From Civil to Human Rights

From Civil to Human Rights

Dialogues on Law and Humanities in the United States and Europe

Helle Porsdam

Europeans have attempted for some time to develop a human rights talk and now European intellectuals are talking about the need to construct ‘European narratives’. This book illustrates that these narratives will emphasize a political and cultural vision for a multi-ethnic and more cosmopolitan Europe.

Chapter 3: Transatlantic dialogues, past and present

Helle Porsdam

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, politics and public policy, human rights


It was not until shortly before he died in 1916 that the American writer Henry James became a British citizen. And if it had not been for the refusal of the United States to enter World War One until late in the game, he most probably would have remained an American citizen. James had been a traveller all his life and had written extensively about it. In his travel writing, as in his novels, the theme that critics came to refer to in a rather Euro-centric manner as ‘the international theme’ – that is a comparison between Europe and the United States – is all-pervasive. ‘Europe’, as a physical entity but also a concept, had been very important in the Jamesian household, Henry James tells us in his Autobiography. Brought up by ‘parents homesick, as I conceived, for the ancient order’, whose ‘theory of our better living was from an early time that we should renew the quest of the ancient’, he was aware from a very early age of the existence of two different worlds, the Old and the New.1 During his childhood and adolescence, the James family travelled extensively in Europe, and going back and forth between Europe and the US became for young Henry a very natural thing to do. Constant exposure to two different sets of values and lifestyles helped create in him an awareness of ‘otherness’. James’s attitude toward Europe – the ancient – was by no means unambiguous, however. As a concept of the ancient, Europe possessed a...

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