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  • The Europeanization of the World: On the Origins of Human Rights and Democracy
  • John E. Kicza
John Headley . The Europeanization of the World: On the Origins of Human Rights and Democracy.Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008. xviii + 290 pp. index. illus. map. bibl. $29.95. ISBN: 978–0–691–13312–6.

John Headley's lucid study of the intellectual origins of human rights and democracy in the European tradition rewards the careful reader. His argument locates most that is unique about these themes emerging during the Renaissance [End Page 958] and found fully rendered only in Europe. Headley does not regard these two qualities as Europe's most important exports to the rest of the world; these, he holds, were probably capitalism and the world market. But the latter manifested themselves pervasively only during the last century or so.

The universality of human rights was a distinguishing characteristic of the late eighteenth century of the European world on both sides of the Atlantic. Notably, the Declaration of Independence put forth the rights of all men, not just of the Americans or those who represented their cause. Headley finds that this universalization emerged in three stages. The first is the religious and Christian, best rendered in Roman Law. Next is the classical, secular elements of the Renaissance, or Europe as a distinct, maturing, self-conscious civilization. Third and finally, after 1900, is the already formed nation-state.

Headley argues that no matter the significance for the present, the goal of his book is to deepen our historical sense of two European phenomena: the idea of a common humanity and the tenability of political dissent. For the latter, he finds especially important the experience of the English Parliament following the Revolution Settlement of 1688–89. This in turn was inconceivable without the Reformation's destruction of the longstanding authority of the Catholic Church and canon law.

The author cites numerous well-known authors, commonly members of recognized schools of thought. A notable figure is Thomas Paine, who elaborates extensively on the character of civilization. Paine considers civilization as being more than good manners and refinement. Rather the more perfect it is, the less need it has of government, for it is self-adjusting.

Toward the end of the book in a rather underdeveloped section, Headley points out that since the 1960s, many American academics have scorned and rejected these previously prized European values. They emphasize instead Europe's participation in some of the world's most atrocious acts. To them Europe is unexceptional. But Headley will entertain none of this counterargument. He sees the West as unique in its creation of these exceptional values.

Then suddenly, in the epilogue, with little warning or preparation for the reader, Headley severely attacks the moral standing of the current American political institutions, particularly the Bush Administration. He finds the American public to be willing and fearful to the degree that the U. S. in the early 2000s is comparable to Germany in 1933. The majority party cares not for the rule of law, while the minority party cannot resist effectively. Both the press and the judiciary fail to mount traditional checks and balances. But this intense assault on modern American institutions lasts not four pages and is then dropped in its entirety, not to be heard from again.

Headley has written an excellent book, penetrating and well-written. The two sections on the United States described above are in brief, isolated sections, and have little to do with the rest of the book. The reader stands to gain a great deal from this senior scholar's broad analysis of these distinctly European values. [End Page 959]

John E. Kicza
Washington State University


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pp. 958-959
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2009
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