Defending the Individual: The Personal Rights Association and the Ligue des droits de l’homme, 1871-1916.

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    This article investigates the conceptual and organisational connections between late nineteenth-century civil-liberties activism and the emerging human-rights paradigm of the twentieth century. The comparison of the two largest and most influential civil-liberties organisations to emerge in Britain and France before the First World War (the British Personal Rights Association and the French Ligue des droits de l'homme) has three objectives: to place the two groups in a wider context of civil-liberty organisations of the pre-First World War era and to identify personal connections and inspirations. Secondly, by analysing functional definitions of ‘rights’ and who these rights should apply to, the article argues that although one group conceptualised their activism on the basis of ‘civil liberties’ and the other on ‘human rights’ there were significant similarities between the approaches of the two groups. Moreover, differences stemmed from internal politics within each group rather than the dissimilar conceptual framework. Finally the article seeks to understand why the Ligue des droits de l'homme was much more successful than the British Personal Rights Association both in its ability to mobilise supporters, and in inspiring sister organisations in other European countries.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)559-579
    Number of pages21
    JournalEuropean Review of History
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • civil liberties
    • Human Rights
    • Activism
    • political cultures
    • British liberalism
    • French Republicanism


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