changing gears

As of this post, Securing Rights will look different. Other commitments have–and will continue to–restrict my ability to publish as flexibly, creatively, and widely as I’ve attempted to over the past seven months. Rather than wallow in a constant state of writer’s flux, I’d rather take a bit of time away from the blog, in order to reconfigure its role in the online discourse on human rights, international affairs, and foreign policy.

A good blog is, first and foremost, a disruptive act. Insofar as the Internet approximates a democratic, inclusive, and dynamic community of ideas, a good blog allows writers to break down intellectual and ideological hierarchies, diffuse new ideas, and create space for the creation of novel interpretive frameworks. A good blog complicates reductive narratives, and identifies ways of seeing the world, its events, and its institutions that fall outside the confines of organizational procedure, policy, and process.

I’ve tried to make this a good blog. Working as the head of a student human rights organization, I acknowledged the need for a broader, more pluralistic human rights discourse, particularly as pertains to atrocities prevention, civilian protection, and U.S. foreign policy. Impact is difficult to measure, but, at the very least, I challenged myself to think about news ways of confronting mass-atrocities issues, and that’s probably the most you can hope for. Securing Rights won’t get us there, but a new generation of human rights leaders, which emerges from a period of democratized information, disruptive diffusion, and intellectual complexity just might.

So, I’m changing gears. Seven months may seem like a short time, but plenty has happened–both personally and externally–to convince me that a new approach is needed. Through my work with STAND, I’ve been able to identify a broad network of youth human rights leaders who are increasingly dissatisfied with our traditional, moralistic, and didactic approach to human rights policy, and is working to identify something different. I’m not sure we’ll settle on what that “different” is, but it’s worth poking around a bit, in order to identify new lenses through which a next generation perceives, interprets, and knows the challenge of atrocities prevention. In Securing Rights’ next stage, I’m going to do my best to cull from this emergent brain trust, and to build a community of young, rights-oriented practitioners united by the inherent creativity, dynamism, and disruptiveness of their discourse.

In the meantime, I’m working on a few projects, which I might post about every so often. I’ve mentioned my undergraduate thesis before, and referenced it in a number of posts: I’m interested in the ways in which U.S. atrocities response policy has approached the question of policy leverage and international-political influence, and what that can tell us about human rights approaches within a multipolar system. U.S. power may not be decreasing, but our credible influence in mitigating atrocities, negotiating conflict resolution, and preventing outbreaks is surely on the wane. There’s plenty of case-study research on the leverage question, particularly as pertains to the role of U.S. policy in democratic transition and consolidation, but I’m interested in approaching the question from a broader qualitative and, if I can write three lines of Stata code without crashing my computer, quantitative standpoint.

Then, there’s the atrocities early warning issue: next year, I’m working with the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Diplomacy on a year-long fellowship, which will address the role of national-security organizational cultures in the implementation of early warning tools, atrocities intelligence, and preventive forecasting. The atrocities prevention community talks a big game about the importance of early warning, but we’ve never done a good job identifying the ways in which those warning tools operate within the institutions responsible for deploying them. I’ll focus on Darfur as a case study, due to the added emergence and contribution of non-governmental and commercial intelligence to atrocities monitoring and warning.

The last project is the one about which I’m most passionate and, unfortunately, the one which I’ve had the least time to work on over the past two years. Two Augusts ago, Tony Judt died, having experienced the slow, debilitating consequences of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Judt was hardly an influential commentator, in the way that we discuss Aron, Hobsbawm, or Arendt as contributors to the course of twentieth-century events and, more importantly, ideas. He published a number of excellent books on the intellectual history of the French Left, the politics of European integration, and the postwar social-democratic consensus, of which Postwar is probably the only one read with any significant regularity. For most, Judt is (unfortunately) known as a sometimes-rabble-rouser on Arab-Israeli affairs, due to his endorsement of the “one-state solution” in the New York Review of Books. But, much more interesting than his perspectives on the state of human rights and political conflict in Israel, his commentary on European politics, and his incisive writing on the contemporary decline of social-democratic governance, is the extent to which Judt lived his intellectual evolution. Compared to his revolutionary counterparts at Cambridge, Judt’s postwar-generation experience was relatively mild, but in all the right ways. Judt was actively involved in the pivotal moments of his generation of British-American, postwar Jews–the student upheavals of 1968, the Six-Day War, the Eastern European revolutions–in the most marginal of ways. In that way, Judt’s writing on the public commons, on sustaining slivers of Jewish identity within a secular society, and on the state of public discourse is all the more relevant, in spite of its marginal influence. My project, which I’ve been thinking about since Judt died, will attempt to capture a smidgen of this relevance, and to discuss the ways in which Judt’s intellectual biography should inform our current discourse on ideological pluralism, the role of communal identities in the public sphere, and the collective experience of democratic society.

Anyway, that’s what I’ll be up to while I’m not blogging, and I hope you’ll check back in for a reimagined platform for human rights discourse, when it’s up and running.

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