear but has become even more extensive and institutionalized now than in earlier eras.  Slavery did not generate resistance until it became economically unrewarding.  The only source of strength or power to advance individual rights over against the state appears to be a rather weak history of resistance by spiritual institutions but very powerful resistance by individuals with a deep personal spirituality.  This book is a perplexing combination of careful and helpful historical analysis and a depressing and frightening outlook for the future.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies.

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