I have argued in the past in a somewhat formalistic manner that human rights are not really different from civic rights (or “Rights of Man” from the “Rights of the Citizen,” to return to the 18th century formulation that circulated between the American and the French Revolutions). So that a “politics of human rights” – which I do not identify with “humanitarian politics” – is a quasi-tautological notion: apart from politics, or without a political system of institutions and actions, not only is there no implementation of human rights, but there is also no “right” within these “rights.” This sounds Spinozistic: ius sive potentia, and I may have to return to the meaning of this equation, but it is also not incompatible with an Arendtian proposition (or a certain way of understanding it), especially if we consider its negative side: when civic rights are destroyed or annihilated, “human rights” are not simply suspended, they are in fact deprived of any content and meaning. As I argued (admittedly, I was not the first), this does not mean that we must shift foundations, exchanging a humanistic-naturalistic-universalistic “ideal” foundation, the kind adopted by Natural Rights theorists, for a political-historical-institutional “positive” foundation, but rather that we must give up the intention of “founding,” while certainly not giving up (much less) the objectives of a politics of human rights; hence, the idea of a foundationless [grundlose] politics of rights and the idea of “rights” being themselves without foundation, whether ontological or transcendental, but with a conflictual history of conquests and resistances. It is my intention in this paper not simply to reassert these propositions, but to reflect on their difficulties and their consequences. But I want to do it by taking into account another dimension of the problem, which perhaps is underlying the question that we have been asked to address in this conference: why is it that the explicit notion of a “politics of human rights” was enunciated and, in fact, acquired meaning only relatively recently, in the course of the second half of the 20th century? Was this simply the result of a historical décalage, a naming a posteriori of what had always existed since the beginning, which emerged only in the process of a subsequent iteration and generalization? Is there a substantial difference between the politics of human rights of, say, Toussaint Louverture and that of Martin Luther King? Or was this the result of the fact that a politics of human rights, always involved in the very constitution of such rights, increasingly met with external obstacles and internal contradictions, which called not only for a reiteration of their importance, but also a new critical reflection on their relation to the political? So, perhaps, the motto of human rights could remain a guideline in politics only on the condition of being radically revisited, in particular from the point of view of its alleged “foundations.” Before I enter into discussion of this difficult issue, I want to briefly recall some of the circumstances in which a debate around the very notion and contents of the politics of human rights, pro et contra, has developed in the last decades.

It seems to me that, after the category of human rights was universalized and codified as the horizon of international law and the program of action of international institutions after the Second World War in the framework of reflections on a recent genocide and a growing awareness of the unacceptability of racism (but it is important to notice here that, although they had a substantial relation to them, anti-colonialist struggles were not mainly fought in the name of human rights, perhaps they had to take often the form of national wars of liberation), four main debates have led to problematizing the notion of a “politics of human rights.” The first was launched internally and internationally by the growing resistances and tensions inside the “socialist camp,” announcing its future collapse, which included the protest and repression of Soviet dissidents, Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, and Solidarnosc in Poland. The intimate link between the recognition of basic civil and political rights and the conquest of democracy (to borrow ironically a formula from Marx's Communist Manifesto) was there absolutely clear. A second debate (which to some extent would reverse the lessons from the first) was launched in the wake of new genocides or mass massacres, combined with famines and other seemingly natural catastrophes, especially in Africa before and after Rwanda. These events led to the introduction of the notions of humanitarian crisis, humanitarian right, and humanitarian intervention. They remain deeply contested to this date, not only, juridically speaking, because they conflict with an international order based on the sovereignty of nation-states, but because “humanitarian right” turns out to be intimately combined with imperialist strategies for policing the world.1 The third and fourth debates that I want to mention are less easily connected to singular events. Instead, they take the form of steadily mounting tensions between claims of rights and a conservative social order, which is protected by the law and states but which must also face the possibility of a true revolution in its principles. I am thinking, first, of the internationalization of the movement for the equal rights of women and for the abolition of violences to which women are subjected in both the public and the domestic sphere. It culminated, officially, in the 1995 Conference in Beijing, which however was also the moment when it became clear that feminism was torn between different languages and strategies, or itself divided along class and especially culture lines. And I am thinking, second, of the growing importance of the issue of “cultural rights” that, arising from the old problem of the protection of minorities, now stretches over a broad spectrum of political questions. They include on one side the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples to resist ethnocide and the destruction of their environment (as stated in the Vienna declaration of 2001)2 and on the other side what Jürgen Habermas calls a “strategic claim” of cultural rights (as distinct from a “normative” one), which is the instrument of new powers emerging on the global stage, seeking to challenge the Western hegemony not only in the field of economy, diplomacy, or the military, but also in the field of values.

