Monday, January 27, 2014

Teleological Explanation

James Bogen 
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (2 ed.)

From the Greek word for goal, task, completion, or perfection. Teleological explanations attempt to account for things and features by appeal to their contribution to optimal states, or the normal functioning, or the attainment of goals, of wholes or systems they belong to. Socrates' story (in Plato's Phaedo) of how he wanted to understand things in terms of what is best is an early discussion of teleology. Another is Aristotle's discussion of ‘final cause’ explanations in terms of that for the sake of which something is, acts, or is acted upon. Such explanations are parodied in Voltaire's Candide.
There are many cases in which an item's contribution to a desirable result does not explain its occurrence. For example, what spring rain does for crops does not explain why it rains in the spring. But suppose we discovered that some object's features were designed and maintained by an intelligent creator to enable it to accomplish some purpose. Then an understanding of a feature's contribution to that purpose could help us explain its presence without mistakenly assuming that everything is as it is because of the effects it causes. There are many things (e.g. well-designed clocks in good working order) known to have been produced by intelligent manufacturers for well-understood purposes, whose features can, therefore, be explained in this way. But if all teleological explanation presupposes intelligent design, only creationists could accept teleological explanations of natural things, and only conspiracy theorists could accept teleological explanations of economic and social phenomena.

Teleological explanations which do not presuppose that what is to be explained is the work of an intelligent agent are to be found in biology, economics, and elsewhere. Their justification typically involves two components: an analysis of the function of the item to be explained and an aetiological account.

Functional analysis seeks to determine what contribution the item to be explained makes to some main activity, to the proper functioning, or to the well-being or preservation, of the organism, object, or system it belongs to. For example, given what is known about the contribution of normal blood circulation to the main activities and the well-being of animals with hearts, the structure and behaviour of the heart lead physiologists to identify its function with its contribution to circulation. Given the function of part of an organism, the function of a subpart (e.g. some nerve-ending in the heart) can be identified with its contribution—if any—to the function of the part (e.g. stimulating heart contractions). Important empirical problems in biology and the social sciences and equally important conceptual problems in the philosophy of science arise from questions about the evaluation of ascriptions of purposes and functions.

Functional analysis cannot explain a feature's presence without an aetiological account which explains how the feature came to be where we find it. In natural-selection explanations, aetiological accounts typically appeal to (a) genetic transmission mechanisms by which features are passed from one generation to the next and (b) selection mechanisms (e.g. environmental pressures) because of which organisms with the feature to be explained have a better chance to reproduce than organisms which lack it. The justification of teleological explanations in sociobiology, anthropology, economics, and elsewhere typically assumes the possibility of finding accounts of transmission and selection mechanisms roughly analogous to (a) and (b).


- A. Ariew, R. Cummins, and M. Perlman (eds.), Functions (Oxford, 2002).
- Morton O. Beckner, Biological Ways of Thought (Berkeley, Calif., 1968), chs. 6–8.
- Larry Wright, ‘Functions’, Christopher Bourse, ‘Wright on Functions’ Robert Cummins, ‘Functional Analysis’ (along with further references to standard literature), in Elliott Sober (ed.), Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology (Cambridge, Mass., 1984).

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The new liberal imperialism

Robert Cooper, Sunday 7 April 2002

Senior British diplomat Robert Cooper has helped to shape British Prime Minister Tony Blair's calls for a new internationalism and a new doctrine of humanitarian intervention which would place limits on state sovereignty. This article contains the full text of Cooper's essay on "the postmodern state". Cooper's call for a new liberal imperialism and admission of the need for double standards in foreign policy have outraged the left but the essay offers a rare and candid unofficial insight into the thinking behind British strategy on Afghanistan, and Iraq.

In 1989 the political systems of three centuries came to an end in Europe: the balance-of-power and the imperial urge. That year marked not just the end of the Cold War, but also, and more significantly, the end of a state system in Europe which dated from the Thirty Years War. September 11 showed us one of the implications of the change.

