Discourses on nonviolent resistance rarely address or even problematize the term ‘humanity‘. The nonviolent resistance fighter appeals to the ‘humanity‘ of the attacker. In this way, s/he should try to address this binding basis in the counterpart. Those discourses understand ‘dehumanization‘ as the preliminary stage of violence. Since it is not simply inhumanity itself that makes people become enemies. Rather it is the assumption or assertion that the other person lacks humanity.
The human: a wolf?
The Latin phrase ‘homo homini lupus originally stems from the comedy ‘Asinaria‘ by the Roman comedy poet Titus Maccius Plautus. However, the sentence ‘A wolf is a man to man‘, to which Thomas Hobbes refers, has an important addition here that is not often mentioned: ‘[…] as long as he does not know the nature of the other‘. One could also say: ‘so long as he does not know, whether the other is human or ‘bestial’‘. Like an event, the omitted context of this sentence directly changes the meaning of the very pessimistic statement about man. It is usually the fear that the other is inhuman, that becomes both the trigger and the justification for violence.
The nonviolent resistance fighter takes the risk of ascribing ‘humanity‘ to the other from the outset. This attitude may seem naive. But it is the only attitude that allows the other to give up his/her initial hostility. Nevertheless, the distinction that the term ‘humanity‘ implies, remains problematic.
In discourses on nonviolent resistance, ‘humanity‘ refers to an ethical definition of man – an ideal of the Age of Enlightenment. Thus Johann Gottfried Herder spoke of ‘education‘ towards humanity as a movement striving towards an ideal, and therefore “must be continued incessantly, or we will sink back […] to raw animalism, to brutality. […] The divine in our humankind is thus education for humanity.”1
Herder thus locates man between the animal and God. However, even for the humanist Herder, it is not clear what humanity ‘actually’ is. Since the peaceful, tolerant inter-action with others has to be learned. Humanity is only ‘partially innate‘ in our animal bodies. Therefore it affords a lifetime of education and cultivation to put it into practice.
‘Education‘ (‘Bildung‘) here means much more than the mere acquisition and accumulation of knowledge. According to Herder, it is only through education that man becomes truly ‘human‘. Only through this active striving to come closer to the divine ideal in man does man realize his/her highest potential. But this quotation (1) already makes clear what every concept of ‘humanity‘ always tries to distance and distinguish itself from. Like many others before him, Herder intended to exclude animality – which he equates with ‘brutality‘ – from humanity. ‘Beastliness‘ (‘bestialement‘ / ‘brutal‘; ‘like an animal‘) is a related term that makes the connection between the animalistic and the violence even more clear.
The humanistic concept of incarnation through education (‘Bildung‘) must bridge a gap. It must bypass the abyss between the ubiquitous dark sides of man and humanistic ideals.
Who may be called human?
But this concept raises further questions: what about those who have no access to this humanistic education? Are they ‘not yet human’, or ‘inhuman’? Are they ‘savages’ or even ‘beasts’?
“Humanism as a word and a thing always have a purpose, because it is the commitment to bring man back from barbarism. […] Anyone who asks today about the future of humanity and the media of humanization basically wants to know whether there is the hope of getting a grip on the current tendencies of human savagery. […] The label humanism reminds us – in a false harmlessness – of the ongoing battle for mankind, which takes place as a struggle between bestializing and taming tendencies.”2
Animal and human
Shortly after the terrorist attack in New York on September 11th, Jacques Derrida gave his lecture ‘The Animal and the Sovereign‘. In this lecture, Derrida broached the issue of this threshold between animality and humanity. Moreover, Derrida tried to deconstruct the seemingly incontrovertible foundations of anthropocentrism.
“When Deleuze, in Schelling‘s fairway […], says that […]: ‘la bêtise n’est pas l’animalité’ [‘stupidity is not animality’], […] then he implies that man himself, even where his form, the destiny of his individuation, protects him against the groundless reason […], as an indefinite freedom, nevertheless remains in relation to this groundless reason, and that this is where this actual human bêtise / stupidity would come from.”3
Human: freedom to stupidity
Man has a prerogative of stupidity because s/he is free to respond rather than just react. This is why Friedrich Nietzsche calls man ‘the non-established animal‘ (‘nicht-festgestelltes Tier‘). “Stupidity [bêtise] is […] the reference in which individuation allows the underground to rise up without being able to give it form. (It rises above the ego [Je] and penetrates into the innermost part of the thinking, forming the unrecognized of all recognition).”4
Even when he speaks of ‘becoming animal‘, Deleuze still places everything on the ‘sovereignty‘ of the responsible human ego. It is capable of responding freely and not merely reacting like an animal.
“Between what one interprets as a reaction and what one interprets as a response, responsibility or responsible response, it is precisely a matter of a translational interpretation […]. Because of our way of translating what is called animal reaction, we believe we can make out and draw a line. But it is a translation risk – between animality and humanity, between reactive animality and responding or responsible humanity.”5
Reacting or responding?
Compared to most animals, human beings have a long childhood, during which they mainly depend on their parents. Hence, they are undeniably at first reacting, before they are able to respond. Moreover, the distinction between response and reaction is not always clear-cut. The distance between humans and animals is not so big, that the danger of ‘bestiality‘ could simply be banned by anthropological definitions. Perhaps it is precisely this will to demarcation that separates humans from animals? Given the way, man is dealing with nature, it seems questionable whether s/he is actually more ‘responsible‘ than ‘the animal’. Unless one attributes the destructive treatment of nature to human stupidity or hubris.
Human: law and crime
While for Deleuze it is stupidity, which is peculiar to man, for Jacques Lacan it is the law and its transgression. Lacan opposes the biologistic hypothesis that there is such a thing as innate, genetically predetermined, ‘criminal drives‘.
But “what Lacan directly understands by the distinction between acquired and innate [drives] is the fact that the animal […] is bound to this fixation of the innate, the innate wiring or the innate program, whereas man is not bound in his relationship to the law (and thus to crime).”6
According to Lacan, crime, lies, cruelty, the ‘double feint‘, and the erasure of one’s own trace transcend animality. They take place in the ‘register‘ of the symbolic, while the animal remains bound to the imaginary.
Not every violence is considered cruel
According to Derrida, violence only becomes cruelty when it is directed against the recognizable likeness (‘connaissable‘). Judith Butler carries Derrida’s thoughts further. “Structures of inequality affect the general willingness to perceive and name violence, and to grasp and declare its unjustifiability.”7
Derrida points out that the cruelest acts of violence were committed against people who were deprived of the dignity of the recognizable. Therefore, Derrida believes that the unrecognizable (‘méconnaissable‘) should be the beginning of ethics and law. This Ethics of ‘hospitality’ would also take into account the relationship to animals.
