Published in Overland Issue 207 Winter 2012 · Politics 'Intervene, I said' Jessica Whyte ‘Intervene, I said … After that, I don’t know.’ – Bernard-Henri Lévy during the war in Bosnia1 In March last year, only days after NATO’s military intervention in Libya, the French ‘New Philosopher’ Bernard-Henri Lévy held a reception for Libyan insurgents at the Hôtel Rafael in Paris.2 Among the guests was Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), who played a major role in popularising the so-called ‘right to intervene’ on humanitarian grounds. Originally conceived as a justification for humanitarian NGOs to cross state borders, this ‘right’ has now morphed into a legitimisation for state military campaigns such as the one underway in Libya. Just before the reception, Lévy, a long-time supporter of Western military interventions to enforce human rights, had travelled to Benghazi where, according to his version of events, he had negotiated France’s recognition of the Libyan rebels. Lévy takes credit for persuading President Sarkozy to intervene militarily in support of their attempt to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi: as he tells it, Lévy advised the President that ‘the people on the National Transitional Council are good guys’.3 In a context marked by exuberance at the fall of Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia, and by widespread horror at the repression carried out by the Gaddafi regime, Lévy’s ‘good guys’ narrative found broad support. Indeed, we have become so used to the moral discourses that sustain contemporary humanitarian interventions, with their suffering victims, evil dictators and heroic Western rescuers, that the paucity of this good versus evil tale passed largely unnoticed. Today, however, the ‘good guys’ rhetoric is looking decidedly feeble. Despite assurances from a EU spokesperson that ‘the new Libya will respect human rights and democratic principles’, a recent Amnesty International report reveals that the ‘new Libya’ looks disturbingly like the old one.4 Donald Rumsfeld infamously distinguished between what he termed ‘known knowns’ (things we know we know), ‘known unknowns’ (things we know we don’t know) and the infinitely more dangerous ‘unknown unknowns’ (things we do not know we don’t know).5 To this already impressive categorisation, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek added ‘unknown knowns’: ‘the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values.’6 The Abu Ghraib scandal, in Žižek’s view, forced the unknown known of the Iraq war into a public consciousness unwilling to acknowledge the violence of military occupation, a denial necessary for the belief in the ‘goodness’ of the Western powers. Amnesty’s February report on post-Gaddafi Libya has had little of the impact of the Abu Ghraib images, thus its capacity to shake public support for the NATO intervention has been limited. But, like those brutal images of twisted, handcuffed and naked bodies, the photos of torture in the Amnesty report highlight the unknown knowns of Western military support for the Libyan ‘rebels’, many of whose leading members had played key roles in the Gaddafi regime. Widespread and systematic torture, detentions without trial, extra-judicial killings, reprisals involving whole villages, and the abuse and expulsion of sub-Saharan migrant workers are among the stories detailed in the report.7 If, as Amnesty claims in its opening pages, the Libyan uprising was a demand for ‘freedom, justice and respect for human rights and dignity’, then to suggest, as the report does, that the current violence jeopardises such hopes is surely more than an understatement.8 Rather than take this claim at face value, it is worth asking what is at stake in framing the Libyan uprising – and, indeed, the Arab Spring – as a demand for human rights. To do so is to place these struggles in a context in which political choices are already constrained within narrow legal and moral parameters. But are human rights really what people risked their lives for? And is the human rights project that Amnesty epitomises the best response to the lack of freedom and justice in contemporary Libya? Is the moral discourse of human rights ‘the most we can hope for’, as Michael Ignatieff has argued, or is there a need to reformulate a political critique of contemporary state power that does away with the good versus evil dichotomy? These questions become more urgent in the wake of the 2012 Kony campaign and the accompanying apotheosis of geopolitics as fairytale. Claiming that he is about to explain the conflict in Uganda to his son Gavin, Jason Russell, director of the widely circulated video clip, asks: ‘What do I do for a job?’ Gavin may only be five, but he is well versed in the moral language of contemporary humanitarian interventions. Echoing Levy’s conversation with Sarkozy, Gavin answers: ‘You stop the bad guys from being mean’. In this case, it is all too easy to highlight the video’s distortions and factual inaccuracies, to question the reduction of the conflict to a good versus evil morality tale and to draw attention to its narcissistic flattery of the Facebook generation, techno-charging the white man’s burden. Yet few have stopped to question the wider shift in political discourse that has transformed political conflicts into moral tales of good versus evil. What US political theorist Robert Meister terms ‘the humanitarian melodrama’ thrives on creating moral feeling through narrating the pain of bodies. Unlike other forms of injustice, however, physical pain ‘can be described, independently of its historical and cultural context, as a violation of human rights.’9 Clearly the same cannot be said of labour exploitation, poverty-related deaths or other forms of structural injustice. The moralisation of politics has therefore been accompanied by a shift of focus away from the structural violence of capitalism towards specific, individual acts of violence. In a world in which one billion people are malnourished, how have we come to replace a commitment to distributive justice with a demand for legal justice? And why is it so comforting to believe that the capture and prosecution of one ‘bad guy’, or a bombing campaign in support of the ‘good guys’, will be sufficient to bring about what the Kony video terms ‘the better world we want’? The end of revolution and the rise of human rights In 1979, Michel Foucault noted that the recent past had seen what was once so self-evident to those on the Left, the idea ‘that history is dominated by revolution’, crumble under the weight of Khrushchev’s speech, the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian uprising and de-Stalinisation.10 The same period saw the emergence of a new politics of human rights, epitomised by NGOs like Amnesty International and MSF. Far from a simple coincidence, the rise of human rights discourse in the 1970s was intimately connected to this counter-revolutionary climate. Human rights began to establish itself as the dominant political language by 1977. That year began with President Carter’s inauguration speech in which he proclaimed ‘[o]ur commitment to human rights must be absolute’, and ended with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Amnesty International.11 In this ‘year of shocking and altogether unexpected prominence of human rights’, the language of rights was taken up by diverse movements, from Latin American oppositionists to Soviet dissidents, and formed the central plank of a newly moralised US foreign policy.12 For many, human rights seemed to offer a substitute utopia for the much-damaged utopianism of revolutionary Marxism. For others, the uptake of the language of rights was a worrying trend; Noam Chomsky (who was recently introduced on SBS as ‘a human rights campaigner’) argued that ‘the human rights campaign is a device to be manipulated’ by those who wish to gain popular support for ‘counter-revolutionary interventions’.13 For the new generation of humanitarian NGOs, questions of revolution or counter-revolution had largely been superseded by a new morality focused on suffering. This shift found its most extreme advocate in Lévy who argued in 1977 that the only revolution he knew ‘is the Nazi plague and red fascism’ and that politics must be superseded by a new ethics and moral duty.14 At the time, this new focus on morality was supposed to provide an alternative to the brutal Realpolitik of states. Today, instead, it provides moral cover for the military campaigns of the most powerful states, making them acceptable to large sections of the population. The new humanitarianism The new interventionist understanding of humanitarianism can be traced back to 1968. Kouchner, then a young doctor, left the barricades of Paris to volunteer as a medic with the Red Cross in Nigeria, where the Igbo Christian minority had declared the independent Republic of Biafra. Patrick Aeberhard, a founding member of MSF, describes Biafra as the ‘initiation’ of the new generation of humanitarianism. ‘A few physicians, united around Bernard Kouchner,’ he writes, ‘found in action the answer to their political dissatisfaction or even their religious engagement. They violated the pledge they had given to the International Red Cross, to “abstain from all communications and comments on its mission …”; they bore witness to what they found intolerable.’15 Upon returning to Paris, Kouchner left the Red Cross, which he believed took neutrality to the point of complicity, and circulated a statement about the Biafra conflict that was also signed by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Behind the decision to speak out was the Red Cross’ failure to do so when it learned of the Nazi gas chambers in 1942.16 ‘By keeping silent’, Kouchner reflected, ‘we doctors were accomplices in the systematic massacre of a population.’17 In breaking the Red Cross vow and founding MSF, Kouchner hoped that humanitarians would never again stand by silently and allow a genocide to take place, that never again would the prerogatives