Home > Philosophy, Politics > Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?

Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?

Jacques Rancière writes in the South Atlantic Quarterly (excerpt available below via 16beaver):

As we know, the question raised by my title took on a new cogency during the last ten years of the twentieth century. The Rights of Man or Human Rights had just been rejuvenated in the seventies and eighties by the dissident movements in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe—a rejuvenation that was all the more significant as the “formalism” of those rights had been one of the first targets of the young Marx, so that the collapse of the Soviet Empire could appear as their revenge. After this collapse, they would appear as the charter of the irresistible movement leading to a peaceful posthistorical world where global democracy would match the global market of liberal economy.

As is well known, things did not exactly go that way. In the following years, the new landscape of humanity, freed from utopian totalitarianism, became the stage of new outbursts of ethnic conflicts and slaughters, religious fundamentalisms, or racial and xenophobic movements. The territory of “posthistorical” and peaceful humanity proved to be the territory of new figures of the Inhuman. And the Rights of Man turned out to be the rights of the rightless, of the populations hunted out of their homes and land and threatened [End Page 297] by ethnic slaughter. They appeared more and more as the rights of the victims, the rights of those who were unable to enact any rights or even any claim in their name, so that eventually their rights had to be upheld by others, at the cost of shattering the edifice of International Rights, in the name of a new right to “humanitarian interference”—which ultimately boiled down to the right to invasion.

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