Ethics of Hospitality
“Absolute hospitality requires that I open my home (‘chez moi’) and offer the place (‘donne lieu’) not only to the stranger (who has a family name, the social status of a stranger, etc.) but also to the anonymous absolute other that I offer him (‘donne lieu’), have a place (‘avoir lieu’) for the stranger, without asking him for reciprocity (entering into a pact) or asking him for his name. The law of absolute hospitality demands that I break with a [restricted] hospitality that is regulated by law, or with justice as a law.”8
The threshold takes on a different meaning here. Here it is no longer the metaphysical threshold between animality and humanity. It is the threshold that the guest crosses when s/he enters. Through his/her otherness s/he disturbs our thinking that wants to come to a conclusion. His uncanny strangeness haunts our selfhood (‘chez-moi‘). In this way even Derrida comes to a definition of humanity, which he formulates as a question: “But does not the peculiarity of man […] consists in the fact that he can also offer hospitality to animals, plants … and gods?“9
Dispute about Humanism
The question of what is specifically ‘human’ has not only existed since the ‘humanism dispute’. Rather, it has been posed, since man began to philosophize.
“For that is humanism: sensing and worrying that man is human and not inhuman, ‘inhuman’, that is, outside his being. But what is the humanity of man? It rests in his essence. […] All humanism is either founded in metaphysics or it makes itself the basis of metaphysics. Every determination of the essence of man, which already presupposes the interpretation of the existing without the question of the truth of being, […], is metaphysical.”10
Depending on the direction of philosophy, the answer is different. Once, humans are seen as God’s creation, or as a creature endowed with reason or language; another time as a free and self-determined living being; as guided by certain discourses; or as a power-seeking, political, playing, creative, symbolic, responding, responsible being.
Human: the existing
But Martin Heidegger also had his definition of the human. ‘Man is human in so far as he is the existing one‘. S/he is existent insofar as s/he ‘stands out‘ in the ‘openness of being‘ (‘Offenheit des Seins‘), into the world. However, according to Heidegger, the animal body, does not stand out as the ‘truth of being‘ like the human body. The animal body is denied linguistic expression, it remains ‘worldless‘ in its environment. Since the animal is speechless, it cannot answer or take responsibility. Consequently, it is excluded from the ‘social contract’ by Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
“If one cannot make an agreement with the animal, no more than with God, it is for reasons of language. The animal does not understand our language and God would not know how to answer us […]. In both cases, there could be no exchange, no shared speech, no question and answer, proposal and response, as every contract, every convention, every covenant seems to require.”11
The uncanniest of the uncanny
This exclusion, which was not to remain the last, also turned out to be tragic for humans. Not at least because of this reason, Derrida paid so much attention to this threshold between human and animal life.
Since Greek philosophy, the dominant definition of the human being has been that of the ‘zôon logon‘, the ‘reason-guided being‘. Subsequently, this definition was further dominating the metaphysics of the Occident. In his ‘Introduction to Metaphysics‘ Heidegger contrasts this definition with yet another ‘tragic‘ definition.
In his tragedy ‘Antigone‘ Sophocles lets the choir speak about the humans as ‘deinotaton‘. Usually ‘deinotaton‘ is translated as ‘the most terrible of all living beings’. Heidegger now translates this ‘deinotaton‘ as ‘the most uncanny of the uncanny‘.
“Man is most uncanny because he leaves the familiar, the habitual boundaries […] of the homelike […]. When the chorus [in the tragedy ‘Antigone’] says of man that he is deinotaton or the uncanniest, […] [then Heidegger’s translation is about] saying that the essence of man […] (his basic feature) consists in this strangeness towards everything that can be identified as familiar, recognizable, etc. […] He is more uncanny than anything and than all, he achieves […] a kind of exceptional excellence, a kind of sovereignty among the uncanny beings and the modalities of uncanniness. […] And this sovereignty, in the characteristic of the uncanny, concerns a certain experience of strangeness.“12
Why are these demarcations of humanity, these limitations, and exclusions so meaningful? And why is it important to define the experience of strangeness as a basic human trait? All the mentioned anthropological positions primarily intend to ban the ‘brutal‘ and ‘beastly‘ from the human sphere. However, the political events since the French Revolution – marked by Nationalism, Colonialism, Racism, Anti-Semitism, Eugenics, and Islamophobia – show, that the question of whether one is included or excluded from the current definition of ‘humanity‘ can be a matter of life or death.
Ostensibly they are concerned to ban the uncanny cruelty in humans. However, the ulterior motive behind anthropological definitions is to establish a hierarchy of exclusions. Thus, for example, the Aristotelian definition of man as ‘zôon politikon‘ excludes women, slaves, and children from the human community. With their inclusion in the domestic, private sphere [oikos] they were at the same time excluded from the politics of the polis. Whereas the definition of the human being as a ‘zôon logon‘, excludes all those who do not conform to this ideal.
Experience of strangeness
However, when we determine the experience of strangeness as the basic trait of man, we shake the seemingly secure ground on which the threshold between animal and humanity rests. Man’s ‘nature’ then has “the peculiarity of being perceived as a property that is alien, not appropriated, indeed not to be appropriated. [It] is alien to […] the reassuring proximity of the identifiable and the similar, [...] to the inwardness of being at home. […] [It is then] especially beyond all definition of man as ‘zôon logon echon’, which Heidegger calls ‘zoological‘.“13
Heidegger calls the metaphysical human definition ‘zôon logon‘ a ‘zoological‘. That is to say, he is condemning the ‘biologistic‘ reduction of this definition. It is one thing to question the distinct separation between humanity and animals. But it is quite another, to reduce all living beings to the organic observable Pavlovian stimulus-response schemes.
“The fact that physiology and physiological chemistry can scientifically study man as an organism is no proof that the essence of man rests in this ‘organic’, that is, in the scientifically declared body.“14
It is the determinism of this biologism against which Heidegger, Lacan, Derrida, and Arendt write:
Hannah Arendt: “The apparently so new biological justifications of violence [f.i. Konrad Lorenz’s ‘On Aggression‘] are in turn closely related to the most perishable traditions of political thought.”15
Even Judith Butler uses in ‘The Force of Nonviolence‘ the term ‘aggression‘. But she derives it from Sigmund Freud’s and Melanie Klein’s drive theory. Drives, as she stresses, belong as well to the sphere of life (bios) as to the specifically human psychological sphere. The latter is beyond the realm of the mere organic.
“One skeptical position toward drive theory results from a mistaken translation of Freud’s ‘Trieb’ as ‘instinct’ […] giving rise to a biologistic understanding of the term in English-language literature and, in some cases, a view that drives in Freud, follow a form of biological determinism. Freud makes clear […] that the drive […] belongs neither exclusively to the realm of biology nor to a fully autonomous psychic domain; rather it functions as a threshold concept between somatic and ideational spheres.“16
Violence: rational, instrumental, and human
Hannah Arendt, stresses that violence is neither irrational nor ‘biological‘, but ‘rational, instrumental and human‘. Racist violence, for instance, is based on an ‘opinion degenerated into ideology‘.
