Reinbold on Human Rights in the Era of the Alt-Right

Sophie Boyd, Maroon-News Staff

On Thursday, November 9, Assistant Professor of Religion Jenna Reinbold presented on “Human Rights in the Era of the Alt-Right,” and recent anti-international governance sentiments in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections.

Reinbold’s argument relied on three main components: soccer as an analogy for human rights, human rights as a religious narrative and what she called a “clash of civil religions: human rights universalism and American exceptionalism.” Reinbold began by proposing that the audience not dismiss her more controversial sources, as they hold a key to understanding today’s hostility towards universal human rights.

In one of her blog posts, conservative commentatorAnn Coulter describes the recent, increasing interest in soccer as a sign of America’s “moral decay.” Reinbold commented on Coulter’s description of soccer as egalitarian, feminist, anti-competitive, liberal and foreign. 

 “[Coulter’s ideas are] evocative of a more general critique and speak to a real undercurrent of American anxiety,” Reinbold said. 

Reinbold argued that it is fundamental to consider Coulter’s proclamations for their ability to successfully channel these anxieties towards the “particular culprits” of the problem. 

Reinbold continued with a discussion of how human rights may function as a religious narrative. Reinbold cited scholar Roland Barthes in arguing for religion’s contribution to the discourse on universal human rights.

“[Religion can] lend a historical intention a natural justification and [make] the contingent appear eternal,” Barthes said. 

Reinbold also referenced documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and these documents’ ability to channel these tools of religion in laying out their basic tenets.

The last major component of the discourse on human rights in the era of the alt-right as Reinbold argued, stems from America’s conflicting “civil religions.” Human rights’ ideals are now being seen as antithetical to fundamental human interests and values, such as “exceptionalism, meritocracy, and political and perhaps military, assertiveness.” These values come into direct conflict with Coulter’s opinions of soccer, and lead Americans to be skeptical of any universal human rights and its legal enforcers.

Reinbold’s use, rather than dismissal, of the alt-right sources in addressing the current political climate better enables us to move away from this hostility towards universal human rights and international governance. 

Sophomore Mallory Lynch found Reinbold’s lecture interesting.

“Professor Reinbold’s lecture provided important tools for understanding this hostility that will more readily lead to effective discourse and hopefully a change in political thought,” Lynch said. 

Sophomore Annie Harris also believed that it addressed important topics. 

“Part of the problem with today’s political realm is the constant use of dichotomies. We need to step away from the idea that human rights are in direct opposition to American values and attempt to see the overlap between them,” Harris said. 

Contact Sophie Boyd at [email protected]