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Wendy Brown

The Most We Can Hope For . . .:

Human Rights and the Politics of Fatalism
In his zoo Tannei Lectuie seiies entitled
Hunan Rights as Politics and Idolatiy, Michael
Ignatie paiiies alnost eveiy known piogies-
sive political and philosophical quaiiel with
inteinational hunan iights woik: hunan iights
aie vague and unenloicealle, theii content is
innitely nallealle, they aie noie synlolic
than sulstantive, they cannot le giounded in
any ontological tiuth oi philosophical piinciple,
in theii piinoidial individualisn, they conict
with cultuial integiity and aie a loin ol lileial
inpeiialisn, they aie a guise in which supei-
powei glolal donination diapes itsell, they aie a
guise in which the glolalization ol capital diapes
itsell, they entail seculai idolatiy ol the hunan
and aie thus as nuch a ieligious cieed as any
Ignatie is thoughtlul and nondisnissive
with each ol these challenges, at tines peisua-
sively ieluting then, at tines acconnodating
and adusting the aspiiation oi ieach ol hunan
iights in teins ol then. Woiking thiough then
also allows hin to develop and iest his own
case loi hunan iights: hunan iights activisn
is valualle not lecause it is lounded on sone
tianscendent tiuth, advances sone ultinate
piinciple, is a conpiehensive politics, oi is
The South Atlantic Quarterly o:z[, Spiing[Sunnei zooq.
Copyiight _ zooq ly Duke Univeisity Piess.
452 Wendy Brown
clean ol the dangei ol political nanipulation oi conpionise, lut iathei,
sinply lecause it is eective in liniting political violence and ieducing
niseiy. Il, in the last lty yeais, hunan iights have lecone the inteina-
tional noial cuiiency ly which sone hunan sueiing can le stenned,
then they aie a good thing. All that can le said alout hunan iights is that
they aie necessaiy to piotect individuals lion violence and aluse, and il it
is asked why, the only possille answei is histoiical (q).
Responding to the connentaiies pullished along withhis lectuies, these
aie Ignaties nal woids:
What should oui goals as lelieveis in hunan iights le? Heie ny slo-
gan would le the title ol the ustly lanous essay ly ny old teachei,
]udith Shklai, Putting Ciuelty Fiist. We nay not le alle to cieate
denociacies oi constitutions. Lileial lieedon[in sone societies| nay
le sone way o. But we could do noie than we do to stop unneiited
sueiing and gioss physical ciuelty. That I take to le the elenental pii-
oiity ol all hunan iights activisn: to stop toituie, leatings, killings,
iape, and assault and to inpiove, as lest we can, the secuiity ol oidi-
naiy people. My nininalisn is not stiategic at all. It is the nost we
can hope loi. (;)
Aninstiunent loi alating the giievous sueiing ol taigetedindividuals and
gioups, stanching the ow ol hunan llood, dininishing ciies ol hunan
pain, unlending the ciouch ol hunan leaiwho could aigue with this,
especially when the histoiical piesent leatuies so nuch politically let llood,
politically inicted pain, and politically induced leai? Indeed one cannot
aigue with it, noi will I. Il hunan iights achieve this, and nothing noie,
theie is no quaiiel to le had.
My question, ol couise, is whethei this is all the inteinational hunan
iights pioect does, that is, whethei Ignatie holds hinsell to the nininal-
isnand piagnatisnol these sentences and whethei, apait lionIgnaties
own loinulations, this nininalisn and piagnatisn can le nade to hold
in the discuisive opeiation ol hunan iights. It will tuin out that Ignatie
hinsell does not actually stay within the lounds ol this nininalist delense,
and that the noie he clains loi hunan iights is an inpoitant pait ol his
liiel loi then and an inpoitant aspect ol theii discuisive opeiation. But in
addition to Ignaties own tiansgiessions ol the loundaiies he sets, theie is
this: it is in the natuie ol eveiy signicant political pioect to iipple leyond
the pioects avowed taiget and action, loi the sinple ieason that all such
Human Rights and the Politics of Fatalism 453
pioects aie situated in political, histoiical, social, and econonic contexts
with which they dynanically engage.
