When Hope and History Rhyme: Natural Law and Human Rights from Ancient Greece to Modern America

Imagine. Mar. 2022. 304p. ISBN 9781623545062. $24.99. LAW
Burgess’s (history, Yeshiva Univ.) work on natural law—those values and rights believed to be universal—combines philosophical, historical, and legal analysis to explain how human rights movements have unfolded in modern history and why societies still fail to respect natural laws today. After a punchy introduction that decries the Trump administration’s damaging human rights record, the book then launches into a history of Western philosophers and their attitudes toward natural laws. The sections discussing slavery and colonization are insightful, but the latter half of the volume, which explores the role of natural law in the 20th century, is the most compelling. Burgess skillfully analyzes the events surrounding World War I and Woodrow Wilson’s early work on the League of Nations, then discusses in detail how natural rights law shaped the response to Nazi Germany and Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, dovetailing into the founding of the United Nations and the Declaration of Human Rights.
VERDICT Though Burgess does mention non-Western perspectives in passing, the book could have benefitted from a broader global viewpoint. However, as a text on Western natural law, it is accessible enough for those new to the topic yet will still satisfy those with expertise in the subject.
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