I am skeptical of our ability to predict, or even forecast, the future—of human rights or any other important social practice. Nonetheless, an understanding of the paths that have brought us to where we are today can facilitate thinking about the future. Thus, I approach the topic by examining the reshaping of international ideas and practices of state sovereignty and human rights since the end of World War II. I argue that in the initial decades after the war, international society constructed an absolutist conception of exclusive territorial jurisdiction that was fundamentally antagonistic to international human rights. At the same time, though, human rights were for the first time included among the fundamental norms of international society. And over the past two decades, dominant understandings of sovereignty have become less absolutist and more human rights–friendly, a trend that I suggest is likely to continue to develop, modestly, in the coming years.
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