“The concentration camps not only served to exterminate people. They also served the monstrous experiment, under scientifically exact conditions, to abolish spontaneity as a human mode of behavior and to transform man into something that is not even an animal, namely a bundle of reactions that will always behave the same way under the same conditions.“17
One of those ‘most perishable traditions of political thought‘ that Hannah Arendt speaks of in the context of her critique of biologism is Thomas Hobbes‘ justification of the ‘social contract‘. In Hobbes’ social contract, people who are wolves to each other decide to let a ‘wolf tyrant‘ protect them from each other. This tyrant stands as a sovereign outside, off, and above the law. In a ‘state of emergency‘, when the chaos of the natural state threatens to break out again, the sovereign can repeal the law and set it anew.
“By sharing the common outside of the law, the beast, the criminal, and the sovereign are disturbingly similar. […]. Hence […] the accusation so often made in political rhetoric today against sovereign states that […] do not respect international law […] as ‘rogue states‘, i.e. as delinquent criminal states.”18
Fear as an instrument of conditioning
To keep the bestiality of the Hobbsian ‘state of nature‘ under control, the citizens must be ‘conditioned‘ to obey the law. The ‘only thing‘ that can bring about this taming is fear. Therefore it is fear, that makes his sovereignty possible. According to Hobbes, fear is the origin of law. It should protect citizens from their own ‘wolfish’ beastliness and from the brutality of others. For Hobbes, the political subject is, therefore, subject to one emotion above all else: fear.
“Against the Hobbsian understanding of the contract as a way of resolving ‘natural’ (pre-legal) violent conflict, [Walter] Benjamin insists, in ‘Critique of Violence‘, that ‘a totally nonviolent resolution of conflicts can never lead to a legal contract’, since for him, the contract is the beginning of legal violence.”19
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as well known, had a different idea, both of the ‘state of nature‘ and the ‘social contract‘.
“Because he [Hobbes] inappropriately inserted into the wild man’s concern for its preservation the need to satisfy a multitude of needs that are the work of society, […] [he concludes that man is evil by nature]. […] There is another principle that Hobbes did not notice […] I am talking about compassion […], the innate reluctance to see his own kind suffer. […] Such is the pure impulse of nature; […] [Only] reason generates selfishness; […] it makes man withdraw into himself; […] it makes him say secretly, at the sight of a suffering man: ‘die if you want to; I am safe’.“20
Therefore it is reason and ideology, that give man arguments that speak against the tender voice of his compassionate nature. It makes him/her insensitive to the suffering of other living beings. If the human race depended only on the maxims of reason, it would have died out long ago. Therefore, Rousseau’s unusual thesis is that man only became ‘bestial’ or cruel through civilization. When Hannah Arendt asserts that violence is not ‘natural‘ but ‘rational, instrumental and human‘, she follows Rousseau’s arguments.
Even when Marshall B. Rosenberg opposes the static ‘jackal language‘ (authoritarian conditioning through fear and manipulation through feelings of guilt) to a process-based ‘giraffe language‘ of compassion, an echo from Hobbes and Rousseau can be heard.
“We are not far from the principle of absolute authority. […] I was brought up in the language of the Tsar: right, wrong, good, and bad. The language of untouched truth is used to program people to be submissive and servile to authorities. The way people have been taught to think is closely related to the language they use. So when people grow up in a dominant culture, this upbringing creates a great deal of violence, which in turn consolidates the worldview of this culture: ‘You can see how violent people are, they are extremely dangerous if they are not educated and controlled by authorities like parents, teachers, and kings.‘”21
Rousseau’s fall of mankind
Rousseau distinguishes several phases in the ‘natural state‘ of man. As long as the earth was still predominantly covered with forests, all humans were free and equal and had no reason to wage war against each other. The ‘Fall of Man‘, that drove mankind out of the paradise of freedom and equality, was the settlement of man. Rousseau also describes this state, when humans invented agriculture, as the ‘last stage of the natural state‘.
“The first man who had fenced in a piece of land and thought to say ‘This is mine‘ and who found people simple enough to believe him was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many sufferings and horrors would have been spared by the one who pulled out the stakes, filled in the ditch, and shouted to his fellow men: ‘Beware of listening to this deceiver. You are lost if you forget that the fruits belong to all and that the earth belongs to no one’.”22
Through settledness, the mental abilities of a person could develop further. This is how, according to Rousseau, pride and concern for prestige developed. Rousseau summarises these ‘diseases of civilization‘ under ‘selfishness‘ (‘amour propre‘). ‘Propre‘ also alludes to the connection between these feelings and ‘property‘ (french: ‘propriété‘). Through the comforts of a secure place to stay, the needs increased. For the first time, people became dependent on each other.
“One rather remarkable feature of this state of nature fantasy, which is regularly invoked as a ‘foundation’, is that, in the beginning, apparently, there is a man and he is an adult and he is on his own, self-sufficient. […] As if he never was a child […] never depended upon parents or kinship relations or upon social institutions in order to survive and grow. So let’s take notice, that this story begins not at the origin, but in the middle of a history that is not about to be told: With the moment that marks the beginning […] independence and dependency have been separated [according to gender].“23
Judith Butlers criticizes the individualism invoked in these founding fantasies. In these founding fantasies, interdependency is ‘written out of the picture of the original man‘. These fictions are repeated frequently until recently – not just by ‘virile’, chauvinist right-wing populists. Therefore, the social contract is always already a sexual contract.
State of emergency
The inequality of skills and, consequently, of ownership, in turn, led to competition, rivalry, envy, and vindictiveness. A ‘sinister inclination to harm one another‘ and ‘a hidden desire to realize one’s gains at the expense of others‘ had accrued. Soon society found itself in a state of constant, ever-increasing conflict. According to Rousseau, this state of crisis was the starting point for the ‘social contract‘. But Rousseau’s social contract is not a contract of the people with a sovereign. Rather it was a contract of the people with themselves:
Contract of the people with themselves
“In order to think of Rousseau in a new way, we have to go back to the classic contracts. In them, both contracting parties are different and precede the contract: for example, the people and the prince. […] Rousseau’s weapon against Hobbes is that he transforms total expression as something external [the absolutist sovereign as the ‘patron saint‘ of the people, who as a legislator is outside the law] into a total expression within, the third party thus becomes the second, the prince becomes the sovereign, who is the community itself, to which free individuals totally express themselves without losing their freedom because the sovereign is nothing other than the community of these very individuals.”24
According to Rousseau, democratic legislation must rule out any violent enforcement of individual wills. It must counteract the ‘right’ of the stronger to form hierarchies. For while the will of the individual strives for advantages, the general will strives for equality. Everyone must therefore ‘commit to the same conditions‘ and enjoy the same human or civil rights. By ‘equality‘, Rousseau means a state of equilibrium. No citizen should be so rich that he ‘can buy others‘ and ‘no one must be so poor that he has to sell himself’.
