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Recent Histories and Uncertain Futures: Contemporary Critiques of International Human Rights and Humanitarianism

Zachary Manfredi

Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences, Volume 22, Number 1, Fall/Winter 2013, pp. 3-32 (Article) Published by University of Nebraska Press

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Recent Histories and Uncertain Futures

Contemporary Critiques of International Human Rights and Humanitarianism
zachary manfredi

Human rights? Through a hard-fought battle they must be wrestled from those who would seek to use and abuse them.
Henri Lefebvre, The Critique of Everyday Life: From Modernity to Modernism

The nancial and economic collapse that began in 20072008 became the essential catalyst, domestically and internationally, for the rebellion against neoliberalism that we are witnessing today. Neoliberalism, in its very essence is a violation of human rights.
US Human Rights Network Statement about Human Rights and the Occupy Movement, posted on the Occupy Pittsburgh website, among others

Education is a human right! Health care is a human right! When human rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, ght back!
Chants often overheard at uc Berkeley student protests, circa 2011

Human rights remain objects of passionate political attachment and endless theoretical speculation. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that one nds so many references to them in the context of contemporary social movements ghting against austerity poli-

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tics and corporate power. One need only glance at the websites of various Occupy Movement groups to see statements and declarations to this effect: slogans like Human Rights, Not Corporate Rights!1 and demands to apply principles of human rights and even create a Department of Human Dignityinstead of Homeland Security.2 Indeed, in 2011 International Human Rights Day served as a powerful rhetorical focus for Occupy assemblies who held up the social and economic rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (udhr) as a contrast to the corporate rights recently reafrmed in the 2010 US Supreme Court case Citizens United. For some theorists, however, the resurgence of left political movements in the wake of the 2008 nancial crisis foretold the death of a postCold War politics of international human rights and humanitarian interventions.3 Costas Douzinas and Slavoj iek recently declared that the long night of the Left is drawing to a close;4 they argue that the mass public uprisings of 2008 to 2011the Arab Spring, anti-austerity struggles in Europe, the Occupy Movementnally repudiate Francis Fukuyamas end of history thesis, which proclaimed political liberalisms nal victory over its ideological rivals. Many critical theorists and activists sharing this sentiment have recently embraced a certain optimism about possibilities for more radical left politics that seemed to have previously vanished from the world stage. Left in this context while not simply reducible to, or synonymous with, Marxist, postMarxist, or anarchist positionsshould be read as occupying a political terrain distinct from, and often dened in opposition to, that of contemporary liberalism and neoliberalism. Temporarily suspending concerns about this narratives persuasiveness, we might still ask a pertinent question: If the alleged return of history has indeed produced a renewed interest in radical ideas and politics (IC, 23), what role, if any, does the concept of international human rights have to play in this revival? Writing in a spirit similar to that of Douzinas and iek in his 2011 work The Rebirth of History, Alain Badiou offers one extreme answer. He describes human rights as nothing more than

Manfredi: Recent Histories and Uncertain Futures

the the rights of the powerful to carve up states, to put in power . . . corrupt valets who will hand over the totality of the countrys resources to . . . the powerful for nothing.5 According to his view, human rights are interchangeable with other terms of contemporary liberal and neoliberal ideology, such as globalization, the West, market reform, and modernization (RH, 45).6 Thus for those interested in resisting the rise of austerity programs, neocolonial economic exploitation, and the privatization of public goods, human rights are not only inefcacious tools but also collaborators in a pernicious politics of inequality and domination. Although Badiou claims to diagnose a contemporary political program, his derision of human rights should be read as part of a much longer tradition of critique. In his famous 1844 text On the Jewish Question, Karl Marx denounced the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen as an empty bourgeois formalism that emancipated the state from responsibility for social and economic inequality while leaving humans the playthings of the alien powers of civil society.7 Reviving and transforming Edmund Burkes critique of the same document, in 1951 Hannah Arendt also despaired of the inadequacies of human rights as a means for securing human life without the prior support of particular political communities.8 Building on such accounts and others, over the past few decades left-leaning political theorists have mounted a series of powerful critiques of international human rights. Those in the Marxian tradition have diagnosed them as nothing more than an ideological revision of nineteenth-century bourgeois rights that re-entrenches class exploitation and oppression.9 Others, appropriating Carl Schmitts critique of humanity, have noted how human rights rely on a false universalism that obfuscates concrete political antagonisms in order to reduce liberalisms enemies to subhuman status.10 Postcolonial theorists have shown that human rights often function as tools of Western cultural imperialism and as means to implement neocolonialist economic policies and justify military interventions.11 Critical legal scholars have also analyzed the limitations of appeals to both human rights and constitutional rights as a means of gaining power for minority groups in liberal constitutional states.12 Meanwhile, feminist theorists have noted

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the limitations human rights impose by naturalizing a masculinist notion of an unencumbered and self-sufcient subject as the model rights-holder.13 Perhaps most infamously, Giorgio Agamben linked the development of human rights to the Holocaust and argued that they corroborated a biopolitical regime of domination in whichfollowing Foucaults analysislife itself became the subject of state-based mechanism of juridical power.14 On the Left, those willing to offer even a limited apology for human rights are few, and they often tend to do so by contrasting an earlier revolutionary rights tradition with the idea of international human rights as it emerged in the last few decades of the twentieth century. Robert Meister, for example, offers a forceful critique of the rewriting of human rights history in the 1990s: Today the invocation of human rights is often part of a political project fundamentally at odds with the revolutionary struggles based on human rights: it is the war cry of a self-described international community led by the victors of the Cold War.15 Douzinas similarly sees the conception of human rights espoused by end-of-history liberals as a perversion and anesthetization of earlier natural rights traditions.16 In order to overcome this denigration, he proposes that only communism may save human rights by once again tethering them to concrete struggles for equality.17 Even Jacques Rancirewhose polemic against Arendt and Agamben sought to restore something of human rights emancipatory vocationdecries the historical recasting of revolutionary rights claims in the language of the right to intervention and the rights of the other.18 For him, the version of human rights associated with interventions into the Third World constituted a police logic that obfuscated the role of rights claims in genuine political struggles: Rights are back in the hands of the international community police . . . [no longer] available for political subjectication but the name of the absolute victim that suspends such subjectication.19 Yet despite these myriad and trenchant critiques, we may well doubt that human rights will cede their preeminent position in contemporary political life anytime in the immediate future. Even if one wishes to critique human rights as an ideological formation