No eective pioect pioduces only
the consequences it ains to pioduce. Whatevei theii avowed puipose, then,
do hunan iights only ieduce sueiing? Do they (pionise to) ieduce it in
a paiticulai way that piecludes oi negates othei possille ways? And il they
ieduce sueiing, what kinds ol sulects and political (oi antipolitical) cul-
tuies do they liing into leing as they do so, what kinds do they tiansloin
oi eiode, and what kinds do they avei? What aie the inplications ol hunan
iights assuning centei stage as an inteinational ustice pioect, oi as the
piogiessive inteinational ustice pioect? Hunan iights activisnis a noial-
political pioect and il it displaces, conpetes with, ieluses, oi ieects othei
political pioects, including those also ained at pioducing ustice, then it is
not neiely a tactic lut a paiticulai loinol political powei caiiying a paiticu-
lai inage ol ustice, and it will lehoove us to inspect, evaluate, and udge it
as such. Such consideiations iequiie us to depait loth the teins ol piagna-
tist nininalisn and the teins ol noiality loi a noie conplex encountei
with the poweis ol political context and political discouise than eithei set
ol teins can acconnodate.
Foi the nost pait, hunan iights activisn ieluses the political nantle on
which I an insisting. Rathei, it geneially piesents itsell as sonething ol
an antipoliticsa puie delense ol the innocent and the poweiless against
powei, a puie delense ol the individual against innense and potentially
ciuel oi despotic nachineiies ol cultuie, state, wai, ethnic conict, tiil-
alisn, patiiaichy, and othei nolilizations oi instantiations ol collective
powei against individuals. Moie piecisely, hunan iights take theii shape
as a noial discouise centeied on pain and sueiing iathei than political
discouise ol conpiehensive ustice. Even as Ignatie titles his ist lectuie
Hunan Rights as Politics and iecognizes that hunan iights nust accept
that it is a ghting cieed and that its univeisal clains will le iesisted ly
whatevei authoiity is its paiticulai taiget, the politics he identies aie in
the piagnatic eects ol what he loithiightly identies as a noial oidei ol
things: Hunan iights is the language that systenatically enlodies [the|
intuition [that each individual is entitled to equal noial consideiation|, and
to the degiee that this intuition gains inuence ovei the conduct ol indi-
viduals and states, we can say that we aie naking noial piogiess (q). In
addition to the explicit clain alout noial equality, inteinational hunan
iights aie also pienised on the innoiality ol politically induced suei-
ing. Unlike constitutionally deiived and nationally enloiced highly speci-
454 Wendy Brown
ed iights in lileial denociatic oideis, inteinational hunan iights aie cast
in teins ol the noial inviolalility ol hunan dignity and the depiivation
oi degiadation ol this dignity that they aie undeistood to piotect against.
Hunan iights, in Ignaties undeistanding, do not piesciile what is good
oi iight lut iathei depend onagieenent alout what is insueially, inaigu-
ally wiong (6):
The univeisal connitnents inplied ly hunan iights can le con-
patille with a wide vaiiety ol ways ol living only il the univeisalisn
inplied is sell-consciously nininalist. Hunan iights can connand
univeisal assent only as a decidedly thin theoiy ol what is iight, a de-
nition ol the nininun conditions loi any kind ol lile at all. Hunan
iights is only a systenatic agenda ol negative lileity, a tool kit against
oppiession, a tool kit that individual agents nust le liee to use as they
see t within the lioadei liane ol cultuial and ieligious leliels that
they live ly. (6, ;)
But il hunan iights aie tendeied as an antipolitical and expiessly noial
antidote to alusive political powei, a delense against powei and a piotection
against pain, depiivation, oi sueiing, we nay still ask what kind ol politici-
zation they set in notion against the poweis they oppose. Do they stand loi
a dieient loinulation ol ustice oi do they stand in opposition to collective
ustice pioects? Whethei they ain eithei to weaken national political sov-
eieignty as they stiengthen the noial standing ol the individual oi, to the
contiaiy as Ignatie aigues, they undeiline the necessity ol state oidei as a
guaiantee ol iights, and hence ought actually to stiengthen oveiluidened
states, what kind ol ustice pioect is this? Put anothei way, il hunan iights
aie pioeied as a delense against political poweis alility to inict pain,
indignity, ciuelty, and death, il they stand loi political poweis noial linit
iegaidless ol its inteinal oiganization oi legitinacy, what is theii political
positioning and eect in this woik?