Liberation from the submission to authority
To be ready for such a contract, the people must free themselves from the slavish mentality of fear that has been imprinted on them for centuries. Therefore, to put direct democracy into practice, the people must change their mentality radically.
“It is a peculiarity of Rousseau’s treaty theory that it mixes the constitutional discourse of modern political philosophy with the ethical discourse of the republican tradition. In doing so, he introduces questions of motivation, upbringing, and integration into the argumentation. Questions that Contractualism, which relies on the coercive order of the state, believes it can exclude from the discourse of political philosophy.“25
If the idea of democracy was not new, it was the idea of the nation-state, whose people govern ‘themselves’. Therefore Michel Foucault spoke of a paradigm shift in political philosophy from the theories of sovereignty to theories of governmentality. Rousseau’s concept of the social contract is a milestone in this biopolitical turn. By placing the population and its development at the center of the interest of governance, modern ‘biopolitics‘ is emerging.
“Thanks to the perception of the population’s specific problems and the demarcation of the level of reality known as economy, the problem of governance could finally be thought, reflected, and considered outside the legal framework of sovereignty. The view of the population and the reality of the phenomena peculiar to the population allows us to put aside for good the model of the family [‘oikos’ was the family household in antiquity] and to refocus that understanding of the economy on something else.“26
According to Foucault, liberalism and biopolitics have a common goal. They should make the people’s government more efficient [biopolitics] and limit it to the bare essentials [liberalism].
Phantasmagoria of Racism
Foucault describes this new biopolitical paradigm as quite neutral. However, Judith Butler urges us not to isolate it from the demographic devaluations of racism. Since the ‘phantasmagoria of racism‘ operates within the ‘metric of grievability‘:
“The dominant schemas by which the value of life is allocated rely on the modulation of grievability. Whether or not that metric is ever named. The historic-racial schema that makes it possible to claim, ‘this is or was a life’, or ‘these are or were lives’ [‘these lives matter‘], is intimately bound up with the possibility of necessary modes of valuing life: memorialization, safeguarding, recognition, and the preservation of life. The phantasmagoria of racism is part of that racial scheme.”27
2. Human Rights
Rousseau’s revolutionary way of limiting the government’s sphere of responsibility was to start from the rights of individual freedom. He derived these rights from the ‘natural state‘ of man. The concept of inalienable rights, which every human being has from birth, was developed within the framework of modern natural law theory. The first representative of this concept was John Locke.
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on 10 December  by 48 states at the General Assembly of the United Nations. [...] From then on was regarded as a guideline not only for the further development of the international community into a community of states but also into one of free and equal individuals. […] This declaration makes a system of values […] universal, not in principle but in fact because the consensus was formulated as a regulation for the coexistence of the future community of all people and states.”28
According to John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, people are free and equal in the natural state. According to Norberto Bobbio, the ‘natural state‘ was a theoretical model of thought in political philosophy. Its purpose was to justify the demands for equality and freedom from state and church. Freedom and equality are not facts, but universal values or obligations.
Civil society, according to Locke and Rousseau, should guarantee the freedom and equality of individuals through laws. Norberto Bobbio, referring to the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, speaks of an ‘individualist turn‘ in political philosophy. This change had already begun with the first Declaration of Human Rights during the French Revolution.
Niccolo Machiavelli’s Prince‘, Thomas Hobbes’ ‘Leviatan‘ as well as Plato’s ‘Republic‘ were addressed to the sovereign. This authoritarian mentality changed with John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. With natural law thinking, political philosophy began to take the perspective of the governed individual. It turned to his/her rights – and not only to his/her duties towards the sovereign.
Thomas Hobbes basically understood the state of nature as a state of emergency that justifies the sovereignty of the ruler. In contrast, Locke conceived it as a state of ‘perfect freedom‘. It allowed the individual “to regulate their actions within the limits of the law of nature, and to dispose of their possessions and personality as they see fit, without asking anyone’s permission or being dependent on the will of anyone else.”29
Leviathan – the state as an animate being
This individualistic view was initially difficult to assert against the organicistic conception of the state. This concept understands the state as a ‘body’ with the ‘soul’ of the sovereign – as Hobbes describes it in ‘Leviathan‘. According to Bobbio, it was seen as a source of disorder and discord, as a break with the existing order. It took a war of independence and a revolution to ultimately bring the individualist perspective to political practice. Individualism is the philosophical basis of democracy in nation-states.
Human rights or civil rights?
Although the first declaration of human rights made a distinction between human rights and civil rights, in theory, they were in fact civil rights.
“The 1948 Declaration marks the beginning of a third and final phase in which the demands for human rights are both universal and positive. Universal in the sense that the rights they contain no longer apply only to citizens of a particular state but to all people. And positive, because this declaration set in motion a process that would result in […] effective guarantees against states that violate them.”30
The list of human rights is getting longer and longer. It no longer includes only the classic ‘negative‘ rights of freedom, which should apply equally to everyone. Moreover, it also includes ‘positive‘ political and social rights.
Rights of freedom, political and social rights
Freedom rights are rights that aim to limit the state’s power to the freedom of the individual. They give the individual or groups a sphere of freedom from the state. Freedom rights include the right to property, security, and resistance to oppression; as well as freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press.
Political rights concern participation in the political life of the State and the exercise of political power itself.
Social rights concern the State’s obligation to provide assistance to ensure a fair distribution of wealth and social security.
Hannah Arendt viewed this development with skepticism:
“The apparently humanitarian efforts to give every person as many rights as possible, at least on paper, not only discredit the idea of human rights as a utopia; […] If there is such a thing as an indigenous human right at all, it can only be a right that is fundamentally different from all civil rights. In order to discover this right, it may be useful to first look at the legal situation of those without rights themselves.“31
In addition to universal human rights, special cases of human rights were added subsequently. In 1952 the ‘Convention on the Political Rights of Women‘ came into being; in 1959 the ‘Declaration of the Rights of the Child‘; in 1975 the ‘Declaration of the Rights of the Disabled‘, and in 1982 the ‘Rights of the Elder‘. Accordingly, these rights, unlike civil liberties, do not apply universally and without distinction to all people. The implementation of social and political human rights is even more difficult than that of liberty rights.
Nevertheless, the Indian philosopher and professor of economics, Amartya Sen, defends this enlargement.
“Anyone who rejects claims to human rights on the grounds that they can only be realized incompletely fails to recognize that even a right that is not fully realized remains a right and consequently calls for actions that prevent violations of the law. Non-realisation in itself does not make a legal claim a non-right. Rather, it is an incentive for more social action. The attempt to exclude all economic and social rights from the sanctum of human rights and to reserve this area solely for freedom and other rights of the first generation has as little prospect of sustainability as a line in the sand.“32
The question of implementation
The implementation of human rights is, according to Norberto Bobbio, the real difficulty. The institutions of the international community offer only directives to the states that make them up. Felix Oppenheim distinguishes between three forms of influencing states that do not comply with these directives: ‘persuasion’, ‘encouragement’, and ‘conditioning’; as well as three forms of violence: physical violence, legal obstruction, and the threat of sanctions.
