“A tour de force.”—Gordon S. Wood, New York Times Book Review
Already by 1776 it had seemed "self-evident," at least to the slave-owning Thomas Jefferson, that "all men were created equal." Of course, like all brilliant rhetoric, his claim was both startlingly and deceptively simple: It masked what may have been the most revolutionary (and in practice, controversial) aspect of American independence. For why and when did we ever start to think that human beings were universally equal, let alone obviously so? Lynn Hunt's elegant Inventing Human Rights offers lucid and original answers…Revolutionaries often see themselves as beginning the world anew, but neither the Americans nor the French conjured up their visions of equality and liberty in a void. Hunt skillfully situates their discourse of rights within a series of broader cultural changes that transformed how (Western) human beings related to one another. It is no accident, she argues, that ideas about common humanity emerged at the same time that people began to take an interest in portraiture, to listen to music in contemplative silence and, above all, to read novels. Indeed, Hunt's mastery of the 18th-century European landscape allows the book to double as a fresh interpretation of Enlightenment culture.