From these hasty allusions, I want now to draw three lessons.

One, the inclusion of human rights in the field of politics – as driving motives and forces, which means indeed that they cannot remain at the level of moral principles or values and which thus retrieves something of the Kantian notion of Weltbürgerrecht (which is already a political or a meta-political notion) but with a new capacity to challenge and in fact destabilize the constitution of existing states – is bound to remain controversial. For some, it is much too political, for others it is not enough. We are in a zone of constitutive uncertainty. In an important controversy taking place in France in the early 80's, Claude Lefort argued against Marcel Gauchet that a politics of human rights does exist, and it is not concerned only with securing, guaranteeing, and protecting existing rights, but with asserting and conquering them, and in fact defining them, since their content is never derived from some pre-existing heaven of ideas, but emerging from the immanent claims of emancipation of the citizens themselves.3 In adopting this position, he was certainly influenced by the contemporary action of Solidarnosc and similar movements, and he would call the process in which basic rights are simultaneously defined and vindicated an invention of democracy, meaning that its forms and principles are not inherited or established once for ever but historically produced, with ever new contents that could not be anticipated and, to some extent, may become irreversible. This idea has explicit Arendtian roots, but it seems to me that it is also not incompatible with Habermas’ notion of the Ebenbürtigkeit of human rights and democracy, except that the accent is not on the correlation between a constituted normative order and a constitutive intersubjectivity of equal liberties, but rather on the historical breakthrough, the movement of “permanent revolution” so to speak, without which rights would be neither conceived nor recognized.4

A second lesson derives from debates on humanitarian policies and humanitarian interventions, which brought to the fore another, more antinomic aspect of the question. This was the case, in my opinion, because humanitarian crises and urgencies, whose causes are ultimately political or rooted in a political system through the mediation of “natural” processes, do really exist and (as in the case of past genocides) are made partly possible by the more or less intentional passivity of other nations. But, while this urgency could lead us to have a notion of human rights prevail over the representation of state sovereignty as an absolute, it makes it in fact all the more intolerable ethically and untenable logically when we see the combination of humanitarian discourse with the militarization of politics (which most of the time aggravates the crises it is supposed to heal), and above all the instrumentalization of the notion of humanitarian crisis to serve imperialist strategies. The crises to be addressed are selected according to economic interests, propaganda patterns, or hopes of easy victory. What destroys their legitimacy from the inside is also the fact that the same powers who carry on or decide most of humanitarian interventions (mainly in the space of ex-colonial empires) are also nowadays waging a latent war against refugees and migrants on or outside the borders of their sovereign territories.5 Thus, they completely except themselves from the application of the rules whose universal validity they are eager to proclaim. There are three ways of interpreting this contradiction, which blatantly affects the idea of a politics of human rights. One of them is to declare, along traditional Marxist lines, that human rights, and, a fortiori, “humanitarianism,” were never anything else than a cover for imperialist policies that needed moral justification, in other terms an ideology (a name in which we must hear the etymology: “ideo-logy”). Another one is to consider that there are two independent realms: one of ideas and one of practices, where, depending on the quality of the agents, the ideas can become used either for good or for bad, i.e. either there is a right use of the right taking place or there is a wrong, perverse, use of the right, between which we must choose, exercising judgment.6 This is a Platonic view of politics, which sees it as a continuous (but also essentially desperate) attempt at reaching the harmony of ideas and realities and bridging the gap between them. In fact the two interpretations are completely symmetrical. I prefer a third interpretation (which tries to be more “dialectical”): the politics of human rights is intrinsically ambiguous, it involves (on both sides of the ideal combination of a democratic constitution with the protection of basic rights and the implementation of new, expanded rights) the insurrectional movements linked with the invention of democracy, but also the instrumental uses of the idea of human rights to legitimize the status quo and strategies of domination.

