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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 309

"A World Made New", by Mary Ann Glendon, chronicles the events leading up to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) after the conclusion of World War II. The UDHR sought to respect the diversity of those it would protect and govern, while also emphasizing a shared humanity.

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The book does not solely focus on Eleanor Roosevelt, but Glendon makes sure to flush out her contribution and give credit where it is due. FDR had died prior to the opening of the United Nations, and Eleanor went in his stead. She then proceeded to be commissioned to helping iron out the world's first ever international bill of rights. By being involved in this process, Eleanor Roosevelt was able to instill her husbands values into a document that would be adhered to by the rest of globe.

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Glendon also analyzes the role the UDHR plays in forming an international unity and moral consciousness, and its impact on international politics and relationships. She makes sure to recognize that the implementation of the UDHR helped kick-start humans' rights movements.

The author inserts her own opinions about human rights and the human rights movement. She rebuts criticism that the values of the "human rights" movement are mostly reflective of western ideals, since nations all over the world contributed to the UDHR. Glendon emphasizes that the UDHR's primary aim is the flourishing of human life, that cannot be brought into fruition without proper education, healthcare, just government, and welfare.

Mary Ann Glendon is a Professor of Law at Harvard University, and teaches on subjects such as human rights, comparative law, and political theory. She was confirmed by the US Senate as an ambassador to the Holy See in 2007, and led a Vatican delegation to a U.N. conference. Glendon's research has been focused on European law, human rights, and constitutional law.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1922

Since its adoption by the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has often served as an inspiration and as a standard for judging the extent to which the governments of the world have upheld the rights, liberties, and fundamental needs of their citizens. Students of international relations disagree about how effective the instrument has been. Critics, on one hand, can point to countless violations of its provisions, and they ask whether it is really helpful to say that governments should not do the terrible things that they, in fact, continue to do. Supporters of the document, however, contend that the UDHR has gradually had an impact on public expectations, and that, in any case, the option of an enforcement mechanism was an impossible dream in the period just after World War II.

Professor Mary Ann Glendon has written a fascinating and important story about the small group of persons who had primary responsibility for writing and winning the adoption of the UDHR. Her book A World Made New should become the definitive work on the topic. Glendon has a wonderful ability to describe individual personalities, their ideas, and their actions. In addition to revealing previously unknown details, she has demonstrated a keen eye for interesting and revealing anecdotes. Examples include the occasional pettiness of outstanding diplomats and Mrs. Roosevelt’s almost complete indifference to food. While explaining the origins of the UDHR, Glendon also provides insight into other important things that were happening at the time, including the beginning of the Cold War and the creation of the new state of Israel.

Although she clearly admires Eleanor Roosevelt and believes that the UDHR was a good thing, she maintains a centrist point of view and avoids excessive polemics. To the left-wing critics who charge that the UDHR defends only Western and capitalistic values, she points out that non-Western diplomats were actively involved in its formation, and that non-Western countries have sometimes been among its most outspoken proponents. To right-wing critics who assert that the document was inspired by communist ideology, she emphasizes that the Soviet Union and other Eastern-bloc countries abstained in the final voting on the document. Some American conservatives, nevertheless, will take notice of Glendon’s observation that the Anglo-American individualistic tradition had less influence on the final document than did the “dignitarian rights tradition” of continental Europe and Latin America, which generally envisioned rights within the context of the family and citizens’ duties.

A World Made New is based upon a prodigious amount of research in both published and unpublished sources. Almost fifty pages of documentary notes reveal that Glendon utilized the diaries, letters, interviews, and memoirs of the participants, including her exclusive access to the papers of Lebanese philosopher Charles Malik. She made abundant use of the United Nations archives, including verbatim transcripts of the meetings of Roosevelt’s committee. Glendon was also able to find a great deal of interesting information in the archives of the Soviet Politburo that were becoming declassified at about the same time that she was doing her research. Finally, she obtained considerable help from the large number of secondary works, such as the numerous books by Joseph Lash on Eleanor Roosevelt and John Humphrey’s earlier history of the UDHR and its influence.

Glendon begins the story with the creation of the United Nations toward the end of World War II. Although Franklin Roosevelt had favored a general reference to human rights in the Dumbarton Oaks meeting, his emphasis was on trying to prevent the international aggression of countries. At the end of the war, the United States and several countries modified their policies with the revelations of the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities. In its final form, as completed in the San Francisco Conference on June 26, 1945, the United Nations Charter reaffirmed the important of human rights, the dignity of the individual person, and the concept of equality in three separate places, but the Charter did not provide any additional guidance about the nature of the rights and liberties that were to be protected, and one of the key clauses of the Charter stipulated that the United Nations would not intervene “in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State.” President Harry S. Truman nevertheless said that he looked forward to the framing of an “International Bill of Rights.”

Shortly after the San Francisco Conference, President Truman appointed Eleanor Roosevelt as a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations. Despite her lack of experience in international affairs, Truman wanted to keep the prestige of the Roosevelt name with his administration, and he was keenly aware of Eleanor Roosevelt’s longstanding commitments to humanitarian reforms and social equality. In January, 1946, at the first meeting of the General Assembly in London, her hard work and quickness in grasping technical material made a very favorable impression on the other delegates. In June, 1946, therefore, she was selected to be the American representative to the newly formed Commission on Human Rights, which had the initial task of putting together an international bill of rights. When the commission held its first meeting in January, 1947, Roosevelt, because of her enormous prestige, was unanimously elected the chairperson.