As it tuins out, Ignatie does not, indeed cannot, linit his liiel loi
hunaniights to theii attenuationol sueiing. Rathei, he undeistands then
as opening up piogiessive political possilility that exceeds theii puiview.
He clains, ist, that hunan iights nattei lecause they help people to help
thenselves and thus instantiate oi develop agency wheie it did not exist
leloie (;). He clains, second, that iights as civil andpolitical lieedons aie
the necessaiy condition loi the eventual attainnent ol social and econonic
secuiity (o). Thiid, he clains that iights language cieates the lasis loi
Human Rights and the Politics of Fatalism 455
conict, delileiation, aigunent and contention, as it piovides a shaied
vocalulaiy lionwhichoui aigunents canlegin, and the laie hunannini-
nun lion which dieiing ideas ol hunan ouiishing can take ioot ().
The ist clain conceins the ontological logic ol hunan iights, the second
clainconceins the histoiical logic ol hunaniights, and the thiid claincon-
ceins the political logic ol hunan iights. Let us considei each liiey.
Hunan iights is a language ol individual enpoweinent, Ignatie
aigues, and when individuals have agency, they can piotect thenselves
against inustice. Equally, when individuals have agency, they can dene
thenselves what they wish to live and die loi (;). In othei woids, hunan
iights conguie sulects as eithei alle oi entitled (its not cleai which loi
Ignatie) to piotect thenselves lion what they considei unust and dene
loi thenselves what theii individual ains and ends aie. As Ignatie aigues
elsewheie, Rights language has leen cential not sinply to the piotection,
lut also to the pioduction ol nodein individuals, a pioduction that he
species as the piocess ol leconing an individualthe nost univeisal
aspiiation lehind all the loins ol nodeinity on oei.
But it is not at all cleai that hunan iights discouise actually secuies
the autonony and agency Ignatie pionises, iathei, this discouise oeis
a loin ol piotection loi individuals that nay tiade one loin ol sulection
loi anothei, an inteivention ly an exteinal agent oi set ol institutions that
pionises to piotect individuals lion alusive state powei in pait ly ieplac-
ing that powei. (A iecent and veiy liteial case ol such an exchange was, ol
couise, the inteivention in Iiaq ly the United States and Biitain, connenc-
ing in spiing zoo and continuing thiough the piesent, which caiiied the
ag ol hunan iights and which Ignatie, in seveial naoi piess venues, has
at tines delended as a hunan iights eoit.
) While the ieplacenent nay
oi nay not le a positive one lion the standpoint ol ieducing sueiing, it
does not lollow that it necessaiily pioduces agency oi helps people to help
Moieovei, to the extent that hunan iights aie undeistood as the alility to
piotect onesell against inustice and dene ones own ends in lile, this is a
loinol enpoweinent that lully equates enpoweinent with lileial indi-
As such, the pionise ol iights to enalle the individuals capacity
to choose what one wishes to live and die loi does not addiess the histoiical,
political, and econonic constiaints in which this choice occuisagency is
dened as choice within these constiaints and thus laigely codies these
constiaints. Finally, il iights pionise a shield aiound individuals, the iight
456 Wendy Brown
to choose the lile they see t to lead (;), this shield constitutes a uiidical
linit on iegines without enpoweiing individuals as political actois, iathei,
it is an instance ol what Isaiah Beilin called and Ignatie endoises as nega-
tive lileity, the iight to le let alone to do as one wishes (;). As hunan
iights discouise diaws a line letween the space ol the individual to choose
how she oi he wants to live and the space ol politics, what Ignatie calls
enpoweinent is located in the loinei. In his lianing, hunan iights dis-
couise thus not only aspiies to le leyond politics (notwithstanding his own
insistence that it is a politics), lut caiiies inplicitly antipolitical aspiiations
loi its sulectsthat is, casts sulects as yeaining to le liee ol politics and,
indeed, ol all collective deteininations ol ends.
