Liberal order under stress : Arendt, Benhabib, Rancière on the right to have rights

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Heintz, Teresa
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In the 20th century, national minorities and stateless people challenged the liberal premise that every human being has inherent human rights. It became apparent that people who have no rights other than that of being a human being enjoy neither rights nor legal protection. This paper examines how the "right to have rights" challenges liberalism's assumptions about self-determination, public and private spheres, and the equality of liberal subjects, and compares how the theories of Hannah Arendt, Seyla Benhabib and Jacques Rancière offer alternative responses to those liberal assumptions. Arendt challenges the liberal distinction between public and private life by emphasizing political action and membership in a community for the realizability of human rights. Rancière criticizes Arendt's depoliticization of marginalized lives and their relegation to the private sphere but recognizes a redistribution of power in political subjectivity through the demand for human rights. Benhabib seeks an ethical foundation for international human rights institutions but does not address Weberian paradox and collective political action. The thesis argues that if the liberal order takes seriously its demands for freedom, equality, and self-determination, it sees human rights not as pre-political, innate, or contractual, but as a disruption of the political order in which rights-holders can act as political subjects among equals.
Second semester University: Lund University
liberalism, human rights, political theories, philosophy, public-private, self-determination