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of late nance capitalism20 or a mode of neoliberal governmentality,21 it cannot be denied that, across the political spectrum, millions of contemporary subjects articulate grievances against states, igos, ngos, and private corporations largely through the language of human rights. The point seems particularly pertinent when one considers the curious persistence of human rights language even in the context of the Occupy Movement and the struggles of the Arab Spring.22 For example, when protestors were evicted from encampments and violently assaulted by police in the United States in 2011, it was often through appeals to human rights violations that they staged their counterclaims.23 Consider also the recent ambivalent status of human rights in the 2013 Declaration of the Social Movements Assembly of the World Social Forum of Tunisia. The document contains two mentions of human rights: the rst proclaims the necessity of struggle against transnational corporations and the nancial system . . . who are the main agents of . . . [among other enumerated ills] violations of human rights, and the second denounces the false discourse of human rights defense and the ght against fundamentalism, that often justify . . . military occupations.24 On the one hand, human rights are the object of critique as they are deployed as part of Western state power and military intervention. On the other hand, however, they form an essential part of the basic normative language for expressing condemnation of injustice. Social movements may thus recognize the insidious role of human rights language in certain contexts even as they simultaneously understand their own actions as framed within its terms. Indeed, it could be argued that the contemporary ubiquity of human rights language as a discursive framework for justice claims in domestic and international politics makes it a strategically essential point of engagement for left political theorizing. If the critique of such rights amounts to little more than their utter disavowalas opposed to their transformation, re-signication, or displacementthen those on the Left appear to have conceded an extraordinarily wide array of institutions and sites of contestation to those liberal and conservative thinkers who deploy the language of rights to suit their own projects.25 This is not to suggest that a

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more radical critique of rights is no longer necessary but rather that if such critiques hope to offer genuine possibilities for political theorization, they must articulate how and under what conditions novel vocabularies for making justice claims might challenge the hegemony of human rights. The contributions to this issue of Qui Parlewhile often deeply indebted to the theoretical critiques just discussedoffer alternative trajectories for human rights at the present juncture. By creating a conversation among scholars across the elds of history, law, political theory, anthropology, philosophy, and architecture, this issue hopes to interrogate the recent histories and uncertain futures of human rights. The contributors attempt to add nuance and depth to our understanding of human rights as a political language, normative theory, and social practice. Broadly speaking, we may consider how they do so in four respects. First, the pieces in this issue do not conceive of human rights as a monolithic or transhistorical concept that may be understood outside of the diverse milieus in which it takes shape. Second, the thinkers in the issue assess the normativity of human rights claims in the contexts of the particular political practices in which they are invoked rather than arguing for or against rights in a general theoretical sense. Third, the pieces assembled hereto varying degreesdo not necessarily assume that discourses and practices of human rights must be transcended in order to empower political projects that challenge the status quo. And fourth, the contributors seem to suggest that the various meanings of human rights are unlikely to remain stable or xed as the twenty-rst century unfolds. Through the work of these diverse contributions, this issue of Qui Parle offers a novel challenge to critical theorists and political activists. Borrowing from Arendt, we ask how to rethink the theoretical basis and practical potential of human rights from the vantage point of our newest experiences and our most recent fears.26 How, for example, are we to appreciate and attend to the increased association between human rights, humanitarian ngos, and military and political powers today? How has the migration of the concept of human rights across temporal and spatial borders resulted in its mutation and transformation? How do discourses

Manfredi: Recent Histories and Uncertain Futures

and practices of human rights intersect and interact with contemporary notions of humanitarianism and cosmopolitanism? In what ways do new technologies of surveillance and documentation alter the practices of human rights organizations and institutions? How does the expansion and development of new regimes of international criminal and humanitarian law recongure the landscape in which political struggles take place? And what possibilities for reimagining the normative and utopic content of human rights, if any, are opened up by those popular uprisings challenging the regime of international nance capitalism? The remainder of this introduction offers a rough guide for traversing the ambivalent present and ambiguous future of human rights. My analysis works primarily through a critical engagement with the pieces within the issue, but it also provides a general overview of the themes and arguments under discussion. First, I offer a few reections on the recent surge of historiography that argues for a reassessment of human rights as a political project particular to the twentieth century. I then turn to Samuel Moyns The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History as an exemplary work from within this broader literature and endeavor to unpack some of the insights of the rich and polemical comments it has provoked by Antony Aghie, Seyla Benhabib, and Pheng Cheah, as well as of Moyns own response to these critics.27 I next consider how the translation of Claude Leforts 2005 piece on international law and human rights provides a bridge to link these debates about twentieth-century human rights historiography to contemporary politics. Finally, I examine how the contributions of Didier Fassin, Nikita Dhawan, and Eyal Weizman might help navigate the contemporary conguration of powers, technologies, institutions, and struggles that produce the humanitarian present.28 While we have reason to doubt that human rights will relinquish their grip on the political imagination of contemporary subjects anytime soon, these pieces also help us intuit that new radical political positions now inhabit the realm of the possible. In light of this convergence of persistence and possibility, this issue of Qui Parle hopes to offer impetus for critical projects that could re-appropriate and re-signify the language of human rights.


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From the moment when human rights [droits de lhomme]29 are posited as the ultimate reference, established right is open to question. It becomes still more so as the... social agents bearing new demands mobilize a force in opposition to the one that tends to contain the eects of the recognized rights... there has developed on the basis of human rights a whole history that transgressed the boundaries within which the state claimed to dene itself, a history that remains open.
Claude Lefort, Politics and Human Rights30

Much of the recent debate about human rights revolves around asking how we are to narrate their history. Moyns The Last Utopia, often at the center of these discussions, provocatively suggests that we ought to consider human rights as of a relatively recent vintage. In this regard, it is useful to understand Moyns work as presenting two distinct, but related, major arguments: rst, he insists that the conception of international human rights developed in the latter decades of the twentieth century radically differs from earlier accounts of the rights of man and citizen in that it appeals to a normative order above and outside the nation-state; second, he denes human rights as a minimalist utopia based primarily on a moral claim to restrict state abuses of individual rights that came to prominence in the context of the 1970s collapse of the political projects of anticolonialism and communism. Moyns book represents a recent shift in historical scholarship on human rightsa shift that he has helped precipitate. It is arguably the most famous example of what we might call the critical twentieth-century turn in human rights historiography.31 Instead of viewing human rights as the sustained development of the liberal ideal of universal humanity from its origins in the French Revolution to its advancement in the udhr and nal culmination in the postCold War era, these historians have focused on the contingent and political status of human rights as a late-twentiethcentury discursive framework for justice claims. In the past, historians accounts of human rights tended to be written in the longue dure. For example, Paul Laurens inuential Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen (1998)

