The right to have rights

‘Man of the twentieth century has become just as emancipated from nature as eighteenth-century man was from history. History and nature have become equally alien to us, namely, in the sense that the essence of man can no longer be comprehended in terms of either category. On the other hand, humanity, which for the eighteenth century, in Kantian terminology, was no more than a regulative idea, has today become an inescapable fact. This new situation, in which “humanity” has in effect assumed the role formerly ascribed to nature or history, would mean in this context that the right to have rights, or the right of every individual to belong to humanity, should be guaranteed by humanity itself. It is by no means certain whether this is possible. For, contrary to the best-intentioned humanitarian attempts to obtain new declarations of human rights from international organizations, it should be understood that this idea transcends the present sphere of international law which still operates in terms of reciprocal agreements and treaties between sovereign states; and, for the time being, a sphere that is above the nations does not exist’.




Reflecting on Arendt’s famous idea of ‘the right to have rights’ Bonnie Honnig has noted that ‘the right to have rights could be seen as an authorizing ground for the claims made by those without proper standing to make them’. In Honig’s analysis, ‘the right to have rights underpins a mode of political agency as taking and positions the immigrant as a political subject that makes contestable claims and take rights on her own behalf’. (Democracy and the Foreigner, 61-62, 149)



Honig’s notion of ‘taking as a democratic enactement’ (DF, 100) also reminds us of Balibar’s argument that ‘the whole history of emancipation is not so much the history of the demanding of unknown rights, as of the real struggle to enjoy rights which have already been declared’ (Politics and the Other Scene, 6). Emancipation is the effect of the autonomy of politics for Balibar. His approach further reverberates with Rancière’s c onfiguration of politics as the recognition and establishment of ‘the part that has no part’, the poor, the women, the workers, the immigrants, the refugees. Indeed, for Rancière, politics essentially involves opposition to ‘the police order’ that underpins and sus­tains the distribution of the sensible; politics emerges as a challenge to the ‘distribution of the sensible’ by those who are excluded, ‘the part which has no part’ (The Politics of Aesthetics, 29–30). In Dis-agreement, Rancière has also considered cases of ‘staging non-existent rights’ (25), particularly referring amongst others to Jeanne Deroin, who in 1849 proclaimed herself as a citizen and became the first woman in France to stand as a candidate for national elections, despite the fact that she had no right to do so (41).




Please reference as: Maria Tamboukou (2018) ‘The right to have rights,