[The first in a series…]
Are, then, rights–that cherished shibboleth of progressive liberalism–beyond redemption? Gilles Deleuze seems to think so, calling rights “softheaded thinking” and “a party line for intellectuals, and for odious intellectuals, and for intellectuals without any ideas of their own” (“On Human Rights”).
If we were to salvage rights, then on what grounds? The most frequently cited might be the tactical use of rights discourse, perhaps particularly as a mode of appealing beyond given territorial boundaries. So (say) a beseiged minority in a third world state (though why not also a first world one?) appeals to the UN charter of rights as a tactic within a local, punctual struggle. Rights then as a line of flight?
Perhaps more interestingly, surely we should also see rights, or the various declarations within which rights are defined and announced (however “self-evident[ly],” as with the US Constitution), as surfaces of inscription, sites within which the current balance of forces in a given struggle is marked? As such, though the danger is that the state of play is thereby reified and miscrecognized (always a temptation with rights: to see them as immutable and transhistorical), at the same time it might be worth considering how that act of inscription functions to complicate and feed back upon the struggle itself.