The protection of human rights is ensured by ‘promotion‘, ‘control‘, and ‘guarantee‘. Promotion and control refer exclusively to existing rights within states. Guarantees should also be provided by international protection rights if they are insufficient within a state. ‘Constitutional states‘ are those states in which the constitution guarantees human rights.
“In dramatic terms, we are now at a stage in the international protection of human rights where such protection is possible where it might not be so necessary, while it is least possible where it is needed most.“33
Human Rights and the nation-state
Both the concept of human rights and that of nation-states have their roots in the philosophy of the European Enlightenment. When human rights were first declared in the course of the French Revolution and sovereignty was transferred to the people through the symbolic and real decapitation of the king, this was also the birth of the nation-state.
“Only the emancipated sovereignty of the will of the people, [...] seemed capable of realizing human rights. Inasmuch as the French Revolution conceived of humanity as a family of nations, the concept of the human being on which human rights were based, was based on the people and not on the individual.“34
The first Declaration of Human Rights from 1789 in the context of the French Revolution states:
“Art. II. The ultimate purpose of all political associations is the preservation of natural and inalienable human rights. These rights are freedom, property, security and resistance to oppression.
Art. III The origin of all sovereignty rests, by its very nature, in the nation.”35
The ‘Imperialism‘ of some nation-states like England, France, and Belgium transmitted this form of social organization like a virus to all colonized countries. In ‘Origins of Totalitarism‘ Hannah Arendt points out that an ‘imperialist‘ expansion runs counter to the idea of the nation-state.
“The nation understood its own laws as originating from the unique national substance; they cannot, therefore, claim validity beyond its own people and beyond the national territory. […] Therefore, wherever the nation-state appeared as a conqueror, it awakened national consciousness in the conquered peoples and with it a claim to self-rule against which the nation was in principle defenseless; all national attempts to build empires of endurance have failed because of this contradiction.“36
Multiplication of a concept
It seems that the French Revolution has left a revolutionary ‘liberation virus’ in the concept of the nation-state. This revolutionary potential doomed a permanent establishment of imperialist tendencies to failure.
“In every political body, there is a maximum of power beyond which it cannot go and from which it often distances itself through enlargement. The further the states’ bond expands, the looser it becomes. [...] Usually, a smaller state is relatively stronger than a larger one. […] For so many different provinces with different customs […], the same laws cannot possibly be adequate. […] The superiors, overburdened with business, see nothing with their own eyes; subordinates govern the state.“37
It seems that Rousseau is describing the conditions in the colonies of the ‘imperialist’ nation-states.
In 1943 a famine broke out in Bengal, which claimed over one million victims within half a year. One of the reasons for this was the inadequate exchange of information between the colonial government and the mother country. The Viceroy had ‘overlooked’ this famine and even ordered to export of more rice from Bengal to Ceylon. What he had ‘overlooked’ was that due to the war effort in Bengal, the demand for basic food products had increased dramatically. As a result, food prices soared to such a high level that the rural population could no longer afford to buy rice.
“The colonial government’s belief in a false theory about the famine was extraordinary. But it was even more surprising that New Delhi was unable to see how many thousand were dying on the streets every day. […] A democratic system of public criticism and parliamentary pressure would not have allowed government officials, including the Governor of Bengal and the Viceroy of India, to think as they thought. […] In London, responsible discussions only began in October 1943, after Ian Stephens, the courageous editor-in-chief of the Calcutta-based ‘Statesman’, decided to break the silence. […] The result was that in November – finally – state aid measures were organized.”38
Colonization as a capitalist undertaking
From the very beginning, the expansion of nation-states was not a political but a capitalist enterprise. Although colonialism in India began with the British East India Company as early as the 17th century. The company did not transfer its rights to the British Crown until 1857.
“The unlimited process of capital accumulation requires an ‘unlimited power’ to ensure it, namely a process of power accumulation which cannot be limited by anything but the particular needs of capital accumulation.”39
The reason for the transfer of rights to the British Crown was the overwhelming resistance of the local population. In order to suppress the uprisings of the local population, the colonizers needed an administration and executive.
Safeguard of the mother-nation
Hannah Arendt mentions in this context how precisely Thomas Hobbes anticipated this capitalist logic:
“The word ‘protection’ here bears the whole burden or task of the political, i.e. the insurance contract that frightened […] subjects enter into with one another in order to delegate the burden or task of their protection to the state or the sovereign where they are no longer able to protect themselves.”40
Derrida here refers to the Hobbsian concept of political power. But the entire quote could again refer to the situation of the capitalists in the colonies. Tired of their risky adventures, they sought the ‘protection’ of their state from the uprisings and rebellions. Though, the extension of the state’s power beyond the borders of the territory met with resistance from the parliament and press of the motherland.
However, the effect of the European nation-state virus was the partition in India. Since India’s independence had been accomplished by an arbitrary drawing of borders. This finally forced proximately 12 million people to flee.
In ‘Origins of Totalitarism‘ Hannah Arendt dedicates a whole chapter to the problem of stateless people and minorities. Arendt herself was a refugee and stateless for 18 years after she left Germany in 1933. She then found refuge in Paris and finally in the USA.
“In a certain sense, the transformation of refugees into stateless persons, which took place automatically the moment that no longer single, persecuted individuals crossed the border, but whole fragments of the people, meant the collapse of the right of asylum. The European world has known refugees since ancient times and the right to asylum was considered sacred […]. That this right of asylum was no longer a right within a nation-state-organized world but was only based on toleration, […] could perhaps have been recognized by the fact that it is not to be found as a written law in any modern constitution […].“41
Tide of refugees
As a result of civil wars and border disputes between the new nation-states in Eastern Europe, as well as the Russian Revolution, the ‘White terror‘, and the Spanish Civil War, ten million people in Europe became refugees between the world wars and during the Second World War.
More and more people had to survive under conditions of absolute lawlessness. Some members of minorities also saw certain advantages in statelessness. For instance, when they fled from one country where they were a minority to another where their ethnic group was in the majority. Or when they could not or did not want to return to their home country for other reasons.
The emergence of a police-state
“The situation of stateless persons was deliberately made worse in order to create a deterrent. Some governments [went] so far as to label every refugee as a ‘troublesome foreigner’ and instructed the police to treat them accordingly. In the last few years before the war broke out, the police forces of Western countries had lost all track of the foreigners. […] The refugees had taken refuge in illegality, just as they had previously fled into statelessness.”42
This development eventually led to a situation where a criminal enjoyed more legal protection than a stateless person.
The chaos that arose in this situation justified increasingly arbitrary police regulations. Since the police had to use illegal means to deport the illegal refugees, the police officers could practically do whatever they wanted. There was no higher authority to which stateless persons could have appealed. The police’s sphere of power expanded more and more. Finally, an invisible police state prepared the ground for totalitarian regimes.
