US president Jimmy Carter insisted in his inaugural address that “we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere.” What is more, he pledged that US commitment to human rights “must be absolute” (quoted on p. 2). Translating lofty campaign proposals into policy was a different matter, of course, and political observers and scholars have debated ever since about the nature, scope, effectiveness, and legacy of Carter's human rights policy. William Michael Schmidli comes down on the side of those who argue that although this commitment was certainly not absolute and, indeed, weakened markedly during the second half of the Carter presidency, it nevertheless brought about significant and lasting change in the larger process of institutionalizing human rights in US foreign policy.

Schmidli's account is not limited to the traditional confines of diplomatic history. In order to show how the...

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