This is an intrinsic antinomy, which we can address only from the inside, i.e. politically, and which is impossible to leave to moral judgment alone (even if, clearly, it involves an ethical choice). Therefore, a politics of human rights must be also a politics of the second order or a “politics of politics” as it were, reflecting the consequences of its insurrections and resisting the modalities of its perversions.7 In my opinion this is a powerful hint at the validity of the Arendtian view of a “groundless” politics, which I interpret in a Machiavellian sense, indicating that there is no transcendental or normative guarantee that the use of human rights in politics will produce the anticipated results or realize the right (justice, if you like) designated in “the rights.” What is important in Arendt, coinciding with her insistence on the fact that politics, judgment, and uncertainty are coextensive, is the fact that she inscribes a lack of a guarantee within the very notion of human rights as basic rights. The issue of a “right to have rights” is not to be understood, I think, in terms of a higher level of abstraction (or a transcendental “condition of possibility”), the equivalent of a Grundnorm from which all the concrete rights could be deduced or justified. Instead, it should be seen as an immanent practical problem, both institutional and militant, that commands the effective realization of justice within rights. However, there is a question that cannot be ignored about this point. It was raised by several readers of Arendt, including Habermas, who is rather favorable to her, and France Jacques Rancière, who is much less favorable and in fact is opposed to her concept of the political. Is not there a tendency in Arendt to replace transcendental idealism with another idealism, which we could call political, or still better, republican, whereby – mainly following ancient models of the Greek city-state – a politics of human rights becomes oriented towards an idea of the community of citizens: a polity which also involves limiting the realm of human rights?8 In particular, it would exclude what is deemed to belong to the private sphere, thus finally reinforcing the public vs. private divide with which many claims of emancipation have been historically colliding. This is a serious question, one which I leave aside for the moment, to suggest a third lesson to be drawn from contemporary debates. It will reinforce the picture of a politics of human rights that is intrinsically antinomic – therefore, in my opinion, all the more congenial to a rigorous concept of the political.

A moment ago, I alluded to the central function of the vindication of the rights of women (as Mary Wollstonecraft wrote already more than 200 years ago or the equality of the sexes, as we would more likely say today), which clearly has become one of the cutting edges in the future invention of democracy (also, I would suggest, because such “rights” are not to be univocally located in any of the categories that have become codified to hierarchize different “generations” of basic rights).9 Simultaneously, I referred to the progressive emergence of a broad notion of cultural rights and rights to cultural preservation, cultural integrity, whose cutting edge, again, can be located in the terrain of post-colonial contradictions. It is now fairly perceptible that there is a latent contradiction between different, heterogeneous claims of rights. This contradiction sometimes becomes open, violent, and of course can also become instrumentalized by existing powers according to their own agendas but, I believe, is not created by them. The question is: at what level, in which anthropological realities, is this contradiction to be located? Is it at the very level of the conditions of human and social life, or “only,” so to speak, in the historical, traditional forms of political institutions? But is this distinction itself relevant here? Better said, is it not becoming an absurdity when we reason not in terms of some abstract definition of what would be essential to the human condition abstractly defined but in terms of the agencies and transformations within the institutions themselves? And the question is also: how can we resolve this kind of contradiction (which is not a contradiction between the universal and the particular, or different particularities, but in fact between “conflicting universalities”)?10 Is it perhaps through the ordering of human rights, declaring that some rights are more basic than others (a move that, let us note in passing, the French and American authors of the Bills of Rights and Declarations carefully avoided but emerged again later in the “liberal” era in the form of declaring personal liberties more basic than, for example, social rights)?