of sovereignty provide justifications for states to dispose of their populations as they saw fit. This rhetorical stance was undeniably compelling and helped to garner support for the new interventionist humanitarianism. The facts, however, were murkier. Today, few are prepared to argue there was genocide in Biafra. The actions of the humanitarians are widely considered to have prolonged the conflict, and the crucial role played by the public relations company hired by the Igbo leadership to garner support is acknowledged even by those who were most committed to the cause. Oxfam, for instance, describes itself in its official history ‘as having fallen “hook, line and sinker” for the propaganda’.18 For some, however, the lesson was learned that media attention is central to compelling action. The 1979 ‘Boat for Vietnam’ stands out as a key event in the history of this new media-savvy interventionist humanitarianism. Following the fall of Saigon, Kouchner commissioned a boat to act as a floating hospital for asylum seekers who were drowning in large numbers in the South China Sea. The boat provoked a split in MSF and led to the resignation of Kouchner who failed to convince the organisation that the boat was anything more than a publicity stunt. He left to found Médecins du Monde. Central to Kouchner’s vision was the belief that the new humanitarianism could supersede the political divisions of the Cold War. The ‘Boat for Vietnam’ was an important marker of this changing political landscape; at a 1979 press conference in support of the boat, Levy’s fellow New Philosopher Andre Glucksmann welcomed to the podium two Cold War foes, Sartre and Raymond Aron. For some, this signalled that the old Cold War divisions had been overcome by a new commitment to human rights, a dedication that transcended the border between Left and Right. Glucksmann, for instance, described the event as the ‘end of the Cold War in our heads’.19 Yet this did not stop many from conceiving of the asylum seekers as political trophies in a bipolar world. As a 1980 article in the Rotarian framed it, the ‘boat people’ were ‘voluntary exiles who feel that risking death on the open seas is preferable to life under a communist regime’.20 For those still aligned with the French Communist Party and those who had rallied in support of North Vietnam, such a message was not a welcome one. The changing Cold War climate played an important role in the genesis of the new humanitarianism. As David Rieff notes, ‘MSF comes to prominence at almost the exact moment that Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago transforms the political debate in France.’21 Far from a simple coincidence, Solzhenitsyn’s ‘ringing claim that there were no longer internal affairs in the world’ was taken up as a mantra by the new interventionist politics of human rights.22 Solzhenitsyn’s account of the Gulags, which he traced directly to Marx’s writings, led to tumult on the Left and to a reconsideration of revolution and of its relation to human rights. As Lévy puts it, ‘[a]ll Solzhenitsyn had to do was to speak and we awoke from a dogmatic sleep.’23 Solzhenitsyn’s key innovation, according to Lévy, was to trace the crimes of the Stalinist state to ‘the one he dares to denounce for the first time – the founding father in person, Karl Kapital and his holy scriptures.’24 This uptake of Solzhenitsyn was cast in distinctly moral terms. ‘Today, if your heart escapes the state’s clutches,’ Glucksmann wrote, ‘you will understand Solzhenitsyn.’25 Mobilising the image of a rebellious heart struggling to escape the omnipotent grasp of the state foreclosed discussion of Solzhenitsyn’s politics, his reactionary nationalism, his anti-democratic and authoritarian proposals for Russia and his disgust at women working, in order to portray him as a universal figure of rebellion. Nonetheless, Solzhenitsyn’s assault on Marxism suited the times and had a profound impact on the new humanitarianism. His thought was taken up enthusiastically by those former Maoists who would go on to call themselves the New Philosophers and who, in 1977, were introduced to the public on a Time cover that declared ‘Marx Is Dead’. As Dominique Lecourt has noted, their arguments ‘chimed perfectly with the American ideals of free enterprise and individualism’ promoted by the magazine.26 Connecting their attack on Marxism to their embrace of human rights, the New Philosophers innovatively repackaged old anti-communist themes in a new, libertarian wrapping that appealed to the post-1968 generation. The links between anti-communism and the new human rights agenda were strong from the beginning. Amnesty International, which was responsible for the early translation of the Soviet dissidents’ texts, emerged from Christian responses to the Cold War, and the organisation’s new idealism broke sharply with the vision of revolutionary social transformation. Indeed, Amnesty sought to break with politics per se, which it believed could be replaced with a morality focused, in the words