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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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Perplexities of Human Rights

Perplexities of Human Rights

(p.25) 1. Perplexities of Human Rights
Rightlessness in an Age of Rights

Ayten Gündoğdu

Oxford University Press

The chapter examines the distinctive contours of Arendt’s critique of human rights and centers on her analysis of “the perplexities of the Rights of Man” in The Origins of Totalitarianism. Arendt’s analysis highlights the need to rethink human rights in the light of challenging problems of rightlessness such as those posed by the twentieth-century crisis of statelessness. What distinguishes Arendt’s critique from that of various others (including those offered by Bentham, Burke, Marx, and recently, Agamben) is its aporetic approach attentive to the equivocal and contingent trajectories of human rights. To understand Arendt’s aporetic inquiry of human rights, the chapter turns to her reflections on Socrates, especially in The Life of the Mind. The analysis in this chapter responds to Jacques Rancière’s argument that Arendt’s critique renders human rights tautological or void. Contra what Rancière argues, Arendt’s aporetic approach allows her to interweave a radical critique of human rights with a call for radical rethinking in terms of a right to have rights.

Keywords:   Rights of Man, Socrates, aporia, equivocality, contingency, Jacques Rancière, Giorgio Agamben, Jeremy Bentham, Edmund Burke, Karl Marx

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