Thus, the noial valence
ol hunan iights, as well as its positioning ol noiality outside ol and alove
politics, inects and positions in its inage the individual hunan that iights
would enpowei and theiely pioduce.
Ignaties second clain alout the econonic and political possililities
that hunan iights set into notion would appeai to addiess these conceins.
While he insists that hunan iights nust le linited to secuiing the capacity
ol the individual to act (iathei than extended, as sone have wished, to iights
to goods such as lood, sheltei, and nedicine), he also insists that this veiy
capacity itsell constitutes the necessaiy piecondition loi political engage-
nent that in tuin can pioduce econonic inpiovenent and even secuiity.
Heie is how Ignatie stages this clain: Without the lieedon to aiticu-
late and expiess political opinions, without lieedon ol speech and assen-
lly, togethei with lieedon ol piopeity, agents cannot oiganize thenselves
to stiuggle loi social and econonic secuiity (o). He goes on to quote
Anaitya Sen: No sulstantial lanine has evei occuiied . . . in any countiy
with a denociatic loin ol goveinnent and a ielatively liee piess (o). It
is haid to knowpiecisely what causal connection is leing asseited letween
lanine and a state-contiolled piess, especially in colonial and thiid woild
settings, lut loi Ignatie, the inplications aie cleai: Civil and political
iights aie loth an essential notoi ol econonic developnent in thenselves
and also a ciitical guaiantee against coeicive goveinnent schenes and pio-
ects (o). This would seen to le as nuch a liiel loi capitalisn as loi
hunan iights, lut it is also a stiange histoiy ol nodeinity, especially in its
suggestion that national wealth is pioduced ly iathei than pioductive ol
civil lileities and constitutionalisn and in its elision ol the deloinations
ol colonialisn and a glolal econony in which the wealth ol coie states is
piedicated in pait on the poveity ol the peiipheiy.
Human Rights and the Politics of Fatalism 457
The oddness ol this naiiative is explained in pait ly an appieciation ol
what Ignatie is seeking to stave o, nanely, a lelt tilt to hunan iights
pioects that wouldeithei insist onthe piinacy ol iights to lood, sheltei, and
healthcaie oi that would aigue, noie nodestly, that civil and political iights
nust le supplenented ly such social oi econonic iights. Ignatie olects
to sucha tilt not only lecause it nakes hunaniights canpaigns noie politi-
cally anlitious and thus less innediately ecacious oi iealizalle, which
would le a ieasonalle olection lion a piagnatist, lut lecause he leais
what he tellingly calls collective iights. (Theie is, ol couise, no inheient
ieason loi iegaiding a iight to sheltei oi lood as noie ol a collective iight
than the iight to liee speech oi lieedon ol assenlly. Piesunally Ignatie
designates such iights as collective, not lecause they aie awaided collec-
tively, lut lecause ol theii cost to the collective oi peihaps even lecause
they guie us as collectively iesponsille loi one anothei.) Collective iights,
he insists, thieaten the individual and eiode the legitinacy ol iights. With
iegaid to the loinei, Ignatie aigues, individual iights without collective
iights nay le dicult to exeicise, lut collective iights without individual
ones end up in tyianny (o). While the loinulation ol collective iights in
the alsence ol individual ones in the post-Connunist woild seens sone-
thing ol a stiaw nan, it is cleai what the netonynic slide is loi Ignatie:
the iight to lood and sheltei neans the state will oiganize oi piovide then,
and il the state is in this lusiness, we aie in the land ol state socialisn, and
il we aie in the land ol state socialisn, individual iightsespecially those
lasic to liee enteipiise and liee tiadeaie piesuned to le linited. With
iegaid to the lattei, Ignatie clains that iights inationthe tendency to
dene anything desiialle as a iightends up eioding the legitinacy ol a
delensille coie ol iights (o). This delensille coie is dened as those