of early member Arthur Danto, on ‘saving the world one individual at a time’.27 Amnesty’s success depended on its ability to jettison the most optimistic hopes of revolutionary idealism while providing a substitute utopia that would be both minimalist and pragmatic.28 Helsinki Watch (now Human Rights Watch), founded in 1978, worked closely with the US State Department to draw attention to Soviet human rights abuses (while paying rather less attention to widespread racial discrimination in the US itself). It also worked to convince the US administration that internal human rights abuses in the Soviet Union should be seen as threats to détente, thus making explicit the link between internal human rights abuses and external military enforcement. A recent book by the directors of MSF’s research centre illuminates the organisation’s involvement in the ‘War Against Communism’ and its links to the US neoconservative movement.29 MSF, its current research director Fabrice Weissman argues, existed to make politicians face up to their responsibilities. And to ‘the MSF leadership, in the context of the Cold War, “making politicians face up to their responsibilities” meant calling upon the liberal democracies to redouble their effort in the fight against communism.’30 To this end, Claude Malhuret, a leading member of MSF, made a number of trips to the United States in the early 1980s, invited by neoconservative intellectuals and senator Gordon J Humphrey, a key promoter of the CIA’s Operation Cyclone which funded the Afghan mujaheddin in their war with the Soviets. MSF’s activities in Afghanistan, as Weissman notes, ‘became part of the moral rearmament effort launched in the mid-1970s by neoconservative intellectuals and the US administration’.31 In an America seeking moral purification after the Vietnam War and McCarthyism, the neoconservatives ‘used the human rights movement in the ideological war against communism.’32 What this movement offered was a moral gloss to neoconservative anti-communism and a stark warning against those emancipatory projects that sought to challenge the emerging economic orthodoxy of neoliberal capitalism. Entirely unrelated? Human rights and neoliberalism Friedrich Hayek once remarked that liberalism has been content to leave the creation of utopias to the socialists, and that socialism owes much of its historical dynamism to this utopianism. ‘Well,’ he continues, ‘liberalism also needs a utopia. It is up to us to create liberal utopias, to think in a liberal mode, rather than presenting liberalism as a technical alternative for government’.33 ‘To each time its own utopia’, David Rieff writes in his incisive critique of the post-Cold War militarism of humanitarianism. The ‘humanitarian utopia’, he argues, ‘was one that did not seriously challenge the reigning preconceptions of the Reagan-Thatcher era’.34 The new politics of human rights arose as ‘a minimalist and hardy utopia’, premised on the abandonment of communism and prepared to weather the hard economic times.35 The new politics of human rights coincided with the abandonment of hopes for advancement (and thus global equalisation of living standards) in the developing world and with the beginning of the privatisation of development aid. MSF played an important role in reorienting the development debate. In the early 1980s, it received several rounds of funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, a democracy-promotion initiative established under Reagan to project US power ideologically and combat communism. In the words of Weissman, the ‘NED got what it paid for.’36 In 1985, the MSF initiative Liberté Sans Frontières organised the conference ‘Third Worldism in Question’ which attacked the left-wing bias and anti-imperialism of the aid sector.37 Liberté Sans Frontières rejected the idea that the West should be held responsible for the poverty of the developing world and challenged support for left-wing regimes that abused human rights. In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein stresses that the abandonment of developmentalism was not simply a response to its failures but a consequence of a ‘war on developmentalism’ – a decidedly non-metaphorical war that resulted in Pinochet’s Chile and Suharto’s Indonesia.38 It was largely for its work in documenting abuses in Chile and Argentina that Amnesty was awarded the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize, only a year after Milton Friedman was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics. Klein notes that, from afar, it was as if the two prizes amounted to a single verdict: the torture chamber must be condemned and the economic shock treatment applauded, but the two are, as Allende’s US ambassador Orlando Letelier put it with bitter irony just before his assassination, ‘entirely unrelated’.39 The Southern Cone was an experimental laboratory not just for neoliberal economic policies, but also for the new grassroots politics of human rights. And as Klein suggests, while the new human rights organisations