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and Micheline Ishays The History of Human Rights (2004) trace the origins of human rights from classical Greek, Roman, and biblical examples through to developments in the Middle Ages and the great revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.32 Lynn Hunts often-cited Inventing Human Rights (2007), a transitional moment in this scholarship, dates the emergence of modern rights to the late-eighteenth-century expansion of moral sentiment to include the appreciation of the pain of others.33 Critical reviews of Laurens and Hunts works published in 2007, however (by Reza Afshari and Moyn, respectively), railed against these accounts for uncritically projecting a twentieth-century conception of human rights back into the historical record; these earlier histories were accused of both denying the particular political context of the emergence of contemporary rights regimes and also tacitly accepting a teleological view of moral progress framed as the excessive expansion of rights to different groups over time.34 Mark Mazower, for example, instead locates the origins of postwar human rights in the strategic and interest-driven compromises of the major powers to abandon the interwar system of international regime of the protection of minority rights that enabled them to shrug off responsibility for their earlier colonial exploitation.35 Additional work by Moyn, Mazower, Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, Benjamin Nathans, Marco Duranti, Kenneth Cmiel, and others has since radically reoriented the trajectory of contemporary human rights historiography away from the perspectives offered by Lauren and Hunt.36 Against the narrative that casts human rights as a decidedly liberal political project, the critical twentieth-century turn in scholarship has also returned attention to the role of socialist states in developing international legal instruments. Drafting histories of the udhr reveal that the Soviets and representatives from postcolonial states were essential in producing the language of social and cultural rights.37 Moreover, the social theory and jurisprudence of Eastern Bloc states teems with attempts to incorporate human rights norms into socialist legal frameworks.38 We thus see that the term human rights has never been exclusively coterminous with neoliberal expansionisma fact that troubled both the


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partisans and opponents of such expansion. In 1976, for example, Frederick A. Hayek wrote that the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948 could be held accountable for precisely the rise in social justice based on the atrocious idea that political power ought to determine the material position of different individuals and groups.39 In 1977, Czech jurist Karel Vasak invented the narrative of the three generations of human rights, emphasizing the importance of red social, economic, and cultural rights and third-generation solidarity rights.40 The examples of Hayek and Vasak should, moreover, help us refocus our questions about how the liberal postCold War conception of international human rights became the dominant position. We might consider how the minimalist utopia version of human rights that Moyn details emerged out of struggle over competing versions of human rights rather than from a confrontation between a monolithic conception of human rights and its political others. For Hoffmann, too, human rights emerged out of a struggle of competing universalisms in which the substance of human rights . . . was historically contingent and politically contested . . . marked more by ruptures than continuities. He then locates the particular modalities of this competition in four related sets of problems: Cold War contestations over the meaning and content of rights; struggles for decolonization; the rise of the new humanitarianism in global campaigns against Chile and South Africa; and nally, the collapse of communism and the emergence of the dissident movement in Eastern Europe in the 1970s and 1980s.41 It is primarily in this latter arena that Moyn locates the historical rise of human rights as a dominant and widespread political movement. The consequences of this choice signicantly inform the critical debate over Moyns work. A microcosm of that debate is presented here, in a series of pieces originally presented as part of an American Political Science Association panel organized by Jason Frank that brought the insights of Moyns work into conversation with preeminent scholars in the elds of law, political science, philosophy, and critical theory. These pieces showcase the evolution of this debate among some of the foremost scholars of human rights.42

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At stake in Cheahs and Anghies initial responses to Moyn is the question of how to conceive of international human rights in relation to the earlier conceptions of subjective rights that are usually considered as their forebears. Cheah wonders about the degree to which the idea of international human rights may be considered to depart from that of state sovereignty; he reminds us that the concept of sovereignty can be extended to characterize humanity and its powers. . . . [I]n the discourse of rights of man . . . it is precisely the sovereign character of our ontological constitution that makes humanity the bearer of rights. Following this, Cheah questions whether the idea of human rights necessitates the conceptual transcendence of the state and instead, examining the Declaration of the Right to Development, insists that international human rights would have to acknowledge the efcacy of the state form in protecting human rights. Thus Cheah mounts a two-tiered challenge to Moyn: in questioning whether the conceptual distinction he offers between international human rights and revolution-era rights can be maintained at the theoretical level, he implicitly suggests that we also may not have sufcient reason to deny that contemporary human rights are continuous with earlier rights traditions. In a slightly different vein, Anghie turns to the doctrinal perspective of international lawyers, who sense a greater historical continuity between postwar international legal instruments and the 1970s human rights movements Moyn considers. Anghie notes that many international lawyers see documents like the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, with its ostensible restriction on state sovereignty, as essential developments in the modern human rights regime. Additionally, he asks whether 1950s struggles against South African apartheid might also be read in the context of human rights: could treatment of issues concerning South Africa at the International Court of Justice, the development of the Convention on Racial Discrimination in 1965, and the 1952 un General Assembly resolution 616b be considered examples of early developments in human rights jurisprudence? In light of these cases, Anghie writes that Moyns history emphasizes the disjunctures too emphatically. Anghie is also concerned about whether Moyns story can account for the alternative utopic


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idea of development prevalent among actors in the postcolonial world in the 1970s. The culmination of these reections is Anghies concern that human rights as Moyn explains them were only the last utopia for a select group of people, largely based in the West. Perhaps, instead of thinking of human rights as the last utopia, we would be better off viewing them as one alternative utopia . . . open to contestation. Moyns response to Cheahs and Anghies criticisms claries his own project, allowing us to better appreciate its stakes. His piece opens with the minor concession that he had never meant to deny that some continuities existed between the human rights movement and earlier conceptions of rights. He insists, however, that as a historian he must prioritize discontinuities, because an overreliance on teleological narratives obscures more than it reveals about ourselves. He also urges that his book be read not as a conceptual history but rather as the history of an enacted practice. Leaving the details of this historical debate to Moyn himself, I will focus on this broader concern about why the attempt to locate a longer and more detailed historical starting point for human rights is of immense signicance. In this sense, we should appreciate Moyns work as a story about a transformation within the political imaginary of the Left and as an attempt to reconsider how the minimalist conception of human rights became one of its main goals of promotion. If it is very much a contested question whether current notions of human rights emerged from a long historical tradition or otherwise, we must in turn ask what is at stake in pursuing different visions of human rights today. As the discussion of these scholars reveals, when we invoke human rights we may be in less agreement as to their meaning than we think. Which visions of human rights embrace self-determination, and which decry it? Under what conditions are human rights seen as compatible with state sovereignty? What institutions and enforcement mechanisms do different conceptions of human rights make appeals to? Our contemporary task is to discern different conceptions of rights, trace their historical breaks and linkages, and then reconsider what they might come to mean in the future. More importantly, we might argue that genealogical projects like Moyns which seek to desta-

