My current book project, The Rebirth of Nations, brings together literature on international norms, law and society, and critical race theory to examine, explain, and theorize the inconsistent enforcement of U.S. human rights law. This project centers a critical moment in U.S. history when Cold War policies that associated the United States with rights-violating regimes clashed with newly developed U.S. human rights law. By 1976, U.S. human rights law came into force and merged with President Carter’s agenda, potentially reorienting U.S. foreign policy to promote respect for human rights. However, scholarly analyses of the critical decades that followed suggests that internal conflicts with Cold War overtones led the United States to inconsistently enforce human rights law in response to similar instances of abuses. The project addresses the question: why has U.S. human rights law been inconsistently enforced?
I focus on the United States sanctioning of rights-violating regimes in Argentina (1976-1983); its support for the rights-violating regimes in El Salvador (1980-1992); and its oscillation between support and sanctions in response to human rights abuses in Guatemala (1976-1996). Contrary to existing studies of U.S. human rights law that rely on a rational actor model, my analysis of 267 Congressional hearings reveals that actors engaged in what I call “para-sociology”: a collective intellectual project that parallels sociological analysis and builds the ideological scaffolding for state policy. Elite political actors’ engagement with para-sociology was shaped by white supremacy: a belief that Anglo-American and European forms of social, political, and civic organization were superior and represented the singular path toward achieving respect for modern human rights norms. I argue that the inconsistent enforcement of U.S. human rights law has been defined by racial projects—“restoring” respect for human rights in Argentina, “establishing” respect for human rights in El Salvador, and “finishing the conquest” in Guatemala—that fused white supremacy, Westernization, and respect for human rights. Hence, The Rebirth of Nations uses three case studies to highlight the integral role of para-sociology and white supremacy in international law. This work contributes to well-established bodies of scholarship in law and society, international norms, and race. My work complements rational actor models by excavating the underlying social processes and constructs that define the inconsistent enforcement of U.S. human rights law. I show that para-sociology and the social construction of race served as key mechanisms decoupling emancipatory human rights norms from state practice.