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  • A New Deal for the World: America's Vision for Human Rights
  • Debra L. DeLaet
A New Deal for the World: America's Vision for Human Rights. By Elizabeth Borgwardt (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 2005) 438 pp. $35.00

In this comprehensive overview of American foreign-policy initiatives during the World War II period, Borgwardt argues that the Atlantic Charter provided the basic blueprint for the development of the modern international human-rights regime in the aftermath of the war. Although Borgwardt acknowledges that the human-rights ideals that become prominent after the war have a much longer historical pedigree, she contends that particular historical factors, especially Americans' experience of the depression, laid the groundwork for making both Americans and people in other countries more receptive to human rights at that point. Americans did not "create" international human-rights ideals, but they played an essential role in propeling these norms to a prominent place on the global agenda. The central purpose of Borgwardt's book is to tell this story.

In the introductory section of the book, Borgwardt provides an overview of negotiations leading to the adoption of the Atlantic Charter and seeks to demonstrate the intersection between New Deal thinking and an emerging multilateralism in U.S. foreign policy. After introducing her basic argument and framework, Borgwardt explores the ways in which her argument plays out in three key substantive areas: the adoption of the Bretton Woods institutions, the creation of the United Nations, and the establishment of the Nuremberg Tribunal. In her conclusions, she discusses the implications of her argument for contemporary developments in American foreign policy. In particular, she contrasts the current emphasis on unilateralism in U.S. foreign policy with the multilateralism of the postwar period, underscoring that such a policy risks undermining both the effectiveness and legitimacy of U.S. human-rights initiatives both at home and abroad.

Although A New Deal for the World demonstrates Borgwardt's familiarity with a wide range of academic disciplines—including political philosophy, international relations, and economics—the book's analysis is grounded most clearly in history and international law. In particular, Borgwardt relies on records of international negotiations, diplomatic letters, and speeches and statements by foreign-policy elites as her primary evidentiary base. She weaves concepts and theories of international law through her description of the foreign-policy positions of elites to develop her argument. Thus, the strength of her argument is in presenting [End Page 315] an official, "top-down" version of the contributions of American foreign policy to the modern international human-rights regime.

A corresponding weakness is that Borgwardt does not as thoroughly explore the ways in which non-state actors or bottom-up processes shaped the development and evolution of international human rights. She regularly refers to the growing convergence between American public opinion and foreign-policy elites' beliefs in support of multilateral policies contributing to the growth of human-rights norms globally. However, she does not adequately explain what processes helped to shape elite ideas about foreign policy and human rights or the mechanisms by which the amorphous concept of "public opinion" was translated into actual shifts in policy. For many political scientists and constructivist scholars of international relations, a focus on non-state actors and "bottom-up" processes is essential for understanding why states adopt particular policies. Borgwardt's argument would have benefited from greater attention to these actors and processes. Despite this limitation, the book provides a detailed and fascinating history of the Atlantic Charter and major foreign-policy initiatives associated with this important moment in U.S. history.

Debra L. DeLaet
Drake University
...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9169
Print ISSN
0022-1953
Pages
pp. 315-316
Launched on MUSE
2007-08-16
Open Access
No
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