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bilize established origin story serve as a necessaryalthough not sufcientcondition for political projects of transforming human rights today; once the narrative of rights development loses its anchor in the deep history of origins, the question of what human rights might become gains a new urgency, as the concepts history no longer possesses the quality of predetermination. The efcacy and desirability of different human rights projects is at stake in the confrontation between Moyn and Benhabib. Benhabib accuses Moyn of drawing too stark a division between moral utopias and political realism; Moyn directly confronts these charges and offers his own critique of what he terms the neo-Kantian normativity of Benhabibs political philosophy. This debate offers not only thrilling polemics but an opportunity to reect on how complementary the tasks of political theory and history can be. Moyn, responding to Benhabibs criticism that he does not consider an internal link between human rights and democratic selfgovernment, insists that his account primarily deals with the historical perspectives of specic actors who themselves did not share Benhabibs theoretical commitments. While Benhabib nds Moyns history to do a disservice to contemporary social movements seeking to align human rights with democratic projects, he insists that this current project was not historically relevant in the psychological motivations of the early human rights activists whose stories he documents. From another angle, Moyns project allows us to see the ways in which normative political theories, like those of Benhabib and Habermas, can often arise as responses to practical and historically specic problems.43 If the task of reconciling democratic selfgovernance with notions of human rights is now one of essential import for political theorists, Moyns account may help us understand why this theoretical query emerged in the context of particular social movements. This would not, however, imply that just because early human rights activism was unconcerned with democratic self-governance, contemporary political agents and theorists could never connect these two fundamental ideals. Instead, this historical analysis claries the challenges that face contemporary social movements that engage with institutional structures that may


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not have originally been conceived to facilitate the reconciliation of human rights and democratic sovereignty. The value and feasibility of such projects of course remains a matter of perennial dispute. The debate between Benhabib and Moyn about false binarisms and realism might also be reexamined along similar lines by considering philosopher Raymond Geusss recent work on political imagination. Geuss argues that even the most ardent conservative and realist positions requires a good degree of imagination and political intervention in order to preserve the status quo; simultaneously, he insists that any political project divorced from the social, economic, and cultural conditions in which it would take shape is doomed to inefcacy.44 The concern then would be to recognizeironically against Geusss own explicit recommendation concerning rights45that human rights now form an essential part of the political imaginary of the present but that this does not guarantee that they must continue to be understood along the lines of a more conservative or minimalist project. To maintain that international human rights just are and must always be associated with political stakes of their early advocates covers over the continued role of imagination and interventions needed in order to maintain this conception. Political agents have undoubtedly taken the texts and plans of the 1970s pioneers of human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and put them to different uses in various contexts. One need only consider Amnesty Internationals internal debates about expanding the scope of its mission to address social, economic, and cultural rights to see such developments. Following this analysis, I wonder if Moyns and Benhabibs projects might not share more afnity than their exchange here reveals. They both hope to strengthen the emancipatory potential of human rights as a political project and to see social movements put human rights to use in ways that exceed the minimalist vision Moyn articulates. Perhaps the task, then, is a twofold one that will also require continued collaboration between political theorists and historians. First, we must now look to the ways in which human rights mutated and traveled across time and space after the late 1970s and became such an important vocabulary for expressing justice claims in diverse struggles. Second, we

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must consider the dangers, limits, and potentialities that attend the uses of human rights as they are deployed in these different scenes. When do human rights open our political imagination to new challenges and productive paradoxes? And when do they colonize the imaginary and winnow its horizon of possibilities? Considering the relationship between political theory and history also lets us rethink how the past, present, and future of human rights are related. In his conclusion, Moyn agrees that human rights are likely to remain the framework and language in which many people debate what sort of justice to pursue, why injustice still wins, and how theory and practice can change for the sake of the better future everyone wants. Claude Leforts 2005 essay International Law, Human Rights, and Politics, however, reveals how the continued dominance of human rights as a language for understanding international justice claims in no way entails the stability of the meaning and scope of such rights. Leforts piece tackles the old question Is international law real law? to offer a nonteleological account of the development of human rights that might reunite Moyns story and the objections of some of his critics. For Lefort, international law never ceases to be in gestation and constantly invents itself as a result of challenges such as violence, disruption, and coordination among a plurality of states. For Lefort, international law will never fully deliver itself from the contradictions that result from the demand to enforce a principle of universality while respecting the irreducible plurality of political communities. Just as in his earlier writing on human rights, he highlights that institutions of law and human rights can never escape their own historicity. Looking to his 1981 piece Politics and Human Rights, Lefort thinks that the historical turn to the rights of man as the source of the legitimation for modern state power leaves the state always open to contestation and transformation from below (ph, 258). In this sense, he argues that the idea of human rights deprives political legitimacy of any xed point other than that of the human being as such. Against the Burkean and Arendtian thesis that this would reduce rights to empty abstractions, for him this make rights claims always a matter of historical particularity and specicity given the historicity of hu-


