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The reflexive identity of the people and the act of claiming human rights

Gill-Pedro, Eduardo LU (2017)
Abstract
Human rights are often presented as constraints on the will of the people. Indeed, judges who uphold human rights have been labelled as ‘enemies of the people’. In this paper I will argue that human rights, rather than constraining the people, can also be presented as co-constitutive of the people. Drawing on Jacques Rancière’s image of the ‘rights of man’ as ‘inscriptions of the community as free and equal’ I argue that human rights are counter claims that we make to the claims of authority to which we are subjected. In the act of claiming our human rights, we reflexively identify with the community in whose name authority is claimed over us - that community of free and equal persons. It is that act of claiming our human rights that, in... (More)
Human rights are often presented as constraints on the will of the people. Indeed, judges who uphold human rights have been labelled as ‘enemies of the people’. In this paper I will argue that human rights, rather than constraining the people, can also be presented as co-constitutive of the people. Drawing on Jacques Rancière’s image of the ‘rights of man’ as ‘inscriptions of the community as free and equal’ I argue that human rights are counter claims that we make to the claims of authority to which we are subjected. In the act of claiming our human rights, we reflexively identify with the community in whose name authority is claimed over us - that community of free and equal persons. It is that act of claiming our human rights that, in Claude Lefort’s words, inaugurates the democratic debate. Because in that act we necessarily allude to two symbols simultaneously. We allude, to be sure, to the symbol of the human being, as a (potentially) free and equal member of the community. But we also allude to the people - ‘the people’ as that community of free and equal members, who grant each other rights. As Hans Lindahl puts it, the collective self ‘exists’ in the self-attributive acts of individuals. But Lindahl discerns a fundamental passivity in political community. In contrast, in my paper I will focus on the activity which constitutes that community - the activity of claiming human rights, and activity which cannot be undertaken without identifying oneself with the community who grants those rights. Human rights are not ‘legal goods’, as Ingeborg Maus’ noted, to be bestowed by a benevolent authority over the grateful subjects. Human rights, as I will argue in this paper, exist in the act of claiming them - The act by those subject to a claim of authority to challenge the legitimacy of that claim. But while this act inaugurates the democratic debate, it can never conclude it - the debate is, in Lefort’s words ‘necessarily without any guarantor and without any end’. And it is the possibility of continuing to claim rights which prevents the debate from ending. In this paper I will argue that the act of claiming human rights makes possible both the presence of the ‘people’ as the symbolically mediated author of legitimate law, and the absence of the ‘people’ as the sovereign yielding power directly over its subjects, the sovereign people whose immanent presence in the space of politics would put an end to the democratic debate, and thus to democracy itself. (Less)
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organization
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Other contribution
publication status
unpublished
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keywords
Human rights, Claude Lefort, Political theory, Legal theory, Democracy, Demos, Mänskliga rättigheter, Claude Lefort, Politisk teori, Rättsteori, Demokrati
pages
19 pages
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
fb474aa2-74c4-42e3-af9b-6f9e0b3c23cd
date added to LUP
2017-07-03 16:37:15
date last changed
2017-10-23 10:56:10
@misc{fb474aa2-74c4-42e3-af9b-6f9e0b3c23cd,
  abstract     = {Human rights are often presented as constraints on the will of the people. Indeed, judges who uphold human rights have been labelled as ‘enemies of the people’. In this paper I will argue that human rights, rather than constraining the people, can also be presented as co-constitutive of the people. Drawing on Jacques Rancière’s image of the ‘rights of man’ as ‘inscriptions of the community as free and equal’ I argue that human rights are counter claims that we make to the claims of authority to which we are subjected. In the act of claiming our human rights, we reflexively identify with the community in whose name authority is claimed over us - that community of free and equal persons. It is that act of claiming our human rights that, in Claude Lefort’s words, inaugurates the democratic debate. Because in that act we necessarily allude to two symbols simultaneously. We allude, to be sure, to the symbol of the human being, as a (potentially) free and equal member of the community. But we also allude to the people - ‘the people’ as that community of free and equal members, who grant each other rights. As Hans Lindahl puts it, the collective self ‘exists’ in the self-attributive acts of individuals. But Lindahl discerns a fundamental passivity in political community. In contrast, in my paper I will focus on the activity which constitutes that community - the activity of claiming human rights, and activity which cannot be undertaken without identifying oneself with the community who grants those rights. Human rights are not ‘legal goods’, as Ingeborg Maus’ noted, to be bestowed by a benevolent authority over the grateful subjects. Human rights, as I will argue in this paper, exist in the act of claiming them - The act by those subject to a claim of authority to challenge the legitimacy of that claim. But while this act inaugurates the democratic debate, it can never conclude it - the debate is, in Lefort’s words ‘necessarily without any guarantor and without any end’. And it is the possibility of continuing to claim rights which prevents the debate from ending. In this paper I will argue that the act of claiming human rights makes possible both the presence of the ‘people’ as the symbolically mediated author of legitimate law, and the absence of the ‘people’ as the sovereign yielding power directly over its subjects, the sovereign people whose immanent presence in the space of politics would put an end to the democratic debate, and thus to democracy itself.},
  author       = {Gill-Pedro, Eduardo},
  keyword      = {Human rights,Claude Lefort,Political theory,Legal theory,Democracy,Demos,Mänskliga rättigheter,Claude Lefort,Politisk teori,Rättsteori,Demokrati},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {19},
  title        = {The reflexive identity of the people and the act of claiming human rights},
  year         = {2017},
}