“Totalitarian governments, which in the course of their policy of world conquest had to seek to destroy the nation-states anyway, then made a conscious effort to multiply these stateless groups in order to decompose the nation-states from within. Denaturalisation and deprivation of citizenship were among the most effective weapons in the international policy of totalitarian governments […]. Whoever the persecutors chased out of the country as the expulsion of humanity – Jews, Trotskyists and so on – was everywhere received as the expulsion of humanity […].“43
Minority par excellence
According to Arendt, the Jews became the ‘minority par excellence‘. On the one hand, they lived scattered all over Europe. They were represented in all countries with minority treaties. On the other hand, they were not a homogeneous ‘splinter of the people‘ who could have aspired to a nation-state of their own in Europe.
During the Second World War, police deported stateless persons from one country to another in illegal actions. The police of the neighboring country deported them back again. Finally, some states locked up stateless persons in internment camps or even concentration camps.
The police of some Western countries had secret connections to ‘Gestapo‘. Even when the governments of these countries were pursuing a different policies.
Nevertheless, although Hannah Arendt was Jewish herself, she was critical of the Zionist efforts to establish a Jewish nation-state in Israel. This state-founding once again created a new category of stateless and lawless people: the Palestinian refugees.
“The nation-state cannot exist if all its citizens are not equal before the law. […] No state can exist if some of its inhabitants are outside all the laws and are de facto outlaws.”44
Hannah Arendt points out that the ‘twin birth‘ of human rights and the nation-state has given rise to a new ‘definition’ of humanity. In a world of nation-states, only those seem to belong to humanity, who have a passport; in other words, those who are citizens of a nation-state. This definition is once again highly topical today.
The sovereignty of the king had indeed been transferred to the people. However, the revolutionary ideals of freedom, equality, and fraternity have again given rise to potential inequality. Who belongs to the people? And who is s/he if s/he no longer belongs to a particular ‘people‘ or nation? Or who is s/he if s/he belongs to a minority that has no nation or state of its own?
Deprivation of citizenship
The problem of stateless people and minorities is certainly not as acute as it was during the Second World War. Yet statelessness still affects thousands of people in Europe and millions worldwide. They have to lead a shadowy existence. For the rule of law, they practically do not exist. Stateless people cannot officially travel; they are not treated in hospitals; they cannot marry, cannot go to school, and cannot have a legally regulated job.
People can become stateless through a lack of registration at birth. But also through gaps between the scope of different nationality systems; expatriation; in the course of a civil war or through expulsion the dissolution of a state. Last but not least, they can become stateless through the compulsory withdrawal of citizenship. The Nazis carried out the practice of depriving German Jews and opponents of the regime of their citizenship on a grand scale.
In a world of nation-states, stateless people and ‘illegal’ refugees lose their legal protection. They live in an outlawed state and are defenseless against racist attacks and the pitfalls of capitalism.
“The lawlessness […] arises solely from the fact that the person affected by it does not belong to any kind of community. The particular rights which the stateless person enjoys in non-totalitarian countries, which are often identical to the proclaimed human rights, cannot change the fundamental situation of lawlessness in the slightest. […] The loss of human rights does not occur when this or that right […] is lost, but only when a person loses the place in the world through which he alone can have any rights at all. […] Even where a still intact civilization secures their lives, they are, politically speaking, living corpses. […] Their unrelatedness to the world, their world-lessness is like an invitation to murder. Inasmuch as the death of people who stand outside all worldly references of a legal, social and political nature remains without any consequences for the survivors.“45
Natality instead of being-to-death
In Arendt’s philosophy, ‘being in the world‘ is more than an ontological definition of man.
“Arendt believed that Heidegger, with his fundamental analysis of man as a ‘being in the world‘, had created an unprecedented opportunity for philosophers to reflect on human action and the field of politics with the greatest precision.“46
Hannah Arendt thinks Heidegger’s concept of ‘being in the world ‘and‘ being with others‘ against the grain. With her, this phenomenological basic constitution becomes a prerequisite for the publicly negotiating, political orientation, and ‘practice’ of people.
Political action as second birth
According to Arendt in ‘The Human Condition‘, action is like a ‘second birth‘, it corresponds to the human condition of ‘natality‘.
“While for Heidegger ‘being with others‘ remains a problematic and often inauthentic form of existence [Heidegger speaks of inauthenticity (‘Verfallenheit an das Man‘)], for Arendt people live most authentically in a world that they share with their peers, with others with whom they permanently communicate and to whom they appear in speech and action.”47
Hannah Arendt thinks of human existence from ‘Natality‘ or in its dependence on others. Whereas Heidegger’s term ‘being to death‘ (‘Sein zum Tode‘) alluded to the nihilistic, Christian-medieval ‘Vanitas‘ idea.
With her concept of political practice as negotiation, Arendt refers to Aristotle. In this political practice, Aristotle was concerned with the ‘good life’ in the community (‘polis‘). “The structure of political action is such that debate and confrontation reflect an overarching commitment to a particular public world and the form of being together that makes it possible.”48
A person becomes ‘worldless‘ when his/her vote no longer counts. When s/he can no longer influence or negotiate his/her position or the location in his/her world. Torn out of their world and wandering about without a place, their existence no longer plays a political role. Because in the multitude of positions, in order to negotiate we need a position that ‘counts’ – a location in society.
But Arendt also describes as ‘worldless‘ the individual of the totalitarian masses. An abandoned or worldless individual is made ‘superfluous‘ and isolated by war, political uprisings, and mass unemployment.
“Abandonment’ [‘Verlassenheit‘, another term borrowed from Heidegger’s existential philosophy], the common ground of terror, the essence of the totalitarian rule […] is very closely linked to uprooting and superfluity, which has been the scourge of modern masses since the beginning of the industrial revolution. […] To be superfluous means not belonging to the world at all.“49
Fallen out of the social system, no longer belonging to any particular class, without an identity, and without a perspective determined by his/her social location, an ‘abandoned‘ individual is particularly open and susceptible to ideological manipulation.
“Moved across borders, chased away by the police and criminalized for lack of proper papers, and in many cases deprived of the protection of the nation-states in which they were born, people seem to lose all their rights precisely when they have nothing left to lose except their ‘abstract nudity’.”50 Giorgio Agamben speaks in this context of the ‘bare life‘ of a ‘Homo Sacer‘.
As good as dead
In Roman antiquity, the Latin term ‘Homo Sacer‘ referred to a person who, by breaking an oath, was consecrated to death. S/he could be killed with impunity by anyone, but could no longer be sacrificed. S/he was considered as ‘actually already dead‘ or ‘as good as dead‘.
‘Homo Sacer‘ thus refers to a ‘peaceless‘, ‘outlawed‘ person who is at the mercy of violence without protection. At present, one could call ‘Homo Sacer’ those victims of Anti Terror Laws, who are held for years in Guantanamo or other detention camps without any trial or possibility to prove their innocence.