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man being. He elaborates this view with three historical paradoxes that derive from the rise of human rights and, in turn he thinks, give such rights great political force. First, while society now appears as an association of free individuals, this means that it can never be wholly circumscribed or have all of its elements constitute a single, unied body. Second, he thinks that humans now appear as beings whose essence is to declare rights, but this also entails both that no statement of rights can be separated from its particular scene of its enunciation and also that each new articulation of rights leaves open the exponential expansion of their reach. Third, although the Declaration of the Rights of Man presents humans as individual sovereigns, it also necessarily undermines that sovereignty because all rights establish interdependent social relations insofar as they presuppose corresponding duties, and in the case of rights to expression, also always assume a relation to other subjects as the receivers of discourse (ph, 25560). On his account, the historicity of human rights is thus a gift inasmuch as that very historicity allows rights to change and develop: for instance, the French Declaration of 1789, which transformed human rights into a new ground for the legitimacy of the state, also enables this legitimacy to always be put into question as different social and political demands emerge like the social and economic rights outlined in the 1948 udhr. In the narrower context of international law, Lefort here shows us how the extension of human rights from domestic contexts to international treaties does indeed amount to a signicant transformation in their content. Like Moyn, Lefort acknowledges that the international account of human rights imbues them with a normative force that operates in a eld removed from direct appeal to the state for redress of wrongdoing. Still, this aspect of international human rights does not wholly distinguish them from earlier rights traditions. Rather, Leforts account of the uneven, irreversible, and always incomplete development of international law provides us with a non-teleological model for thinking the development of human rights in the twentieth and twenty-rst centuries. Evaluating the desirability of contemporary human rights regimes will, in Leforts view, always require attention to their historicity. This

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means, of course, that human rights are all the more susceptible to unforeseen transformations and mutations as the meaning and content of both human rights and the international continue to be contested. In turning to the contributions of Fassin, Dhawan, and Weizman we may consider the particular historicity of contemporary human rights practice as they appear in the diverse contexts of humanitarian political projects, subaltern struggles for democracy, and technological developments in the work of ngos and legal institutions.
We recognize no power other than the pre-eminence of life. Wherever the will to live and its awareness claim an undivided sovereignty, the very notion of rights cancels itself out. All we need is to be human in order to attain an awareness of never being human enough.
Raoul Vaneigem, A Declaration of the Rights of Human Beings46

Contemporary practices of human rights take place in myriad contexts: international tribunals, electoral politics, grassroots social movements, and ngo relief programs, to name but a few. Fassins, Weizmans, and Dhawans contributions investigate human rights phenomena as they appear in some of these diverse sites, tracing the affective, biopolitical, and hegemonic dimensions of human rights. Despite scholarly skepticism about human rights emancipatory potential, human rights practices have become constitutive features of contemporary politics. Indeed, human rights norms play an active role in shaping contemporary forms of human life as such; human rights have thus become a privileged site of reection for thinking about what it means to be human in an increasingly globalized world. Moreover, iffollowing Lefortwe think the radical potentiality of rights claims derives in part from their ability to develop historically in response to new needs, then one essential challenge for human rights today must be to engage the multifarious forces of governmentality that now condition and produce human life. In the following analysis, I take the contributors pieces as an invitation to rethink human rights and humanitarianism through experiments with our own political imaginary in two respects: rst, by revisiting the idea of the human as such in light of


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the contemporary powers, technologies, and desires that constitute it; and second, by reassessing what forms of cross-border solidarity and political community are conceivable given the continuation and expansion of radical global inequality. For those attempting to navigate the complex history and present of humanitarianism, Fassins work has been an indispensable guide.47 Unlike many other theorists, Fassin does not ridicule humanitarian reason as merely the hypocritical apologia of the privileged West; rather, he subtly investigates how humanitarian sentiments come to be constitutive of contemporary politics. In his piece here, he reects on the particular politics of compassion that attend the responses to mass global catastrophes like the 2010 Haitian earthquake. In our present age of humanitarianism we have become familiar with images of disasters, famines, and of aid organizations. Fassin looks behind such images and the various responses to them to trace how humanitarian actions help produce affects of collective gratication for those participating in them. These affective responses to mass catastrophes allow for the imagined ideal of a global moral community that struggles to grapple with radical global inequality. In appealing to desires for compassion for victims and solidarity with a broader global community, the affective dimension of human rights and humanitarianism shows how often they determine the horizon of desire for many political actors. For Fassin, this politics of compassion allows agents to navigate the contradictions of the world by positioning their own projects as part of an imagined solidarity with other human beings they may never actually encounter. It thus seems to me that the political identities of the subjects he describes are themselves constituted by moral sentiments of humanitarian design; they understand themselves as moral agents because of their sympathies for the suffering of others, and it is precisely human rights norms that supply them the framework for understanding in what that suffering consists. The gure of the victim of human rights violation serves as the necessary channel for the emotive responses that in turn motivate political actions. On this view, human rights may have an even more fundamental relation to our desires than Gayatri Spivaks famous description of them as that which we cannot

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not want implies.48 Not only are human rights inescapable objects of desire toward which subjects strive, but in their affective dimension they often serve as the ground for the production of political subjectivity as such. Fassin does not valorize the role of sentiment in political life. Compare his to other popular accounts of human rights relation to emotions such as that of Richard Rorty, who considers human rights affective dimension as central to the development of a pragmatist account of moral progress.49 Acknowledging human rights as social constructs rst and foremost, Rorty rejects questions about their deep origins and ultimate theoretical foundation as largely irrelevant to their political potential, the progress of which can be measured by the degree to which sentimental identication with others might extend the notion of humanity to include minority groups previously excluded from moral consideration. While accounts of this kind uphold dehumanization as a rstorder evil, the contributors to this issue remind us that processes of humanizationaffective, legal, political, and otherwisemay also entail pernicious effects. Samera Esmeirs recent work Juridical Humanityreviewed here by Genevieve Renard Painterprovides an excellent complement to Fassins diagnosis of the role of sentiment in producing and extending the ideal of a universal humanity: Esmeir traces how colonial technologies of law produced the human by managing and distributing pain and suffering across individual bodies.50 In light of this important colonial dimension in the historical development of humanitarian sensibilities, we would do well to follow Fassin in insisting on the impossibility of isolating a moral position for human rights outside of the particular contexts of their political usage. Processes of victim-making and identication are never simply neutral, and indeed are increasingly caught up in complex entanglements with military and political powers in conict zones. Analyzing the political dimension of humanitarianism is therefore paramount. Fassin makes the point elegantly when he states that the humanitarian reason associated with human rights should be understood as the missing third pillar in Foucaults famous account of modern governmentality. Placed alongside the po-


