Having read Ranciere’s “Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?” multiple times now, I find that fully comprehending the ideas and assertions of the essay is rather complex and confusing. Personally, I was completely hung up on the statement which Ranciere uses (albeit halfway through his essay) as the foundation for his arguments: “the Rights of Man are the rights of those who have not the rights that they have and have the rights they have not” (5). What? I had hoped that class today would clarify this but it seems to have baffled the majority of us. Ranciere explains that according to Arendt, rights are “Either a void or a tautology” (5). However, he believes there is a third assumption which is ignored in Arendt’s arguments and that is what brings us to the previously stated and extremely complicated sentence. Essentially, what comes out of his musings are two things: first, that rights are written inscriptions for society, and second that they are the rights of those who use and verify the validity of their rights.
Since Andrea already posted a very thorough blog on the arguments of Ranciere, I’d like to focus on the conclusion that Ranciere draws from his new third assumption. He traces the progression of the Rights of Man from being the rights of those with certain civic rights to becoming Human Rights and eventually the new right to “humanitarian interference.” By his account, Rights of Man were essentially the “rights of the rightless” (1), which lead to the obligation of society to uphold those rights for them. In modern, western society, humanitarian aide is generally considered one of the highest goods a person or nation can do. However, Ranciere uses curiously negative language in his description of this phenomenon and I wonder what he may be implying when he describes the right to humanitarian interference as “the right to invasion” (1)?
Historically, many wars have occurred over what seems to be Human Rights. World War II is best remembered for victory over Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. The War in Iraq is said to have began in order to free the Iraqis from their tyrannical leader. The Civil War is remembered best as the war in which the Yankees freed the slaves. However, is this really why the wars began or have we simply started using this new right to humanitarian interference as an excuse for personal gain? In my opinion, nations have abused this new right as both an excuse to conquer and a way to rally its subjects. It seems that as a nation, we only act when we are either provoked or it is to our advantage. Because of this, defending the rights of the rightless has become the byproduct of something much less noble – invasion.