Now we should be extremely careful in describing the nature of the conflict between, for instance, the claim of the equality of the sexes and the defence of cultural integrity threatened by culturalist hegemony or by modernization processes prompted by deregulated capitalist expansion. Much depends politically, especially in terms of the capacity of “solving the contradictions within the people” (as Mao would have said), on how we describe the contradictions and according to whose point of view we choose to describe them.11 We should particularly avoid (as was importantly recalled by Suzanne Baer)12 confusing a defense (or a protection or vindication) of the cultural rights of subjects who are embedded in a given culture (be it Western or Oriental, individualistic or holistic) with a defense of the rights, i.e. the powers, of a hypostasized group over its own members. The difficulty however begins when we stick to the democratic notion that a right “empowers” its bearers, i.e. it can be defined and authorized only by those subjects who need it and fight for it. Remember the formula coined by Marx in the Provisional Statutes of the International Working Men's Association: “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves,” which I take to be a perfect illustration of the insurrectional aspect of the “right to have rights.” It could be replicated in the form: “the emancipation of women must be conquered by the women themselves”, and many other variations. The difficulty comes from the fact that the hierarchy of claims and rights can prove aporetic or it can depend on conjuncture – which is often one of violent constraint for the subjects, since they are torn between conflicting interests. Where begins the destruction of the personality associated with a violent disruption of the cultural framework (most of the time also hierarchic) within which this personality was formed? How do we assess the differential effects of such a disruption on different individuals, males and females respectively, if we do not listen carefully to their own voices, which are never disinterested voices? But how do we hear the multiple layers of these voices, especially if they are constrained by some social order, unless there is a political movement to make the mute audible? Who is to be defined the subaltern of the subaltern, which is to say who is the ultimate agent of the politics of human rights? Is this the woman, doubly oppressed within the dominated societies and cultures on the global market? Or is this the woman of color, of non-western culture, again doubly oppressed within a world of persisting male dominance? My tentative answer would be: the answer depends on the exact local situation, the cases considered, the type of issue (be it education, or the division of labor, or the sexual rights within marriage, etc.), and also the choices made by the agents themselves, which can certainly change over time. Nobody else can speak for them.

This leads us to a more general consideration, deeply affecting our representation of the relationship between claims of rights, conditions of democracy, and the ideal line of progress in history. The representation of a linear progress, even ideal, can hold only if basic rights can be added to one another while remaining essentially coherent, i.e. if equal liberty, the core formula of the universality of human rights and the key to its equivalence with an expanding democracy, cannot contradict itself. But this is not the case, neither historically nor logically (it would be very important, philosophically, to reflect again about the reasons why we tend to believe that the universal must be non-contradictory…). The experience that we are having now is that of permanent conflicts between different forms, or aspects, of emancipation (different “emancipatory interests”), therefore also between their bearers – or even sometimes within the experience and consciousness of the bearers themselves, who are considered and consider themselves acting under different relations, with different “identities” if you like (but identities are always relations). This was truly unthinkable for the classical theorists of equal liberty. As I understand it, it is not the same thing as a conflict between juridical norms, which can be resolved either through the use of force (remember Marx's phrase in Capital about the social conflicts concerning the organization of labor: “zwischen gleichen Rechten entscheidet die Gewalt”),13 or, in the positivist representation of the constitutional order, through their parallel derivations from and limitations by the same Grundnorm. It is rather a case of the antinomy of politics itself, located in the identification of its agents and their non-negotiable interests. Therefore, albeit from a different angle, it raises again the issue of what I have called a politics of politics: particularly in order to decide which compromises or articulations of rights must be left to authorities and which ones must be elaborated by the people themselves, in the form of intellectual debates and social movements. Clearly, from a democratic point of view, the second solution should be preferred but this is only a tendency (as democracy itself is only a tendency towards its own “democratization”), it is only partially possible and ought to be maximized in given circumstances. In any case, we are faced with an additional indication that the issue of a politics of human rights must abandon the ideal picture of being either a revelation of the eternal laws of justice or a linear evolution on the line of rationality. The idea of an invention, which I borrowed from Lefort a moment ago, must now be taken in an even stronger sense: it involves a struggle against forms of oppression and discrimination which were not previously recognized, but also a struggle with its own internal antinomies. Therefore it is doubly hazardous, “aleatory” as my master Althusser would have said.