Giorgio Agamben‘s concept of ‘Homo Sacer‘ refers to the distinction between the two Greek terms ‘bíos‘ and ‘zoé‘. Michel Foucault’s concept of ‘biopolitics‘ also plays an important role in his political philosophy. Unlike Foucault himself, however, Agamben’s interpretation and concept of biopolitics is exclusively repressive.
Bíos and Zoe
According to Giorgio Agamben, the term ‘bíos‘ means ‘qualified‘, ‘good‘, or ‘civil life‘. ‘Zoé‘, on the other hand, corresponds to the ‘bare‘, simple fact of life, which is common to all living beings. In the ancient world, the city-state had incorporated the procreation of life in an ‘inclusive exclusion‘. This excluded ‘zoé‘ from the political sphere of the ‘pólis‘. But simultaneously it included ‘zoé’ into the sphere of the household, ‘Oikos‘. Thus, the male, non-slave ‘bare life‘ belonging to the community became ‘good life‘ -Biós. On the other hand, it was precisely the bare life that, according to Agamben, moved to the center of the calculations of biopolitics through the political theory of the ‘state of emergency’ in the modern age.
“What distinguishes modern politics is not the age-old inclusion of the ‘zoé‘ in the ‘pólis’, nor simply the fact that life as such becomes a primary object of calculation and foresight; What is decisive is rather that bare life, originally situated on the fringes of order, [...] increasingly coincides with the political space. [...] In this way, exclusion and inclusion, outside and inside, ‘zoé’ and ‘bíos’, law and fact, are brought into a zone of irreducible undecidability.”51
Sovereignty and state of emergence
The ‘inclusion of bare life in the political sphere‘ or ‘the production of a biopolitical body‘ forms the ‘hidden core‘ of sovereignty. Giorgio Agamben here refers to Carl Schmitt‘s definition of sovereignty: “Sovereignty is whoever decides on the state of emergency.”52
Agamben presents the ‘politicization of bare life‘ or ‘biopolitics‘ as the decisive event of modernity. In its most disturbing and cruel exaggeration, the Nazis finally practiced it in the concentration camps. One page later, however, Agamben writes that biopolitics is ‘at least as old as the sovereign exception‘.
“By putting biological life at the center of its calculations, the modern state is merely bringing to light the secret bond that binds power to bare life.“53 What puts bare life ‘at the center of its calculations‘ is, according to Agamben, the State of emergency.
In his criticism of Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Derrida points out that the Greek distinction between ‘zoé‘ and ‘bios‘ has never been so clear-cut and unambiguous. According to Derrida, the fact that Aristotle called man precisely ‘zôon politikon‘ suggests, “that in certain cases, that of man, politics, […] qualify bare life (zôé), and that Aristotle could have already grasped or qualified in his own way what Foucault or Agamben attributed to modern specificity [that bare life can become the use of politics].”54
Thus, Derrida doubts that what – as Agamben claims – is ‘new’ in modernity, is ‘biopolitics‘. However, this does not mean that there is nothing new within biopolitics. Derrida, therefore, calls – at least with regard to biopolitics – for ‘renouncing the idea of a founding event of modernity‘.
War against terror
The reason for the new awaking interest in the concept of the ‘State of Emergency‘ in postmodern political philosophy was the ‘war on terror‘. Proclaimed by George W. Bush after September 11, 2001, the ‘war on terror‘, like the ‘War on Drugs‘ before, justified countless human rights violations.
“While counter-terrorism policies in numerous countries had led to human rights violations well before 2001, the ‘war on terror’ launched by the US has had worldwide repercussions. It has undermined the rule of law, and poses significant challenges to the protection of rights worldwide in numerous countries of the world today.”55
A terrorist attack is not only a terrible trauma for those who have survived or lost loved ones but also an attack on the livelihood of the security state.
State of emergency for human rights?
This is why, from the government’s point of view, terrorism justifies a state of emergency, which in turn justifies disregard for basic human rights. Counter-terrorism policies deprive terror suspects of their citizenship and thus of all civil rights. The USA offers enormous sums of money to countries like Afghanistan or Pakistan if they hand over their ‘terror suspects‘.
Often innocent people simply ‘disappear’. They are kidnapped from their city and sold by their state. In Guantanamo or other torture camps, these victims of counter-terrorism are held for years without trial. Just so that the war on terror can successfully prove its guilty parties. The war on terror now claims disproportionately more victims than terrorist attacks have killed worldwide.
Expansion of the term ‘terrorist’
In India, the fight against terrorism is not only utilized to terrorize the Muslim minority. The states extend the term terrorism to other conflicts as well.
“Terrorism has many forgotten faces in India today. Across the country, many violent conflicts are taking a bloody toll. In Chhattisgarh, more than 100,000 people have been displaced, more than 1000 have died, and thousands have been jailed under ‘Salwa Judum‘ (a controversial campaign supported by the Chattisgarh state government to counter Maoist sympathizers and supporters), and the terror and counterterror continue unabated.
In Assam and Nagaland, people’s distress, despair, fear, and alienation have grown as the government resolutely looked elsewhere. […] We have plenty of anti-terror laws and measure in the country. […] However, these did not work either to stop terrorism or to make us safer. Nothing that has happened in the last past decade shows, that the state counterterror works.”56
Even human rights activists are in mortal danger in countries like Chattisgarh, Bihar, or Assam. Special anti-terrorism regulations authorize the police and the military to torture ‘terror suspects‘ ever more brutally.
Human rights are no luxury
If – legitimized by ‘special circumstances’ – this ‘bestialization‘ tendency of public authorities is ever allowed to take place, it will increase. The permitted ‘enhanced interrogation methods‘ are becoming increasingly cruel and widespread. Even people who have committed normal crimes or who use nonviolent means for their resistance are more and more often treated as lawless terror suspects.
The only effective protection against torture and disenfranchisement would be to preserve each individual’s fundamental rights under every circumstance. No government, no group, no individual can pretend to deprive an individual of these rights. Because human rights are not a ‘luxury’ for good times.
While states use the terms ‘terrorist‘ and ‘terrorism‘ in an increasingly inflationary way, totalitarian arbitrariness is gradually creeping back into the politics of democratic states.
“Many states have adopted national legislation with vague, unclear, or overbroad definitions of terrorism. These ambiguous definitions have led to inappropriate restrictions on the legitimate exercise of fundamental liberties, such as association, expression, and peaceful and social opposition. Some states have included nonviolent activities in their national definitions of terrorism.“57
Does history have an aim?
In ‘The Last Utopia‘ the author Samuel Moyn criticizes an apologetic portrayal of the development of human rights. In a teleological style, these are presented as the emergence of Western intellectual history. It is as if everything had come down to this event in human history.
