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Rightlessness in an Age of Rights$
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Ayten Gundogdu

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199370412

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199370412.001.0001

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Human Rights as Politics and Anti-Politics

Human Rights as Politics and Anti-Politics

(p.55) 2. Human Rights as Politics and Anti-Politics
Rightlessness in an Age of Rights

Ayten Gündoğdu

Oxford University Press

The chapter engages with Arendt’s notorious concept of “the social” in response to the claim that her critique of the Rights of Man results from her distaste for the politicization of social issues (e.g., Jacques Rancière). Partially agreeing with this claim, this chapter suggests that understanding contemporary struggles of migrants demands rethinking and revising Arendt’s arguments. The multiple and conflicting uses of “the social” in her works, as can be seen in her divergent assessments of Karl Marx and the French Revolution, offer novel interpretive possibilities in this regard. The chapter points to these possibilities by providing an unconventional reading of Arendt’s critique of the Jacobin approach to poverty in On Revolution. It mobilizes this reading to think critically about the anti-political trajectories that human rights can take and points to some worrisome contemporary trends: the rise of a compassionate humanitarianism centered on suffering, the tendency to treat challenging human rights problems as matters of humanitarian administration, and the rise of a military humanitarianism. The chapter finally turns to Arendt’s account of the labor movement in The Human Condition and concludes that an Arendtian politics of human rights centers on the democratic agency of subjects whose rights are at stake.

Keywords:   the social, poverty, Karl Marx, Jacobin, French Revolution, Rights of Man, compassion, humanitarianism, Jacques Rancière, labor movement

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