iights that aie stiictly necessaiy to the enoynent ol any lile whatevei
(o). Although it is haid to see what could le noie necessaiy than lood
and sheltei to such enoynent, Ignatie goes in the othei diiection, insist-
ing that civil and political lieedons aie the necessaiy condition loi the
eventual attainnent ol social and econonic secuiity (o). What Ignatie
is ieheaising, ol couise, is not an ontological account ol what hunan leings
need to enoy lile, lut iathei a political-econonic account ol what naikets
need to thiive. The giveaway is in the nal sentence ol the passage we have
leen consideiing: Without the lieedon to aiticulate and expiess political
opinions, without lieedon ol speech and assenlly, together with freedom of
property, agents cannot oiganize thenselves to stiuggle loi social and eco-
458 Wendy Brown
nonic secuiity. In sun, thiough a toituied histoiiogiaphy and a teiiilly
vulneialle set ol ontological clains, Ignatie aigues loi hunan iights as
the essential piecondition loi a liee-naiket oidei and loi the naiket itsell
as the vehicle ol individual social and econonic secuiity.
Ignaties thiid clainalout what iights incite leyond piotection against
sueiing peitains to theii cieation ol a woild ol genuine noial equality
anong hunan leings (). Foi denociats ol any stiipe, such a woild is
anothei one ol those incontestalle goods, lut Ignatie takes this point
luithei than it nay go: A woild ol noial equality is a woild ol conict,
delileiation, aigunent, and contention (). While this appeais to link
his aigunent that iights enpowei individuals to piospects loi denociatic
deteinination ol goveining values, we nust ask what nakes iightsthose
naikeis ol the desiie not to suei, to live as and loi what one individually
chooses, and to insist that ones choices le toleiateda vehicle loi liinging
us togethei to delate alout values and ends? Il iights constitute sonething
ol a shield against powei, including incuisions and coeicions ly othei indi-
viduals, il iights give us the capacity to le lelt to oui own devices, what
nakes then into a conduit loi gatheiing us into aigunent and contention
alout goveining noins oi ends? Indeed, the histoiical tension letween a
pieniunplaced on individual lileity and a pieniunplaced on goveinance
has leen lived as the conict letween centiilugal and centiipetal inpulses
in denociatic thought and piactice loi nost ol its histoiy. It took shape in
an oldei language as the lattle letween iepullican values and noie lilei-
taiian ones, in the nid-nineteenth thiough nid-twentieth centuiies as a
delate letween socialist and lileial aspiiations loi denociacy, and noie
iecently in aigunents letween lileial individualists and lileial connuni-
taiians. Rights, especially those as dependent on a univeisal noial vocalu-
laiy as hunan iights aie, haidly guaiantee local political delileiation alout
how we should live togethei, indeed, they nay lunction piecisely to linit
oi cancel such delileiation with tianscendental noial clains, ielei it to the
couits, sulnit it to cieeds ol toleiance, oi secuie an escape lion it into
piivate lives.
Taken togethei, Ignaties thiee clains alout the political possililities
set in notion ly hunan iightslai lion iepiesenting the nininalisn
with which we leganaie luilding llocks loi an aigunent that this dis-
couise can inauguiate a dieient distiilution ol powei and oidei ol ustice
in nonlileial societies. Il this weie so, it would constitute a new histoiical
loination, a new chionology in histoiy, in which iights would constitute
Human Rights and the Politics of Fatalism 459
the engine iathei than the outcone ol a loin ol populai political powei,
the lasis loi denociatic paiticipation iathei than the containnent ol it, the
place lion which denociacy staits iathei than ends. Not only is this un-
tiied, this insistence also conicts with Ignaties own notion ol iights as
a loin ol piotection lion powei and conict as well as with his coiollaiy
clain loi toleiance as the alility to live and let live.