To understand the present, we must first understand the past, for the past is still with us. International order used to be based either on hegemony or on balance. Hegemony came first. In the ancient world, order meant empire. Those within the empire had order, culture and civilisation. Outside it lay barbarians, chaos and disorder. The image of peace and order through a single hegemonic power centre has remained strong ever since. Empires, however, are ill-designed for promoting change. Holding the empire together - and it is the essence of empires that they are diverse - usually requires an authoritarian political style; innovation, especially in society and politics, would lead to instability. Historically, empires have generally been static.

In Europe, a middle way was found between the stasis of chaos and the stasis of empire, namely the small state. The small state succeeded in establishing sovereignty, but only within a geographically limited jurisdiction. Thus domestic order was purchased at the price of international anarchy. The competition between the small states of Europe was a source of progress, but the system was also constantly threatened by a relapse into chaos on one side and by the hegemony of a single power on the other. The solution to this was the balance-of-power, a system of counter-balancing alliances which became seen as the condition of liberty in Europe. Coalitions were successfully put together to thwart the hegemonic ambitions firstly of Spain, then of France, and finally of Germany.

But the balance-of-power system too had an inherent instability, the ever-present risk of war, and it was this that eventually caused it to collapse. German unification in 1871 created a state too powerful to be balanced by any European alliance; technological changes raised the costs of war to an unbearable level; and the development of mass society and democratic politics, rendered impossible the amoral calculating mindset necessary to make the balance of power system function. Nevertheless, in the absence of any obvious alternative it persisted, and what emerged in 1945 was not so much a new system as the culmination of the old one. The old multi-lateral balance-of-power in Europe became a bilateral balance of terror worldwide, a final simplification of the balance of power. But it was not built to last. The balance of power never suited the more universalistic, moralist spirit of the late twentieth century.

The second half of the twentieth Century has seen not just the end of the balance of power but also the waning of the imperial urge: in some degree the two go together. A world that started the century divided among European empires finishes it with all or almost all of them gone: the Ottoman, German, Austrian, French , British and finally Soviet Empires are now no more than a memory. This leaves us with two new types of state: first there are now states - often former colonies - where in some sense the state has almost ceased to exist a 'premodern' zone where the state has failed and a Hobbesian war of all against all is underway (countries such as Somalia and, until recently, Afghanistan). Second, there are the post imperial, postmodern states who no longer think of security primarily in terms of conquest. And thirdly, of course there remain the traditional "modern" states who behave as states always have, following Machiavellian principles and raison d'ètat (one thinks of countries such as India, Pakistan and China).

The postmodern system in which we Europeans live does not rely on balance; nor does it emphasise sovereignty or the separation of domestic and foreign affairs. The European Union has become a highly developed system for mutual interference in each other's domestic affairs, right down to beer and sausages. The CFE Treaty, under which parties to the treaty have to notify the location of their heavy weapons and allow inspections, subjects areas close to the core of sovereignty to international constraints. It is important to realise what an extraordinary revolution this is. It mirrors the paradox of the nuclear age, that in order to defend yourself, you had to be prepared to destroy yourself. The shared interest of European countries in avoiding a nuclear catastrophe has proved enough to overcome the normal strategic logic of distrust and concealment. Mutual vulnerability has become mutual transparency.

The main characteristics of the postmodern world are as follows:
· The breaking down of the distinction between domestic and foreign affairs.
· Mutual interference in (traditional) domestic affairs and mutual surveillance.
· The rejection of force for resolving disputes and the consequent codification of self-enforced rules of behaviour.
· The growing irrelevance of borders: this has come about both through the changing role of the state, but also through missiles, motor cars and satellites.
· Security is based on transparency, mutual openness, interdependence and mutual vulnerability.

The conception of an International Criminal Court is a striking example of the postmodern breakdown of the distinction between domestic and foreign affairs. In the postmodern world, raison d'ètat and the amorality of Machiavelli's theories of statecraft, which defined international relations in the modern era, have been replaced by a moral consciousness that applies to international relations as well as to domestic affairs: hence the renewed interest in what constitutes a just war.