It seems to me that this in fact takes us back to what had defined from the beginning the recognition of the political character of human rights, in the form of the equivalence between “rights of man” and “rights of the citizen,” or rights of man as conditions of unlimited access to civic responsibility and participation, because this recognition was centered on the reciprocity of freedom and equality. But such a form of reciprocity, as I have argued elsewhere,14 can become exposed only in a negative form, the form of a logical elenchus: there is neither a realization of freedom without equality nor a realization of equality without freedom. It presents us always with a problem, or with aleatory solutions, rather than the image of a consistent “normative order.”

From this I will return to the question that I had left aside, albeit mentioning it as a possible objection against the Arendtian idea of a groundless politics of human rights – therefore a notion of human rights that is absolutely anti-foundationalist. You may want to say in more philosophical terms that it inscribes them in the horizon of radical finitude. This is the question of the model of community that is involved in defining human rights as civic rights – if there is one. It is a question that could be directed at Kant because of the well-known oscillations of his notion of “Weltbürgerrecht” between different historical and institutional modalities. It is also a question that can be asked (or an objection that can be made) imaginarily to Arendt. But it is in fact rather an intrinsic problem that we can try to discuss with the help of Kant and Arendt through a disclosure of tensions that are latent in their own work.

Leaving aside (with regret) Kant for another occasion, I believe that it will be useful here to start again from the crucial event that repeatedly confirmed Arendt's philosophical argument: totalitarian regimes policies of extermination (themselves part of a general triumph of ideologies involving the suppression of personal and political liberties, and also the institution of “permanent revolution,” at least ideally, since in practice the revolution soon became, literally speaking, a “conservative revolution”). The historical lesson is drawn in advance in the now famous chapter on “The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man,”15 in the form, once again, of a negative theorem, a refutation or an elenchus: it is not the case that human rights, qua rights of the human Person, can be preserved (not only materially, but, I would say, conceptually, with a definable substance) if the civic community to which individuals “belong,” where they are recognized as bearers of rights (where their “dignity” is recognized, if you like), is itself destroyed. Hence the ironic reference to a Burkean argument, once directed against the proclamation of the Rights of Man: there is no subject of rights (or bearer of their corresponding duties), outside membership in a political community or prior to it.

Now this negative theorem calls for two qualifications before we can decide whether it leads to sacralizing the existing form of political community – the nation – or not. First, as extensively demonstrated in her book, Arendt is not so much interested in the brute fact of extermination, although it keeps extending its shadow on the whole situation considered, reminding us that this is a situation of extreme violence in which the social bond itself becomes negated or radically perverted (and maybe this is always the horizon within which certain rights can become recognized as fundamental or “human,” i.e. such that the divide between humanity and inhumanity or the presence of the inhuman inside the human becomes perceptible). She is indeed interested not so much in this fact than in the modalities, i.e. the social production of “non-persons” or “superfluous human beings,” likely to be eliminated through a variety of legal and ideological means. The problematic of phenomena like elimination, radical exclusion, and disposable humans is indeed crucial today more than ever, and I would suggest that Alessandro Dal Lago has given an exceptionally brilliant analysis of its meaning.16 Seyla Benhabib should also be mentioned here in the first place, for what concerns in particular the production of the stranger as interior enemy in Western developed societies (and possibly others) today.17 The second qualification is what we call a destruction or a collapse of the community of citizens here is again a very paradoxical one, since it takes often the form of an intensification of the ideological and political forms that are supposed to produce – and do actually produce to an amazing extent – the fusion of citizens into a substantial unity, be it “racial” or otherwise ideological (particularly in the form of what Eric Voegelin had called political religions). So in a sense the collapse of the community, which produces “non-persons,” is in fact an absolutization of the community. We are thus tempted to read in Arendt an antinomic proposition: just as she would later reflect on the devastating effects of the positivist tautology: law is law (and it must be obeyed because it is the law), she would have already inscribed a self-destructive dimension in the very heart of the community's constructive principle, the gathering of free and equal citizens under the authority of the same law.