undoubtedly curbed some of the worst of the abuses, their determination to record human rights violations without considering broader political conditions precluded discussion of the deeply unpopular economic regime being brutally imposed on these countries. Amnesty’s 1976 report on Argentina, for instance, ‘offered no comment on the deepening poverty or the dramatic reversal of programs to redistribute wealth, though these were the policy centerpieces of junta rule.’40 In a similar fashion, Amnesty’s recent report on Libya provides invaluable documentation of the torture, extra-judicial killings and reprisals that have followed the fall of Gaddafi, but says nothing of the larger context of the NATO military intervention – let alone of the economic stakes involved in the scramble to secure the country’s oil. This becomes worrying to the extent that the human rights project of organisations like Amnesty comes to dominate the terrain of politics, foreclosing larger emancipatory visions. The dramatic repression in the Southern Cone led many on the Left to draw the lesson, initially for strategic reasons, that an ‘alteration of plausible hopes’ must occur.41 The fear of becoming the next victims of the regime prompted leftists in Chile to abandon the language of Right and Left, North and South, rich and poor, and replace it with the legalistic language of universal human rights: ‘they learned’, Klein writes, in a stark juxtaposition of political stances, ‘that their imprisoned compañeros were actually prisoners of conscience whose right to freedom of thought and speech, protected under articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, had been violated’.42 Abandoning the language of radical political and economic transformation may have been a pragmatic move for some, but it had serious consequences. The turn to the language of human rights coincided with the victory of neoliberal capitalism as the sole horizon of possibilities for NGOs and humanitarian organisations. Meanwhile, the privatisation of development aid had transformed NGOs like Amnesty, which now command more resources than the least developed countries, forcing them to compete on the ‘human rights market’ for finite capital.43 More disturbingly, the human rights agenda enabled interventions that range from the imposition of structural adjustment programs, which forbid ‘competition distorting’ food subsidies and social welfare programs, to direct military occupation. Far from being a force for good that gives a voice to the powerless, the language of human rights today gives much needed legitimacy to the international financial organisations and the most powerful states. Human rights, according to the US State Department, is ‘one of the three universal languages of globalisation’, the others being money and the internet.44 Conclusion In the words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, ‘human rights today have become a secular religion,’45 espoused by everyone from George W Bush to the World Bank. The widespread acceptance of the language – if not the practice – of human rights is often depicted as the end point of human development. From such a perspective, all historical struggles – from Spartacus’ slave uprising to the women’s suffrage movement and the 1917 Russian revolution – are viewed as steps in a progressive movement culminating in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the words of a major study of human rights, history has been a ‘dramatic struggle for human rights across the ages, from the Mesopotamian Codes of Hammurabi to today’s globalization era.’46 This representation not only grossly misrepresents philosophical, religious and political ideas that did exist in the past, it also treats them as inferior approximations of contemporary human rights. To cast 1948 as the culmination of 4000 years of political thought and activity is to bury the aspirations of those struggles that have been betrayed: struggles for global equality, economic justice, decolonisation or communism. As the historian Samuel Moyn notes, in ‘recasting world history as raw material for the progressive ascent of international human rights’, historians of the past decade ‘have rarely conceded that earlier history left open diverse paths into the future, rather than paving a single road toward current ways of thinking and acting’.47 The rise of human rights cannot be separated from the dead ends of some of those paths, and the brutal blocking of others. The prominence of human rights in the last decades of the twentieth century is intimately connected to the ‘war on communism’ and the global victory of neoliberal capitalism. This is not to suggest that all those who use the language of human rights today have given up on human emancipation, or reconciled themselves with neoliberalism. Indeed, a sign of the political hegemony of human rights is that emancipatory campaigns, including ones against neoliberalism, are often cast in the very language that emerged as its counterpart. It is to suggest, however, that as human rights are used to justify everything from structural adjustment to state militarism, we need to ask whether they still provide the best language for challenging global violence and inequality. If politics is to be more than a moral campaign for state military intervention, we should refuse to accept that human rights are the most we can hope for. The path opened up by the human rights movement of the 1970s has led to the militarisation of human rights and the moralisation of politics. Today, it is necessary to create new paths to ‘the better world we want’. 