“Contemporary historians have adopted a celebratory attitude toward the emergence and progress of human rights, providing recent enthusiasms with uplifting backstories, and differing primarily about whether to locate the true breakthrough with the Jews, Greeks, medieval Christians or early modern philosophers, democratic revolutionaries or abolitionist heroes, American internationalists or antiracist visionaries.”58
Such retrospectively designed ‘success stories’ are pure projections of modern intentions into the past. Moreover, they reinforce the impression that the Declaration of Human Rights is a Eurocentric project.
A perspective, which interprets the past as preparation for a new event, distorts the perception of the past. But it also distorts the view of the present event. Human rights are presented as self-evident knowledge. It is as if they had slowly but steadily, ever more deeply imprinted themselves in human consciousness as a response to the Holocaust.
The idea that it is time to declare ‘Universal Human Rights‘ is not the culmination of historical development. Rather, human rights emerged at a time when all other utopias of a just world had already collapsed.
Human rights are, according to Samuel Moyn, the last ‘survival remnants‘ of revolutionary visions of freedom and justice. This is also evident from the fact that in the first twenty years of its existence, human rights were given little attention. This was the time of the welfare states in Europe – before the rise of neoliberalism.
It was not until the 1970s that they were ‘discovered’ as moral milestones. Since then, they have been internationally acknowledged by the representatives of almost all states.
“There is a clear and fundamental difference between earlier rights, all predicated on belonging to a political community, and eventually human rights’. If so, the ‘droits de l’homme’ that powered early modern revolution and nineteenth-century politics need to be rigorously distinguished from the ‘human rights’ coined in the 1940s that have grown so appealing in the last few decades. The one implied a politics of citizenship at home, the other a politics of suffering abroad.”59
Surviving instead of fare well?
According to Samuel Moyn, in the age of the globalization of neoliberalism, human rights only aim at ensuring the minimum needs for survival. In this way, human rights do not in any way ‘disturb’ the growing global imbalance. They are no antidote to the ever-increasing differences between the richest and poorest in the world. Therefore, even if social rights could be realized by demanding human rights, the ideal of fair distribution has become obsolete.
“Human rights, focused on securing enough for everyone, are essential – but they are not enough. […] Sufficiency concerns how far an individual is from having nothing and how well she is doing in relation to some minimum provision of the good things of life. Equality concerns how far individuals are from one another in the portion of those good things they get.”60
What is needed today is not only a safety net against life-threatening undersupply, but also an upper limit to injustice. The importance of human rights has slowly increased. But at the same time, hopes for global justice and the ambition to realize them have declined.
Author: Eva Pudill
Estimated reading time: 45 minutes
Questions & Answers
What separates humans from animals according to Aristotle?
The Aristotelian definition of man as ‘zôon politikon‘ excludes not only animals but also women, slaves, and children from the human community. With their inclusion in the domestic, private sphere [oikos] they were at the same time excluded from the politics of the polis. Read more
What separates humans from animals according to Friedrich Nietzsche?
Friedrich Nietzsche calls man ‘the non-established animal‘ (‘nicht-festgestelltes Tier‘).
What separates humans from animals according to Martin Heidegger?
(1) ‘Man is human in so far as he is the existing one‘. S/he is existent insofar as s/he ‘stands out‘ in the ‘openness of being‘ (‘Offenheit des Seins‘), into the world. However, according to Heidegger, the animal body, does not stand out in the ‘truth of being‘ like the human body. The animal body is denied linguistic expression, it remains ‘worldless‘ in its environment. (…)
(2) In his tragedy ‘Antigone‘ Sophocles lets the choir speak about the humans as ‘deinotaton‘. Usually ‘deinotaton‘ is translated as ‘the most terrible of all living beings‘. Heidegger now translates this ‘deinotaton‘ as ‘the most uncanny of the uncanny‘. Read more
What separates humans from animals according to Jacques Lacan?
For Jacques Lacan, it is the law and its transgression, which separates humans from animals. Lacan opposes the biologistic hypothesis that there is such a thing as innate, genetically predetermined, ‘criminal drives‘. Read more
What separates humans from animals according to Gilles Deleuze?
Man has a prerogative of stupidity because s/he is free to respond rather than just react, like the animal. Read more
What separates humans from animals according to Jacques Derrida?
Even Derrida comes to a definition of humanity, which he formulates as a question: “But does not the peculiarity of man […] consist in the fact that he can also offer hospitality to animals, plants … and gods?“9 Read more
Why did Hannah Arendt consider violence as ‘rational, instrumental and human’?
It is the determinism of biologism against which Hanna Arendt, as well as Martin Heidegger, Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida write. Arendt: “The apparently so new biological justifications of violence are in turn closely related to the most perishable traditions of political thought.”15 That’s why Hannah Arendt considered violence not just like a supplement of animality (‘bestiality’) in humans, rather she conceives violence as ‘rational, instrumental and human’. Read more
What role did the state of nature play in the political philosophy of the social contract?
The state of nature was mostly understood as a state zero or a state of dedifferentiation, which has to be ordered by the social contract. “One rather remarkable feature of this state of nature fantasy, which is regularly invoked as a ‘foundation’, is that, in the beginning, apparently, there is a man and he is an adult and he is on his own, self-sufficient.“22 Read more
Why did the nation-state model more or less become the standard around the world towards the end of the 19th century?
The ‘Imperialism‘ of some nation-states like England, France, Netherlands, and Belgium transmitted the nation-state model like a virus to all colonized countries. Read more
What are the three different kinds of human rights?
Freedom rights are rights that aim to limit the state’s power to the freedom of the individual. They give the individual or groups a sphere of freedom from the state. (…) Political rights concern participation in the political life of the state and the exercise of political power itself. (…) Social rights concern the state’s obligation to provide assistance to ensure a fair distribution of wealth and social security. Read more
How can regimes deprive people of all civil and human rights?
“Denaturalisation and deprivation of citizenship were among the most effective weapons in the international policy of totalitarian governments […]. Whoever the persecutors chased out of the country as the expulsion of humanity – Jews, Trotskyists and so on – was everywhere received as the expulsion of humanity […].“42 The fact that the withdrawal of citizenship is still viewed as a suitable instrument to disempower minorities is currently shown by the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which was enacted in 2019 by the Hindu Nationalist Government in India. Read more
What is, according to Giorgio Agamben, ‘bare life’?
In Roman antiquity, the Latin term ‘Homo Sacer‘ referred to a person who, by breaking an oath, was consecrated to death. S/he could be killed with impunity by anyone, but could no longer be sacrificed. S/he was considered as ‘actually already dead‘ or ‘as good as dead‘. (…) In a world of nation-states, stateless people become ‘worldless’ and vulnerable like the ‘Homo Sacer’ in Roman antiquity. Read more
What is Anthropocentrism?
Anthropocentrism is the belief that human beings are the most important entity in the universe. In ‘The Animal and the Sovereign‘, Jacques Derrida broached the issue of the threshold between animality and humanity to deconstruct the seemingly incontrovertible foundations of anthropocentrism. Read more