In his provocative essay ‘Human Rights and History’ Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann offers three ‘interconnected arguments’ about the historical meaning of human rights: (1) human rights only became a ‘basic concept’ of global politics in the 1990s and not the 1970s as Samuel Moyn has insisted; (2) the long nineteenth century nevertheless has to be included in the story because the version of human rights idealism propounded in the 1990s represented a ‘strange return’ of earlier enthusiasms for cosmopolitanism, civil society, free trade and humanitarian interventions; (3) the human rights idealism of the 1990s was produced at least in part by ‘the fracturing of the modern time regime’ identified by Reinhart Koselleck and analysed in depth more recently by François Hartog.1 Human rights idealism is not future-oriented, Hoffmann concludes, but rather is ensnared in a temporality of a thoroughly present-oriented ‘emergency imaginary’. Although...

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