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lice state and the liberal economy, Fassin maintains, humanitarian reason now plays a major role in our way of making politics.51 In expanding on Foucaults topology of modern forms of power, Fassin asks us to reconsider how our concern over sustaining life simultaneously shapes and is shaped by the political choices and moral economies of contemporary society (ap, 50). Human rights and humanitarianism thus intersect in the right to live, and around this fundamental claim numerous and often contradictory political projects assert their legitimacy: conservative groups attempt to restrict access to abortions, international relief organizations like care seek to provide sustenance to internally displaced peoples, grassroots movements in the global South demand access to life-sustaining hiv medications, and leftist groups in Europe work on behalf of the undocumented to grant them access to the basic social services of the welfare state. Along these lines, we should also recall Cheahs suggestion in his response to Moyn that the history of human rights might be better narrated in terms of the development of governmental technologies designed for the promotion, management, and sustenance of life. Agamben inuentially argued that humanitarianism entails a repudiation of the political insofar as it deals with humans reduced to the conditions of bare life, but both Fassin and Weizman conceptualize the politics of life beyond the limit set by Agamben.52 In particular, Weizman articulates an alternative theory of the refugee camp, not as the space of the evisceration of politics, but as an exemplary site for analyzing political struggles over the basic conditions of human life. He objects to the thesis that radical politics in the West Bank must conceive of refugee subjects as materially deprived of resources and reduced to bare human status; instead, he asks that we enact a politics of human rights that aims at strengthening the position of those living in conditions of political exclusion by providing not only medical care and nutritional supplies but also technological resources in support of political agency. For Weizman, such a practice would [invert] the biopolitical paradigm of the Left by thinking biopolitics as the condition for politics, not as the end of politics. But even this formulation could be radicalized according to Gilles Deleuzes maxim, inspired

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by Foucault: when power becomes the power over life, resistance becomes the power of life.53 Struggles over basic issues of life provide not only the conditions for politics; rather, such struggles are themselves already political insofar as they constitute resistance to powers attempt to control the conditions for the activity of life. Consequently, the actions of humanitarians and human rights activists designed to ensure access to the basic conditions of life must be thought of as political acts that are likely to be quite variable in their effects. Weizman also remarks that a certain humanitarian politics of the lesser evil still takes the gure of the weakened or helpless victim as its foundation. We must then imagine a politics of human rights beyond the notion of the victim, without falling into the trap of again fetishizing those ghting to improve their conditions of life along the lines of the messianic gure of the revolutionary proletarian subject that Marxist philosophies valorized. Nikita Dhawan exposes the continued risks and challenges facing such political projects today by reminding us that emancipatory ideologiesthe ip side of global free-market capitalismoften rely on the utopia of a borderless world as their justication. Her intervention criticizes those privileged Western cosmopolitan visions that advocate transcendence of the nation-state; these ideologies, she argues, fail to understand the political role of states in relation to subaltern populations and the possibility of developing their own agency. Turning to a Gramscian theory of hegemony, she asks how emancipatory political projects might be reoriented away from the ambitions of consciousness-raising and toward activating habits of democracy among those subject to the pastoral power of global capitalism and the postcolonial state. In this sense, she articulates an imperative analogous to Weizmans reading of Rony Braumans politics: we must take seriously the urgent need to distinguish between those political practices of human rights that merely reassert the agency of elite subjects and those that help create conditions for subalterns to exercise their own agency. Following Dhawans insights, however, we realize that the task of creating the conditions for agencyparallel to creating the conditions for lifecannot be read as an easy or in any way pre-political action. Indeed, as Saba Mahmood has argued, the very notions of


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agency and political action under consideration here often rely on the model of the liberal political subject as their telos.54 Mahmood shows that notions of life and agency are themselves never simply neutral or benign but instead always smuggle in culturally inected conceptions of subjectivity. Dhawan and Mahmood thus remind us that when we consider the projects of promoting democratic sovereignty, increasing refugee political power, or making subaltern agency possible, we must recognize the ways in which these agendas carry within them certain norms and expectations about what it means to be human. Nevertheless, Dhawan refuses to reject the notion that cross-border alliances can be developed despite radical disparities in power relations. In this regard, the question of how to think cross-border forms of solidarity and alliance cannot simply be eschewed as an outmoded cosmopolitan problem. Issues of environmental devastation, the unequal international division of labor, and global epidemics require collaborative political projects that address the deep material linkages between populations across the globe. Acknowledging such realities without lapsing into neoimperialist practices of colonial administration and Western governance is another serious challenge that Dhawan presents for contemporary political actors interested in international justice. In response to this challenge, she provides a model in which uncoercive persuasion becomes a new ethical imperative in imagining cross-border political struggles and human rights politics. She thus returns the difcult burden of understanding how to act politically in a world of radical global inequality to the site of local political struggles. We have no option but to negotiate with the hegemonic and counterhegemonic forces that vie for political power today, but we can never assume the privileged position of an all-knowing subject that could simply dispense justice and human rights to the subaltern. This should not suggest to us, however, that we ought to search for an imaginary origin or uncontaminated starting point for political struggles outside the politics of human rights and humanitarianism. Rather, the pieces in this issue remind us that contemporary political struggles take place in a complicated milieu in which human rights norms, military and political powers, and techno-

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logical developments collide. In my conversation with Weizman in this issue, for example, we consider the video documentation of violence and new forms of recording testimony as sites where contemporary human rights practices are reinvented and transformed. Looking at the use of human rights actors in documenting state abuses, Weizman considers how the dissemination of cameras to populations in the West Bank helped to recongure the visual eld in which human rights abuses were seen to take place. Traditional techniques of state surveillance were used in what Weizman calls an inverted practice of discipline that documented settler and police violence. For Weizman, technological developments offer both possibilities and risks. Take, for instance, the use of forensic evidence in testimony about the violence and destruction done to dead bodies: these practices expand the potential of human rights activists to record and also resist the destructive powers of states and multinational corporations. In this regard, a shift from the gure of the victim to the analysis of the ground conditions for life made new dimensions of state violence visible. Yet the intersection of this violence with political and legal imperatives also led to other transformation associated with human rights projects. The remains of victims of atrocitiesonce identied primarily as individuals to be returned to families for burial and mourningwere recoded as ethnic subject populations identied only en masse as documentation for international legal tribunals seeking genocide convictions. Thus the question of what is human reemerges in these cases: technologies of documentation of human rights abuses identify the human in specic ways such as reading bones for particular traces of the subjects that they once were. In so doing, however, these new technologies present us new gures and conceptions of human life: satellite images of mass graves, dna recordings of ethnically coded subjects, the toxin-ridden bones of those killed by chemical weapons, and neural scans of traumatized victims of sexual violence. These new gures of the human emerge precisely in the context of the politics of human rights organizations documenting mass atrocities, engaging in lawfare in international courtrooms, and publishing images of atrocities to marshal public outrage. The


