Human Rights – shifting borders to new limits?

Human Rights – and one may say jurisprudence in general – is dealing with the fundamental tension of setting limits in order to reach universality. This means in particular being aware of the trap entailed in this constellation. Usually it is seen as “mission impossible”, left outside of the debate of the lege feranda; here it is suggested to take up Marx’ remark in a footnote in The Capital, volume I, saying:
“Proudhon begins by taking his ideal ofjustice, of “justice éternelle”, from the juridical relations that correspond to the production of commodities: thereby, it may be noted, he proves, to the consolation of all good citizens, that the production of commodities is a form of production as everlasting as justice. Then he turns round and seeks to reform the actual production of commodities, and the actual legal system corresponding thereto, in accordance with this ideal. What opinion should we have of a chemist, who, instead of studying the actual laws of the molecular changes in the composition and decomposition of matter, and on that foundation solving definite problems, claimed to regulate the composition and decomposition of matter by means of the “eternal ideas”, of “naturalité” and “affinité”? Do we really know any more about “usury”, when we say it contradicts “justice éternelle”, “équité éternelle”, “mutualité éternelle”, and other “vérités éternelles” than the fathers of the church did when they said it was incompatible with “grâce éternelle”, “foi éternelle”, and “la volonté éternelle de Dieu”?”
Still, there is the claim of some universality needed when it comes to (human) rights – finally it is the function of law to construct a hegemonic framework which than is broken down into smaller units, guided by the principle of binarisation.
With this reference in mind it should be possible to elaborate a more historicised take on HR, demanding to refer consciously to a “progressive economy”, i.e. the potentiality of a formation oriented on the interwoven matters of
  • Producing goods, but more importantly producing people, relationships and available time
  • Producing inclusion as condition of integrity – different to ancient societies, where slaves had been doing the work that allowed non-slaves to develop themselves in commune.
Human Rights – universally meaningful, though founded in a well understood partisanship, cum ira et studio: Hegemonies … – they follow the rule which Ovid is looking at:
In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas/corpora — I intend to speak of forms changed into new entities.
Here you can find the recoding of a short presentation around these questions, given on the 12th of September 2018 at the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy.

It all starts with a form – and a remark by Albert Einstein

In fact continuing an earlier post)

Well, at least all this shows that things can apparently still be taken with humour – as written in one of the mails

The last time I saw a person from Buildings and Estates in Carrigbawn he told me that the internal building was laughable, it was so poor. That was nearly two years ago.

Sure, never forget to approach things in a humorous way – though some people go even with a smile to the gallows. Of course, the question is then why do in this case the victims go to the gallows – and not the perpetrators? The definition of gallows says that it is

for the hanging of criminals.

The only reason I can imagine for feeling criminal is bringing me back to Plato who said

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics, is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.

May be that ‘being governed’ by administrators who need to fill in a form to switch on the heating is a gallows-like penalty.

Or it is the good laugh we may get out of it: at least taken from the one mail the state of some buildings seems to be a joke – herfe it is quoted again

The last time I saw a person from Buildings and Estates in Carrigbawn he told me that the internal condition of the building was laughable, it was so poor. That was nearly two years ago.’

– Though I can understand the colleague from buildings I am not entirely sure if the laugh is so good that one comes near to suffocation, thus having another form of gallows … .

There is another thing: all this had been and is an excellent example: My entire social policy teaching yesterday had been based on this little incidence. In class we talk currently about rights and law – you may refer to this concise definition by Kant, stating:

Right is therefore the sum of the conditions under which the choice of one can be united with the choice of another in accordance with universal law.

(Kant, Immanuel, 1797_E: The Metaphysics of Morals. Translated and edited by Mary Gregor. With an Introduction by Roger J. Sullivan; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996: 24)

And of course, the problem is the reflexive (or we may say tautological) character, typical for ‘modern societies’ and in very simple terms already criticised by Einstein, saying

we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

The challenge then is to overcome the permanent tension, immanent in law of the modern capitalist society, a political system that is characterised by liberality of economic activity based on private property executed by individuals within the framework of the nation state …

Of course, the limitation is already visible in the claim of general moral and intellectual virtues as spelled out by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics:

  • prudence, justice, fortitude, courage, liberality, magnificence, magnanimity, temperance
  • justice, perseverance, empathy, integrity, intellectual courage, confidence in reason, autonomy.

One of the very fundamental flaws with it can be grasped by the inherent naive individualism and protectionism which then later could serve as fertile ground for individualism – and as such it is about a paralysing effect of a normative system that claims to inform individual, however is reduced to permanently reproducing itself within this idealist gist without being able to emerge as actual social force.

What remains in this perspective as solution is limited: the self-construction of individuals, the justification of the Leviathan as personification of the social and evidencing its individualist stance: the superpower, allowed to do everything, by Weber (in his Politics as Vocation) said to have the

monopoly of the legitimate use of violence

and with all this lacking the fundamental force of genuine relational sociability. The state based on righteousness emerging as state based on law. The state as ré-total instead of being a ré-publique – already outlined in much earlier writing by Emanuel Joseph Sieyes.

And the only legitimate power can then even come along and deny the rights: class education, institutional racism, gender inequality. Of course, it is the social science that occupies the part of the five-start-university’s infrastructure that are in the worst conditions; of course it is the working class that is still hugely underrepresented in third-level education; of course it is gender that plays a role when it comes to the choice of subjects and of positions in the hierarchy of academic positions; of course it is the working class that is still largely left outside of the equation when it comes to reflecting on social policy which limits itself on administration, good-doing and injustice rather than talking about class conflict – and of course we decry the discrimination of individual students on ground of ‘race’ without however honestly contesting the fundamental parochialism of our Western societies that allow capital to move freely within a globalised economy (that is still hugely structured by centre-periphery inequalities), a parochialism that consoles ‘ordinary people’: as long as they adopt the culture of wingless consumers: chicken nuggets, wrapped in tight seats of low-fare airlines, allowing the illusion of also living in the global village. Sure, those who do not adopt the rules have to adapt to other rules: detention, deportation and/or permanent control and oppression … – all part of the of picture which the German writer Bert Brecht once characterised by the words: ‘The lap is still fertile that allowed this to grow …’ (Brecht had been reflecting on fascism – at a time what it had been overcome, but its roots had still been in place). And just while writing these lines I receive the news that some German parliamentarians lost their immunity because they participated in a protest action against a gathering of fascists in Dresden.

All these ‘injustices’ and ‘social imbalances’ remain within the outlined system – legitimate as long as they are geared towards spaces for this self-construction. Surely a painful process – even if self-construction is about self-deconstruction of those victims who are blamed to be responsible for their situation: suicide, addiction, consumerism, criminality, the victims made to those ‘perpetrators’ that become ‘clients’ of social professions. And it is a painful process even if it is only the pain of a cold office, or the pain of

‘part of the roof of Carrigbawn (the decorative wooden bit, complete with nails sticking out) which fell off during last night’s storm’

and which had been picked up by Angela and luckily did not hurt anybody.