The rights of political animals: Jacques Rancière’s critique of Hannah Arendt
University of Exeter
European Journal of Political Theory
In her influential discussion of the plight of stateless people, Hannah Arendt invokes the ‘right to have rights’ as the one true human right. In doing so, however, she establishes an aporia. If statelessness corresponds not only to a situation or rightlessness but to a life deprived of public appearance, how could those excluded from politics possibly claim the right to have rights? In this article I examine Jacques Rancière’s ciritque of Arendt’s aporetic account of human rights, situating this in relation to his deconstruction of Arendt’s conception of the political. According to Rancière, Arendt depoliticizes human rights in identifying the human with mere life and the citizen with the good life. Moreover, she takes the distinction between mere life and the good life to be ontologically grounded when it is what is fundamentally at stake in politics. For Rancière, the human in human rights does not correspond to any form of life. Rather, the human is a litigious name that is a condition of possibility for politics.
Pre-print version, submitted to the journal in October 2008.