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From: Kevin Fernlund University of Missouri, St. Louis email@example.com I think it would be perfectly valid to use human rights to evaluate modern or contemporary societies. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948. So we have an agreed upon universal standard. The question of western and non-western values, by the way, was very much on the minds of those who drew up the Universal Declaration. According to Eleanor Roosevelt: "Dr. Chang was a pluralist and held forth in charming fashion on the proposition that there is more than one kind of ultimate reality. The Declaration, he said, should reflect more than simply Western ideas and Dr. Humphrey would have to be eclectic in his approach. His remark, though addressed to Dr. Humprhey, was really directed at Dr. Malik, from whom it drew a prompt retort as he expounded at some length the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Dr. Humphrey joined enthusiastically in the discussion, and I remember that at one point Dr. Chang suggested that the Secretariat might well spend a few months studying the fundamentals of Confucianism!" Source for the quote: U.N. website at: http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml However, I think it would be highly problematic to use this human rights standard to criticize societies prior to 1948, for it is poor history to hold the past to modern standards of human rights and morality. That is not history; that is historical moralizing. The historian's job, of course, is to interpret and explain the past, not condemn or preach about it.