It is from here that, I believe, we can return to the dilemma of the sacralization of the community. I will entirely grant Habermas and Rancière that there is in Arendt a tendency to draw the lessons of the processes of extermination in terms of a vindication of an existing model of the community of citizens (or rather an imaginary model strangely combining yearnings for the ancient polis with an idealization of the “lost treasure of revolution,” i.e. the early modern, not to say the romantic universalistic nation-state). This is especially influential in her resistance to the idea of politically challenging the “public vs. private” division of social life, possibly because the invasion of the private sphere by political surveillance and ideological constraint was so typical of totalitarian regimes (today it is mainly commercial TV and computer games or “social networks” that invade privacy). Let me also suggest that this is not inconsistent with the way in which the Charter of the UN was believed to be able to solve the dramatic issue of stateless people, refugees, and displaced victims of the world wars by simultaneously codifying an individual's right to nationality and right to change that nationality.18

But perhaps there is another way to read Arendt, or to think with Arendt beyond Arendt herself: this is to suggest that what “exterminist” processes, and more generally the production of “non-persons” on a mass scale, demonstrate is the reciprocity or the mutual inherence of a universalistic notion of human rights, and the belonging – not necessarily in the form of exclusive belonging – of individuals, qua “citizens” in the broad sense, to a political community. Now a political community, however flexible its forms, can certainly not remain ideal, it must be instituted, legally but also socially and morally. If it is not to become absolutized, therefore self-destructive, it must remain conflictual (or, as Weber would say, it should remain essentially “illegitimate”)19: which is also the condition for basic rights to become vindicated or “invented” politically inside its limits or against its positive laws, e.g. through civil disobedience and through the exercise of the right of resistance (another instantiation of the “right to have rights”). In short, it is historically finite, distinct from a Stoic or Kantian idea of the moral community. But it is not identical with the nation-state per se, especially if the circumstances leading to the manifestation of hitherto unrecognized basic rights, making contradictions between heterogeneous rights impossible, substantializing identities, or entirely excluding entire groups of residents, can be shown to have an intrinsic relationship to the nation-form. In these conditions, the “community of citizens,” which the Arendtian argument calls for, is no longer an existing community or an existing form of community to be ideally located in the past. It becomes – to put it in quasi-Derridian terms – a “community to come,” or a community without a model, which is bound to appear first as a “non-community,” but is virtually there in the struggles themselves. From this point of view, it is tempting to say that human rights are neither “moral” nor “juridical,” they are insurrectional, which means that they are political, but also that the political is not isolated from its “impolitical” side, the democratic invention of the institution beyond its given limitations.

  1. 1

    A question which has been brilliantly synthesized by Costas Douzinas. Human Rights and Empire: The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism (New York: Routledge Cavendish, 2007).

  2. 2

    Cf. Elsa Stamatopoulou, Cultural Rights in International Law. Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Beyond (Leiden and Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2007).

  3. 3

    Marcel Gauchet's essential article is “Les droits de l'homme ne sont pas une politique,” Le Débat 3 (July/August 1980), 2–21; this article was reprinted in: Marcel Gauchet. La démocratie contre elle-même (Paris: Gallimard, 2002); Lefort's answer to this statement “Droits de l'homme et politique,” Libre 7, (1980), now forms Chapter 1 of his book L'invention démocratique (Paris: Fayard, 1981).

  4. 4

    Jürgen Habermas, Faktizität und Geltung. Beiträge zur Diskurstheorie des Rechts und des demokratischen Rechtsstaates (Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp,1992), essentially Chapter III.