It collides with the
ieectionol politicsthe ietieat lionthe piollenol collective poweithat
the iight to live as one wishes pionises. Moieovei, it intioduces an unie-
solved inteival letween the expiessly noial and antipolitical discouise ol
hunan iights and a politicization that this discouise is clained to pion-
ise. Peihaps nost inpoitantly, it loinulates political and social powei as
a zeio-sun gane: iights against cultuie oi the state lecone a neasuie
ol powei taken away lion thenwhat the individual has, the institutions
dont get. Fewnodein thinkeis still sulsciile to this loinulation ol powei.
Even apait lion the Foucauldian insight into the iegulatoiy dinension ol
iights that challenges itaninsight into the pioductionol sulects and sul-
ectication ly uiidical discouisetheie is the patent enpiiical lact that
Aneiicans have nevei had so nany iights (even the lawyeis cant keep tiack
ol then) and so little powei to shape collective ustice and national ains.
What we have leained in the last centuiy: il iights secuie the possilility
ol living without leai ol expiess state coeicion, they do not theiely deciease
the oveiall powei and ieach ol the state noi do they enhance the collective
powei ol the citizeniy to deteinine the contouis and content ol social, eco-
nonic, and political ustice. This is alove all lecause powei does not only
cone in soveieign oi uiidical loinand lecause iights aie not ust delenses
against social and political powei lut aie, as an aspect ol goveinnentality,
a ciucial aspect ol poweis apeituie. As such, they aie not sinply iules and
delenses against powei, lut can thenselves le tactics and vehicles ol govei-
nance and donination. Evenliee speech, oi peihaps, especially liee speech,
in an age ol coipoiately owned and goveinnentally leholden nedia, can
deepenthe sulectionol the populace to undenociatic discouises ol powei,
at the sane tine that it peinits lots ol talking.
To appieciate luithei howiights can sinultaneously shield sulects lion
ceitain aluses and lecone tactics in theii disenpoweinent, we night ie-
tuin to a point nentioned in passing alove, nanely that iights aie not
sinply attached to Kantian sulects, lut iathei pioduce and iegulate the
sulects to whonthey aie assigned.
Thus, in its veiy pionise to piotect the
individual against sueiing and peinit choice loi individuals, hunaniights
460 Wendy Brown
discouise pioduces a ceitain kind ol sulect in need ol a ceitain kind ol
piotection. Ol couise, sueiing and aluse also pioduce sulects, olten tiau-
natically so and I an ly no neans suggesting that leaving individuals vul-
neialle to such things is a noially oi politically supeiioi pioduction to that
ol hunan iights discouise. Noi, again, an I contesting the extent to which
hunan iights canpaigns nay actually linit ceitain kinds ol aluse and altei
ceitainpolicies. Rathei, the point is that theie is no suchthing as mere ieduc-
tion ol sueiing oi piotection lion alusethe natuie ol the ieduction oi
piotection is itsell pioductive ol political sulects and political possililities.
]ust as aluse itsell is nevei geneiic lut always has paiticulai social and sul-
ective content, so the nattei ol how it is ielieved is consequential. Yes, the
aluse nust le stopped lut ly whon, withwhat techniques, withwhat unin-
tended eects, and alove all, unlolding what possille lutuies? The piag-
natist, noial, and antipolitical nantle ol hunan iights discouise tends to
eschew, even iepel, iathei than invite oi addiess these questions.
We ietuin to the question with which we legan: Il hunan iights activisn
is an antipolitical politics ol sueiing ieduction that conguies a paiticu-
lai kind ol sulect and linns a paiticulai political lutuie, is the yield ol this
inteinational ustice pioect the nost we can hope loi? Especially given
the extent to which a iecently ienewed vigoi in Aneiican inpeiialisn has
leen the agent ol such sueiing (lion its Guantanano Bay gulag to its
invasions ol Iiaq and Alghanistan to its continued suppoit loi incieasingly
liutal Isiaeli piactices ol occupation) while diaping itsell in the nantle
ol hunan iights, one wondeis whethei the pioect ol noie diiectly chal-
lenging such inpeiialisn and suppoiting indigenous eoits to tiansloin
authoiitaiian, despotic, and coiiupt postcolonial iegines night le at least
as ciitical. When Donald Runsleld declaies that the Wai on Teiioiisn is
a wai loi hunan iights, as he did in spiing zooz, piepaiing Aneiicans
loi wai on Iiaq while tuining theii attention away lion loth the postwai
chaos in Alghanistan and the steady disnantling ol theii own civil lilei-
ties, we aie ieninded ol the diculty ol tiying to engage in loth kinds
ol pioects sinultaneously.