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agency of contemporary political subjects manifests in how they negotiate with the conguration of powers and technologies that produce these new articulations of the human. In each new case of struggle against human rights violations there are possibilities for resistancebut such possibilities are always attended by the risk that the power over life will triumph over lifes own power. In closing, this issue of Qui Parle might be said to offer a sobering, but also a hopeful, reminder about the role of critique in the context of contemporary political struggles. In the passage quoted earlier from The Human Condition, Arendt cautions her reader that her book does not offer answers to the challenges that face political agents; she insists instead that such answers are given every day, and they are matters of practical politics . . . they can never lie in theoretical considerations . . . as though we dealt with problems for which only one solution is possible (HC, 5). For her, the task of critical work is instead one of nothing more than thinking what we are doing (HC, 5). My suggestion is that we should think of this special issue of Qui Parle along similar lines: the contributions presented here do not offer any simple solutions to the increasingly complex problems that human rights and humanitarian projects attempt to address; rather, they attempt to chart the historical and political conditions that have made these projects what they are. Perhaps in seeing what we are doing more clearly, we will be able to navigate better the complex eld of forces that produces, transforms, and threatens human life today.
Notes 1. See the discussion on Occupy Pittsburghs website with additional links to other human rightsthemed projects, http://occupypittsburgh,+not+Corporate+Rights. 2. This is from Occupy Washington dc, for whom securing human rights and worker and immigrants rights are numbers three and four of their Fifteen Core Issues, respectively, http://october2011 .org/pages/human-rights and 3. In contemporary political discourse human rights and humanitarianism are often treated as somewhat synonymous terms, or least seen as part of a larger, shared political program. While in the context of

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7. 8.


10. 11.

international ngo work and igo work this distinction is sometimes elided as well, it can also be used in that context to distinguish between relief organizations, which aim to provide more immediate medical, famine, and basic subsistence resources, and more political organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which monitor and critique the actions of states and multinational corporations. Historically, however, these projects also might be seen to have distinct legacies, as Didier Fassin observes in his contribution to this issue and elsewhere. Part of the aim of this collection is to question the association of these two discourses and to interrogate their various elisions, separations, and interactions. Costas Douzinas and Slavoj iek, Introduction: The Idea of Communism, in The Idea of Communism, ed. Costas Douzinas and Slavoj iek (London: Verso, 2010), 12. Hereafter cited as IC. Alain Badiou, The Rebirth of History (London: Verso, 2012), 4. The original French text, Le rveil de lhistoire, was published in 2011 and has an even more directly Hegelian-Marxist resonance in the use of the word rveil, which often translatesas in Derridas workthe German aufhebung, which describes the process of dialectical synthesis. Hereafter cited as RH. This view also recapitulates Badious earlier view about human rights, which was present in his work in the 1990s; see his Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (1998; Verso: London, 2001), 510. Karl Marx, On the Jewish Question, in Early Writing, 2nd ed. (London: Penguin Classics, 1992), 21142. Edmund Burke, Reections on the Revolution in France (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1991); Hannah Arendt, The Decline of the Nation State and the End of the Rights of Man, in The Origins of Totalitarianism (San Diego: Harcourt, 1968), 267304. With regard to the role of human rights in international law specically, see China Mievills Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law (London: Haymarket Books, 2006). For the original argument see Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 5458. This critical literature is extensive, but for older examples that summarizes such views succinctly see the pieces in Human Rights: Cultural and Ideological Perspectives, ed. Adamantia Pollis and Peter Schwab (New York: Praeger, 1979). For a more recent and sophisticated account of what human rights practices do in postcolonial


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15. 16. 17. 18.






contexts see Talal Asad, What Do Human Rights Do? An Anthropological Enquiry, Theory and Event 4, no. 4 (2000). For a good summary of these critiques and a reection on their ultimate fate see Duncan Kennedy, The Critique of Rights in Critical Legal Studies, in Left Legalism/Left Critique, ed. Wendy Brown and Janet Halley (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), 178228. See, for example, Wendy Brown, Suffering the Paradoxes of Rights, in Left Legalism/Left Critique, ed. Wendy Brown and Janet Halley (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), 41934. In particular, Giorgio Agamben, Biopolitics and the Rights of Man, in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 12635. Robert Meister, After Evil: A Politics of Human Rights (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 7. Costas Douzinas, The End of Human Rights (Portland: Hart, 2000). Costas Douzinas, Adikia: On Communism and Human Rights, in IC, 100. Jacques Rancire, Democracy, Republic, Representation, in Hatred of Democracy (London: Verso, 2006), 5170; Jacques Rancire, Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man? in Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics (London: Continuum, 2010), 6275. Jacques Rancire, Politics in a Nihilistic Age, in Dis-agreement: Politics and Philosophy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 12627. This is, for example, largely ieks view as well; see Slavoj iek, Against Human Rights, New Left Review 34 (JulyAugust 2005): 11531. For an interesting and subtle account of this view see Talal Asads conclusion in Redeeming the Human through Human Rights, in Formations of the Secular (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 15658. For some recent discussion of these broader themes in the context of different social movements attempting to work out their relationship to a human rights framework and 2011 grass-roots movements, see the March 2012 US Human Rights Network Education Call Connecting the Dots: The Occupy Movement and the Struggle for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, available at /resources-media/march-2012-ushrn-education-call-escr-occupy. For a detailed overview and report see the work of the Protest and Assembly Rights project of the International Human Rights Clinic at

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24. 25.


27. 28.




Harvard Law School at /criminal-justice-in-latin-america/protest-and-assembly-rights/. The full text is available via Occupy Wall Streets website at http:// Pheng Cheahs account of the unconditional normativity in original contamination of human rights makes this point quite elegantly: Given that the transcendence of global capitalism is not in imaginary sight, we have no choice but to take the risk of conjuring with and against the inhuman force eld of global capitalism as it induces changing forms of human dignity. Inhuman Conditions: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 177. This is Arendts self-description of the ambition of her own project in reconsidering the human condition in The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 5; hereafter cited as HC. Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010). This phrase is Weizmans and comes from his recent work The Least of All Possible Evils, the primary subject of discussion in our interview. He denes the humanitarian present as the condition of collusion of . . . technologies of humanitarianism, human rights and humanitarian law within military and political powers. Eyal Weizmann, The Least of All Possible Evils (London: Verso, 2011), 45. A number of recent historians have tried to offer a strong conceptual distinction between the French Revolution eras rights of man and citizen and human rights that in part tracks the different linguistic histories of the two formulations; this distinction, however, does not bear out historically in either French or German, where the terms droits de lhomme and Menschenrechte have typically been used to translate the English human rights. Indeed, Ren Cassin, one of the primary drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, eventually accepted the equivalence of the terms and, it should more importantly be noted, the ofcial French edition of the udhr (General Assembly Resolution 217a III) also uses the language of les droits de lhomme as the translation of human rights. Claude Lefort, Politics and Human Rights, in The Political Forms of Modern Society, ed. John Thompson (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1986), 23972. Hereafter cited as ph. For an overview of some of this recent scholarship see Devin Pendas, Toward a New Politics? On the Recent Historiography of Human


