But to me the most striking aspect of Sam's argument is his claim that the rise of individualist human rights discourse is a direct result of the collapse of collectivist notions of human emancipation - specifically, the exhaustion of revolutionary idealism in the wake of the 1960s. (In this sense, Sam's book can be read in interesting counterpoint to Jeremy Suri's The Global Revolutions of 1968, which tracks the common global fervors of "youthful idealism," and the common reactions of the Establishments from Prague to Paris to Peking.) As I say, an interesting claim, and one that I buy intuitively.
But can we actually "test" this proposition? Well, it just so happens that Google Labs has just launched a new tool, the nGram Viewer, which lets you graph and compare phrases over time. And so I decided to plug in the two key terms in question here, namely "human rights" and "revolution" to see what I would get. And here you have it:
So what we see pretty clearly here is the way that revolutionary expectations and discussions (among English language books) peaked right around 1970, and human rights discourse takes off right around 1977, just as Sam's qualitative analysis suggests. Not that this is proof, but it's pretty compelling evidence.