  5. 5

    Alessandro Dal Lago and Sandro Mezzadra. “I confini impensati del Europa [The Unimagined Frontiers of Europe]” in Europa politica: Ragioni di una necessità edited by Heidrun Friese Antonio Negri, and Peter Wagner (Roma: Manifestolibri 2002). See my commentary: “Europe, an “Unimagined” Frontier of Democracy,” Diacritics, no. 3/4, Vol. 33 (Autumn – Winter, 2003), 36–44.

  6. 6

    This critique is already there in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (chapter VI, C.c, on the “displacements” or Verstellungen of morality) (Conscience. The Beautiful Soul, Evil and its Forgiveness), cf. G.W.F Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979).

  7. 7

    I have used this expression already in my book: Violence et Civilité (The Wellek Library Lectures 1996 et autres essais de philosophie politique), (Paris: Editions Galilée, 2010), (forthcoming English Translation, Columbia University Press).

  8. 8

    Jacques Rancière, “Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?” in The South Atlantic Quarterly 103:2/3, (Spring/Summer 2004), 297–310.

  9. 9

    T.H. Marshall famously proposed a classification of “fundamental rights” as “civil,” “political,” and “social,” as corresponding to successive historical stages in the invention of “modernity,” which remains very influential today (Thomas Humphrey Marshall, Citizenship and Social Class (1950) (London: Pluto Press, 1987)). Without losing every lesson from this classification, one can object that the order of linear succession is not valid for every national history and is even inverted in the framework of current “neo-liberal” politics.

  10. 10

    To answer a question asked by Professor Jürgen Habermas in the oral discussion and clarify as much as possible my reference to Hegel, I would submit that the defense of a right to cultural identity should not be confused with a defense of “particularism”: the identity itself may be “particular” (it always is), but the right to such an identity is “universal,” as demonstrated by the fact that to deny it can be done only in the name of some other particular identity (e.g. national, or republican) that is wrongly presented as “universal.”

  11. 11

    This also means that we cannot not choose a determinate point of view (or there would be no real conflict). But we are not forced to stay in permanence with the same point of view, without dialogue or dialectics.

  12. 12

    Cf. Susanne Baer, “Privatizing Religion. Legal Groupism, No-Go-Areas, and the Public-Private-Ideology in Human Rights Politics”, in Constellations, 20.1.

  13. 13

    Karl Marx, Das Kapital, in MEW, no. 23, 1 (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1981), 349.

  14. 14

    E. Balibar, “La proposition de l’égaliberté” (1989) in La proposition de l’égaliberté. Essais politiques 1989–2009 (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2010). English translation as “Rights of Man and Rights of the Citizen,” in Masses, Classes, Ideas. Studies in Politics and Philosophy, (New York: Routledge, 1994).

  15. 15

    Cf. Chapter 9, Part II, Imperialism in Hannah Arendt. The Origins of Totalitarianism (Washington: Harvest Book, 1976).

  16. 16

    A. Dal Lago, Non-persone. L'esclusione dei migranti in una società globale (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1999).

  17. 17

    Seyla Benhabib. The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents and Citizens (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

  18. 18

    E. Balibar, “Toward a Diasporic Citizen? Internationalism and Cosmopolitics,” in The Creolization of Theory edited by Françoise Lionnet, Shu Mei-Shi (Durham: Duke University Press 2011), 207–225.

  19. 19

    Max Weber, “The Plebeian City,” part of Max Weber, The City (1914) (New York: The Free Press, 1968) or as part of Economy and Society, Vol. II (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).


  1. Top of page
  2. Biography
  • Currently Professor of Philosophy at Kingston University London and Visiting Professor at Columbia University, New York. He is the author of Reading Capital (with Louis Althusser, 1965); Race, Nation, Class (Verso, 1991, with Immanuel Wallerstein), Spinoza and Politics (Verso 1998); and We, the People of Europe? (Princeton, 2004).