It is not only that Runsleld has co-opted the
language ol hunan iights loi inpeiialist ains alioad and antidenociatic
ones at hone, lut that insolai as the lileiation ol Alghanistan and Iiaq
pionised to delivei hunan iights to those oppiessed populations it is haid
loth to paise cynical lion sinceie deploynents ol hunan iights discouise
and to sepaiate hunan iights canpaigns lion legitinating lileial inpeii-
Heie, the disingenuousness ol Ignaties insistence, that hunan
Human Rights and the Politics of Fatalism 461
iights canpaigns aie not equivalent to installing lileialisn and the condi-
tions ol liee tiade loi the iegines they ain at, nateiializes as noie than a
piollen ol intellectual dishonesty.
Moieovei, since inteinational hunan iights aie not designed as a loin
ol collective powei oi vehicle ol populai goveinance, lut iathei as indi-
vidual shields against powei, it is haid to see how one can nove sinulta-
neously towaid individualisn and withdiawal on the one hand, and eoits
at collaloiative sell-goveinance and powei shaiing on the othei. Theie is no
keenei evidence loi this diculty than the cuiient schene ol goveinance
loi postwai Iiaq in which long-tein occupation, including loieign politi-
cal iule, and econonic developnent engineeied ly the United States and
doninated ly loieign investnent, is inplenented alongside plans loi the
developnent ol civil lileities loi Iiaqis.
It is an old iuse ol lileial ieloineis, in puisuing agendas that have signi-
cant eects in excess ol the explicit ieloin, to insist that all they aie doing
is a lit ol good oi holding lack the daik. On this view, iights sinply set
people liee to nake the woild as they see tthey do not have noinative-
oi sulect-pioducing dinensions, they do not caiiy cultuial assunptions
oi ains, they do not piesciile oi piosciile anything, they do not conguie
the political in a paiticulai way oi conpete with othei political possililities
oi discouises. They sinply expand autonony and choice. I have suggested
otheiwise and in deciding whethei the ieduction ol sueiing pionised ly
hunan iights is the nost we can hope loi, I have aigued that we nust take
account ol that which iights discouise does not avowalout itsell. It is a poli-
tics and it oiganizes political space, olten with the ainol nonopolizing it. It
also stands as a ciitique ol dissonant political pioects, conveiges neatly with
the iequisites ol lileial inpeiialisn and glolal liee tiade, and legitinates
loth as well. Il the glolal piollen today is dened as teiiille hunan sul-
leiing consequent to linited individual iights against alusive state poweis,
then hunan iights nay le the lest tactic against this piollen. But il it
is diagnosed as the ielatively unchecked glolalization ol capital, postcolo-
nial political deloinations, and supeipowei inpeiialisn conlining to dis-
enlianchise peoples in nany paits ol the ist, second, and thiid woilds
lion the piospects ol sell-goveinance to a degiee histoiically unpaialleled
in nodeinity, othei kinds ol political pioects, including othei inteinational
ustice pioects, nay oei a noie appiopiiate and lai-ieaching ienedy loi
462 Wendy Brown
inustice dened as sueiing and as systenatic disenlianchisenent lion
collaloiative sell-goveinance.
