Catholic University Law Review


The modern human rights movement began as a response to great evil perpetrated by individuals and nations against others during and preceding World War II. The movement has been dedicated to protecting the rights of individuals by confronting evil and holding nations accountable should efforts to prevent it fail.

This article contends that while the human rights movement is good at confronting evil “out there,” it has failed in important ways to recognize flaws within itself. In particular, it displays a hubris that shows itself in two ways. First, the movement has embraced a utopian expansion of rights to be protected. We assume that if we simply identify something as a fundamental human right, that right will be promoted and enforced. Second, the movement has a Utopian view of the bodies created to enforce human rights. The assumption is that if we set up an organization with a noble purpose, it will achieve noble aims.

Both assumptions are false. And by operating on these false assumptions, the movement endangers itself and its ability to protect fundamental human rights. The article explores these assumptions and then offers suggestions for how the human rights movement can, with humility and proper expectations, better confront evil and protect human rights.