1 Jade Lindgaard & Xavier de la Porte, The Imposter: BHL in Wonderland, Verso, 2012, p. 155. 2 This article draws on material from my forthcoming chapter, ‘Is Revolution Desirable? Michel Foucault on Revolution, Neoliberalism and Rights’, in Ben Golder (ed.) Foucauldian Legalities, Routledge, 2012. 3 Alexander Cockburn, ‘Oh, What a Stupid War’, ArcaMax, 25 March 2011, www.arcamax.com/politics/alexandercockburn/s-857754, accessed 16 April 2012. 4 Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Libya: Human Rights – What Role Do They Have in the Country’s Future?’, 24 October 2011, www.esteri.it/MAE/EN/Sala_Stampa/ArchivioNotizie/Approfondimenti/2011/10/20111024_Libia_DirittiUmani.htm, accessed 16 April 2012. 5 Slavoj Žižek, ‘What Rumsfeld Doesn’t Know That He Knows About Abu Ghraib’, Lacanian Ink, 21 May 2004, www.lacan.com/Žižekrumsfeld.htm, accessed 16 April 2012. 6 Žižek. 7 Amnesty International, Militias Threaten Hopes for New Libya, Amnesty International, London, 2012. 8 Amnesty International, p. 5. 9 Robert Meister, After Evil, Columbia University Press, New York, 2011, p. 66. 10 Michel Foucault, ‘For an Ethic of Discomfort’, in James Faubion (ed.) Essential Works of Foucault 1954–1984, Vol. 3: Power, Penguin, London, 1997, p. 445. 11 Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2010, p. 154. 12 Moyn, p. 121. 13 Moyn, p. 157. 14 Bernard-Henri Lévy, Barbarism with a Human Face, trans. George Holoch, Harper & Row, New York, 1979, pp. ix, 190. 15 Patrick Aeberhard, ‘A Historical Survey of Humanitarian Action’, Health and Human Rights, vol. 2, no. 1, p. 38. 16 David Rieff, A Bed for the Night, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2002, p. 76. 17 Rieff, p. 83. 18 Conor Foley, The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War, Verso, London, p. 18. 19 James Traub, ‘A Statesman Without Borders’, New York Times, 3 February 2008, www.nytimes.com/2008/02/03/magazine/03kouchner-t.html?_r=1&pagewanted=1. 20 Andrew Hagan, ‘New Home in Illinois: A “Boat Family” Finds Sanctuary in the USA’, Rotarian, July 1980, p. 29. 21 Rieff, p. 106. 22 Moyn, p. 152. 23 Lévy, p. 155. 24 Lévy. 25 Dominique Lecourt, The Mediocracy: French Philosophy Since the Mid-1970s, trans. Gregory Elliot, Verso, London, 2001, p. 68. 26 Lecourt, p. 61. 27 Moyn, p. 132. 28 Moyn, p. 147. 29 Claire Magone, Michaël Neuman & Fabrice Weissman (eds), Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience, Médecins Sans Frontières & Columbia University Press, New York, 2011, p. 180. 30 Magone et al., p. 181. 31 Magone et al., p. 180. 32 Magone et al. 33 Michel Foucault, Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978–79, trans. Graham Burchell, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008, p. 219. 34 Rieff, p. 108. 35 Moyn, p. 121. 36 Magone et al., p. 181. 37 Magone et al. 38 Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Allen Lane, London, 2007, pp. 75–128. 39 Klein, p. 110. 40 Klein, p. 119. 41 Moyn, p. 140. 42 Klein, p. 121. 43 Upendra Baxi, The Future of Human Rights, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007, p. 46. 44 Harold Hongju Koh, 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, US Department of State, February 2000, www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/1999/65.htm, accessed 16 April 2012. 45 Elie Wiesel, ‘Remarks at Millennium Evening. The Perils of Indifference: Lessons Learned from a Violent Century’, 12 April 1999, www.pbs.org/eliewiesel/resources/millennium.html. 46 Micheline Ishay, The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era, University of California Press, Stanford, 2004. 47 Moyn, p. 5. Jessica Whyte Jessica Whyte is a senior lecturer in Cultural and Social Analysis at the University of Western Sydney. Her book on human rights and neoliberalism will be published by Verso in 2018. More by Jessica Whyte › Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays First published in Overland Issue 228 21 June 20234 July 2023 · Politics The ‘bludger’ myth masks the cruel reality: welfare programs are bludgeoning the poor Jeremy Poxon In recent weeks, the right-wing press has been trying to revive the spectre of the ‘dole bludger’. Yet It should be clear to anyone paying attention (or running an employment services inquiry) that the key problem is not that welfare recipients are cheating the government—it’s that the government is cheating them. 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