Glendon shows that the representatives to the commission included several remarkable personalities. The four persons most responsible for the drafting of the UDHR were René Cassin, who had been chief legal counsel in Charles de Gaulle’s resistance; Peng-chun Chang, a Renaissance man with extensive knowledge of Asian traditions; Charles Malik, a professional philosopher from the Middle East; and John Humphrey, the hard-working director of the Human Rights division of the United Nations. Other significant participants included Carlos Romulo, a fiery anticolonialist from the Philippines; Hansa Mehta of India, who insisted on highlighting the rights of women; and Alexei Pavlov of the Soviet Union, who unsuccessfully tried to convince the other representatives to minimize the notion that individual citizens have rights contradictory to the interests of socialist governments.

One of the commission’s most important decisions was to formulate a nonbinding bill of rights at the same time that it worked on legally binding conventions. Eleanor Roosevelt strongly supported this decision. Remembering the U.S. Senate’s earlier refusal to approve American participation in the League of Nations, she advocated a cautious, step-by-step approach. Endorsing the wisdom of this approach, Glendon observes that the two binding conventions—one devoted to political and civil rights, the other to economic and social rights—were completed only in 1966, and that it took another ten years for them to actually go into effect. Even then, individual countries had to agree to follow the conditions of the treaties, and many have refused to do so.

As chairperson, Roosevelt did not do much of the actual drafting of the UDHR. Glendon makes it clear, nevertheless, that her work was vitally important to the success of the commission. She kept the project moving and was able to work toward consensus and compromise. With her particular vision of New Deal liberalism, she was able to help the members arrive at a synthesis between the Anglo-American tradition, emphasizing individual freedom, and the welfare-state paradigm, which asserts that governments have some positive obligations for meeting the needs of citizens. Glendon notes that Roosevelt had to spend considerable time convincing American officials to accept as much of the welfare-state concept as they did.

Humphrey and Cassin, in their later writings, sometimes made contradictory statements about who wrote the first draft of the Universal Declaration, which has led to considerable confusion. Based on U.N. records, Glendon finds that Humphrey did the research and drafting of the first draft, listing the rights that had been recognized in a large variety of traditions. Cassin, who had much experience as a legal draftsman, then used Humphrey’s draft as a foundation for a more elegant and logically organized document, so that it could be called a declaration rather than a bill of rights.

On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly approved the UDHR, with forty-eight countries voting their approval, eight abstentions, and none opposed. Among those abstaining, South Africa was unwilling to accept the idea of racial equality, Saudi Arabia strongly rejected the idea that people had a right to change their religion, and the Soviet Union and several Eastern European countries refused to recognize many principles in the document, especially the rights to emigrate and to express ideas considered hostile to workers’ interests. A number of countries voted against the inclusion of particular items. Most of the Muslim countries, for instance, disagreed with the idea of gender equality in marriage. Glendon recognizes that all of the voting representatives knew that the United Nations Charter specified that the organization would not have the authority to intervene in the domestic affairs of the member countries. If the Universal Declaration had threatened to substantially limit national sovereignty, it simply would not have been approved by the General Assembly, at least not in 1948.

In spite of the many reservations and disagreements, Glendon writes: “Where basic human values are concerned, cultural diversity has been exaggerated.” Thus, she strongly disagrees with those who assert that the UDHR is an illegitimate attempt to impose Western values on other cultural traditions. She notes that Roosevelt’s committee discovered in its research “that a core of fundamental principles was widely shared in countries that had not yet adopted rights instruments.” Although different cultures strongly disagreed about foundational theories, the committee discovered general agreement that certain practices, such as mass murder and denial of due process, are “so terrible in practice that no one will publicly approve them.” Endorsing this perspective, Glendon quotes a statement by Daniel Lev: “The idea of universal human rights shares the recognition of one common humanity, and provides a minimum solution to deal with its miseries.”

Glendon probably minimizes the importance of cultural differences in regard to the rights asserted in the UDHR. The country with the largest population in the world, China, for instance, has never had a tradition of tolerating meaningful dissent from official policies, and numerous countries of the Middle East are religiously opposed to allowing freedom for religious dissidents. To some extent, it depends on whether one looks at the people in power or the victims of oppression. Certainly all oppressed people would like to enjoy freedom and equality. If and when these oppressed people gain power, unfortunately, they are frequently unwilling to give other people the rights and liberties that they demanded for themselves. The cycle continues.

Although the UDHR provides aspirational guidelines rather than legally binding obligations, Glendon is convinced that it has helped make the world a better place. Like Eleanor Roosevelt, she expresses faith in the long-term effects of education and public opinion. Although admitting that progress has been painfully slow, Glendon finds that the Declaration helped promote several progressive changes during the second half of the twentieth century, including the end of Jim Crow laws in the American South, the framing of the Helsinki Accords of 1975, and the end of apartheid in South Africa. She finds, moreover, that institutional guarantees of free expression and trials based on due process are more prevalent than in any earlier time in history. Yet atrocious violations of human rights continue. Glendon is among those who prefer to look upon the glass as half full rather than half empty.

Sources for Further Study

America 184 (June 18, 2001): 26.

Booklist 97 (March 1, 2001): 1221.

First Things 114 (June/July, 2001): 43.

Foreign Affairs 80 (September/October, 2001): 55.

The New York Review of Books 48 (April 26, 2001): 32.

Publishers Weekly 247 (December 11, 2001): 69.

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