Revolution or Restoration? European Unity and the Politics of the Postwar Human Rights Moment

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:00 AM
Columbia Hall 6 (Washington Hilton)
Marco Duranti, University of Sydney
This paper investigates why Western European conservatives enthusiastically championed the establishment of a European Court of Human Rights in the aftermath of the Second World War.  It argues that the postwar campaign for the creation of a European human rights regime began as a thinly veiled attempt to rehabilitate a range of controversial and discredited conservative policies: orthodox economic liberalism, agrarian corporatism, state-financed Catholic education and amnesty for those accused of collaboration with the Axis enemy. The framing of European human rights law in the late 1940s allowed a transnational network of conservative elites operating within European unity movements to fashion an alternative political landscape where contested views at home could be enshrined as universal principles or European values.  Figures on the Right, particularly those in Britain and France, sought to recast their interwar politics as revolutionary programs for the spiritual unification of Europe under a system of supranational justice. European human rights law constituted a twin challenge to the postwar welfare state by two constellations of anti-statist conservatives – one liberal and the other communitarian – both deeply fearful of the allegedly totalitarian impulses of socialism and majoritarian democracy. The 1950 European Convention on Human Rights originated as a countercurrent to the postwar social democratic consensus, marking a restoration of an older conservative politics as much as a revolution in international norms.
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