The Rise of the Novel and Human Rights

The political scientist Benedict Anderson has argued that newspapers and novels created the “imagined community” that nationalism requires in order to flourish. What might be termed “imagined empathy” serves as the foundation of human rights rather than of nationalism. It is imagined, not in the sense of made up, but in the sense that empathy requires a leap of faith, of imagining that someone else is like you. Accounts of torture produced this imagined empathy through new views of pain. Novels generated it by inducing new sensations about the inner self. Each in their way reinforced the notion of a community based on autonomous, empathetic individuals who could relate beyond their immediate families, religious affiliations, or even nations to greater universal values.”

“Inventing Human Rights: A History” by Lynn Hunt, Norton, 2007.