In addition to the question ol how one diagnoses the piesent ills ol the
woild, theie is anothei question heie, a genuine question, alout the natuie
ol oui tines. Is the pievention oi nitigation ol sueiing pionised ly
hunan iights the nost that can le hoped loi at this point in histoiy? Is this
wheie we aie, nanely, at a histoiical unctuie in which all noie anlitious
ustice pioects seen ienote il not utopian ly conpaiison with the task ol
liniting aluses ol individuals? Is the piospect ol a noie sulstantive denoc-
iatization ol powei so din that the ieliel and ieduction ol hunan sueiing
is ieally all that piogiessives can hope loi? Il so, then hunan iights politics
piolally deseives the suppoit ol eveiyone who caies alout such sueiing.
But il theie aie still othei histoiical possililities, il piogiessives have not yet
aiiived at this degiee ol latalisn, then we would do well to take the neasuie
ol whethei and how the centiality ol hunan iights discouise night iendei
those othei political possililities noie laint.
Michael Ignatie, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (Piinceton: Piinceton Univeisity
Piess, zoo). Sulsequent citations aie given in the text.
z Talal Asad nakes this point loi an altogethei dieient kind ol inquiiy into hunan iights:
Hunan iights depend . . . on national iights. States aie essential to the piotection
they oei. This neans that states can and do use hunan iights discouise against theii
citizensas colonial enpiies used it against theii sulectsto iealize theii civilizing
pioect (What Do Hunan Rights Do? An Anthiopological Enquiiy, Theory and Event,
online at http:[[[ouinals[theoiy and event[vooq[q.qasad.htnl. Quota-
tion lion paiagiaph ).
Michael Ignatie, Hunan Rights, in Human Rights in Political Transitions: Gettysburg to
Bosnia, ed. Caila Hesse and Roleit Post (New Yoik: Zone Books, ), z.
q See, loi exanple, Ignaties nany appeaiances in the New York Times in the past two
yeais, including Thieats and Responses: Lileials loi Wai, Sone ol the Intellectual Lelts
Longtine Doves Taking on Role ol Hawks, ly Kate Zeinike, Maich q, zoo, A6, The
Way We Live Now, zo, I An Iiaq, Maich z, ooz, sect. 6: , The Aneiican
Enpiie: The Buiden, ]anuaiy , zoo, sect. 6: zz, and nost iecently, Why Aie We in
Iiaq (And Lileiia and Alghanistan?), Septenlei z, zoo, sect. 6: 8.
Rathei disingenuously given his own liiel loi what should and should not cone undei
the unliella ol hunan iights, Ignatie denies this equation: Howpeople use theii liee-
don is up to then and theie is no ieason to suppose that il they adopt the Westein value
ol lieedon, they will give it Westein content (;).
6 By a politics, Ignatie neans taking sides, nolilizing constituencies poweilul enough
to loice aluseis to stop () anddoes not neana conpiehensive political pioect oi loina-
Human Rights and the Politics of Fatalism 463
tion. Rathei, even as he iecognizes the inpossilility ol tieating hunan iights canpaigns
as alove politics, he giounds hunan iights thenselves in the iecognition that hunan
leings ought to le piotected lion ciuelty and pain, which anounts to an alstiact noial
clain against paiticulai loins ol political powei and ains to position itsell as neutial
vis--vis cultuie and paiticulai nodalities ol political powei.
; Michael Ignatie, Nationalisn and Toleiation, in The Politics of Toleration in Modern
Life, ed. Susan Mendus (Duihan: Duke Univeisity Piess, zooo), 8.
8 This point has leen developed at length ly nany. Most ol the essays in Left Legalism/Left
Critique, ed. Wendy Biown and ]anet Halley (Duihan: Duke Univeisity Piess, zooz),
nake a contiilution to this aigunent. My own othei eoits to think thiough the piol-
len can le lound in ny essay in that volune (Sueiing Rights as Paiadoxes) as well
as chaptei ol States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity (Piinceton: Piince-
ton Univeisity Piess, ), and Revaluing Ciitique: A Response to Kenneth Baynes,
Political Theory z8.q (August zooo): q6;.
Donald Runsleld, ]une z, zooz.
o Little wondei, then, that Ignatie suppoited loth wais as hunanitaiian inteiventions
and initially, at least, downplayed theii inpeiialist ains.