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Rights, Contemporary European History 21, no. 1 (2012): 95111. Paul Lauren, The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011); Micheline Ishay, The History of Human Rights, rev. ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008). Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights (New York: Norton, 2007) and The Paradoxical Origins of Human Rights, in Human Rights and Revolutions, ed. Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom et al. (Lanham md: Rowman and Littleeld, 2007), 320. Reza Afshari, On the Historiography of Human Rights: Reections on Paul Gordon Laurens The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen, Human Rights Quarterly 29, no. 2 (2007): 167; Samuel Moyn, On the Genealogy of Morals, The Nation, March 16, 2007. Mark Mazower, The Strange Triumph of Human Rights, 1933 1950, Historical Journal 47, no. 2 (2004): 37998; for an extended recapitulation and development of this view with regard to the United Nations see his No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009). For example, see the collection Human Rights in the Twentieth Century, ed. Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011) (hereafter cited as HR); for Cmiel see The Emergence of Human Rights Politics in the United States, Journal of American History 86 (1999): 123150. Other recent accounts that locate the rise of human rights language within the politics of the 1970s include Barbara Keys, Anti-torture Politics: Amnesty International, the Greek Junta, and the Origins of the Human Rights Boom in the United States (20122), and Carl J. Bon Tempo, From the Center-Right: Freedom House and Human Rights in the 1970s and 1980s (22344), both in The Human Rights Revolution, ed Akira Iriye, Petra Goedde, and William I. Hitchcock (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); and Sargent Daniel, The United States and Globalization in the 1970s, in The Shock of the Global: The 1970s in Perspective, ed. Niall Ferguson (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), 4964. Jennifer Amos, Embracing and Contesting. The Soviet Union and the Universals Declaration of Human Rights 19481958, in HR, 14765. The Soviets also participated in the drafting of the 1948 Genocide Convention, took part in the Nuremberg Tribunals, and were an early adopter of both the iccpr and the icescr.

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38. For an overview that focuses on East Germany in the 1960s see Paul Betts, Socialism, Social Rights, and Human Rights: The Case of East Germany, Humanity 3, no. 3 (2012): 40726. Hermann Klenners work is an essential touchstone for such debates. Soviet historian Benjamin Nathanss work in particular has done an excellent job of adding depth to our understanding of debates about human rights internal to the dissident movement in the USSR. See Nathans, Soviet Rights-Talk in the Post-Stalin Era, in HR, 18889, and The Dictatorship of Reason: Aleksandr Volpin and the Idea of Rights under Developed Socialism, Slavic Review 66, no. 1 (2007): 63063. Nathans is also in the process of writing a book about the Soviet civil rights movement. 39. Frederick A. Hayek, The Mirage of Social Justice, vol. 2 of Law, Legislation and Liberty (London: Routledge, 1976), 143. 40. See Karel Vasak, Human Rights: A Thirty-Year Struggle: The Sustained Efforts to Give Force of Law to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UNESCO Courier, vol. 30, Paris, November 1977. While Vasaks narrative has been largely criticized as historically erroneous, its status as an historical document of the late 1970s should highlight the degree to which debate about the substantive normative content of human rights remained a matter of debate well after the late 1960s. In the liberal tradition, for example, Jeremy Waldron takes up and defends second-generation rights as an important evolution in liberal thought that responds to the critique of socialist thinkers. Waldron, Liberal Rights: Collected Papers, 19811991 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). 41. Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, Introduction: Genealogies of Human Rights, in HR, 1315. 42. While most of the other pieces were substantially revised from their original presentation, Pheng Cheah has asked us to note that his contribution here is nearly identical to the version he read at the conference. 43. For an example of Habermass account of the relationship between human rights and popular sovereignty see 3.1 Private and Public Autonomy, Human Rights and Popular Sovereignty in Between Facts and Norms (Cambridge: mit Press, 1996). 44. Raymond Geuss, Politics and the Imagination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), xxi. 45. Geuss has argued against the long history view of human rights, insisting that no analogous concept existed in the ancient world and


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47. 48. 49.

50. 51.


53. 54.

that subjective rights, therefore, need not be thought as necessary components of our political imaginary. On an abstract level the point is well taken, but viewed from the standpoint of current political and historical conditionsI here argueit seems less likely to be true. Raymond Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 6062. Raoul Vaneigem, A Declaration of the Rights of Human Beings: On the Sovereignty of Life as Surpassing the Rights of Man, trans. Liz Heron (London: Pluto Press, 2001), 14. See, for example, Didier Fassin, Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011). For example, see Gayatri Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine (New York: Routledge, 1993), 279. Richard Rorty, Ethics without Principles, in Philosophy and Social Hope (London: Penguin Books, 1999), 8388, and Human Rights, Rationality, Sentimentality, in The Politics of Human Rights, ed. Obrad Savi (London: Verso, 1999), 6783. Samera Esmeir, Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2012). See also Fassins piece Another Politics of Life Is Possible, Theory, Culture and Society 26, no. 5 (2009): 4460, hereafter cited as ap. This text also contains Fassins articulation of a politics of life through a detailed reading of Foucaults lectures and case studies of France and South Africa. In this text, Fassin has developed a more nuanced account of a politics of life, beyond strict concerns about state management of populations in relation to an idea of biolegitimacy that explores how social inequalities testify to the particular meaning and value attached to notions of life. There is an interesting contrast between their positions that may stem from their readings of Rony Braumans theory of humanitarianism. For Fassin, Brauman thinks of humanitarianism as the space left by politics that draws a perhaps false distinction between ethics and politics, while Weizman sees Brauman advocating a practice of humanitarianism as providing the conditions of possibility for politics to occur that, nevertheless, must itself be seen as a (bio)political act. Gilles Deleuze, Foucault (London: Continuum, 1999), 9293. Saba Mahmood, The Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).