chapter  1
18 Pages

Which Critique of Human Rights? Evaluating the Postcolonial and the Post-Althusserian Alternatives

ByAlex Cistelecan

In today’s world, one could say that the legacy of human rights is in need of a similar Hegelian reversal. Nowadays, the general trend regarding human rights consists of a constant attack on the formal, empty, abstract nature of the declaration of human rights, and an emphasis on the possible alternatives to it, namely, the plural, rich, vivid, authentic particular cultures, narratives, situations. To put it in Hegelian terms, this contemporary trend could be accounted as demanding a necessary passage from ‘abstract right’ to ‘morality’ — where morality is to be understood as the sphere of the particular will, with its centring on identity, intention, demand and the ‘ought-to-be’. If one were to push the structural comparison further, two more similarities between the Hegelian framework and today’s debate on human rights would appear: in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, the moment of abstract

right is surpassed through the inherent contradictions of right, manifested in ‘non-malicious wrong, fraud, and crime’. In all cases, the particular will, through its opposition to abstract right, reveals the universality of the latter as being only contingent, unstable, arbitrarily coercive. Not incidentally, most of the contemporary critiques of human rights can be accounted for under these Hegelian categories — to paraphrase Kojève, it is as if all the current approaches to human rights could be exhaustively divided into left Hegelianism or right Hegelianism.