While such a system does deal with the problems that made the balance-of-power unworkable, it does not entail the demise of the nation state. While economy, law-making and defence may be increasingly embedded in international frameworks, and the borders of territory may be less important, identity and democratic institutions remain primarily national. Thus traditional states will remain the fundamental unit of international relations for the foreseeable future, even though some of them may have ceased to behave in traditional ways.

What is the origin of this basic change in the state system? The fundamental point is that "the world's grown honest". A large number of the most powerful states no longer want to fight or conquer. It is this that gives rise to both the pre-modern and postmodern worlds. Imperialism in the traditional sense is dead, at least among the Western powers.

If this is true, it follows that we should not think of the EU or even NATO as the root cause of the half century of peace we have enjoyed in Western Europe. The basic fact is that Western European countries no longer want to fight each other. NATO and the EU have, nevertheless, played an important role in reinforcing and sustaining this position. NATO's most valuable contribution has been the openness it has created. NATO was, and is a massive intra-western confidence-building measure. It was NATO and the EU that provided the framework within which Germany could be reunited without posing a threat to the rest of Europe as its original unification had in 1871. Both give rise to thousands of meetings of ministers and officials, so that all those concerned with decisions involving war and peace know each other well. Compared with the past, this represents a quality and stability of political relations never known before.

The EU is the most developed example of a postmodern system. It represents security through transparency, and transparency through interdependence. The EU is more a transnational than a supra-national system, a voluntary association of states rather than the subordination of states to a central power. The dream of a European state is one left from a previous age. It rests on the assumption that nation states are fundamentally dangerous and that the only way to tame the anarchy of nations is to impose hegemony on them. But if the nation-state is a problem then the super-state is certainly not a solution.

European states are not the only members of the postmodern world. Outside Europe, Canada is certainly a postmodern state; Japan is by inclination a postmodern state, but its location prevents it developing more fully in this direction. The USA is the more doubtful case since it is not clear that the US government or Congress accepts either the necessity or desirability of interdependence, or its corollaries of openness, mutual surveillance and mutual interference, to the same extent as most European governments now do. Elsewhere, what in Europe has become a reality is in many other parts of the world an aspiration. ASEAN, NAFTA, MERCOSUR and even OAU suggest at least the desire for a postmodern environment, and though this wish is unlikely to be realised quickly, imitation is undoubtedly easier than invention.

Within the postmodern world, there are no security threats in the traditional sense; that is to say, its members do not consider invading each other. Whereas in the modern world , following Clausewitz' dictum war is an instrument of policy in the postmodern world it is a sign of policy failure. But while the members of the postmodern world may not represent a danger to one another, both the modern and pre-modern zones pose threats.

The threat from the modern world is the most familiar. Here, the classical state system, from which the postmodern world has only recently emerged, remains intact, and continues to operate by the principles of empire and the supremacy of national interest. If there is to be stability it will come from a balance among the aggressive forces. It is notable how few are the areas of the world where such a balance exists. And how sharp the risk is that in some areas there may soon be a nuclear element in the equation.

The challenge to the postmodern world is to get used to the idea of double standards. Among ourselves, we operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security. But when dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of states outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era - force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself. Among ourselves, we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle. In the prolonged period of peace in Europe, there has been a temptation to neglect our defences, both physical and psychological. This represents one of the great dangers of the postmodern state.

The challenge posed by the pre-modern world is a new one. The pre-modern world is a world of failed states. Here the state no longer fulfils Weber's criterion of having the monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Either it has lost the legitimacy or it has lost the monopoly of the use of force; often the two go together. Examples of total collapse are relatively rare, but the number of countries at risk grows all the time. Some areas of the former Soviet Union are candidates, including Chechnya. All of the world's major drug-producing areas are part of the pre-modern world. Until recently there was no real sovereign authority in Afghanistan; nor is there in upcountry Burma or in some parts of South America, where drug barons threaten the state's monopoly on force. All over Africa countries are at risk. No area of the world is without its dangerous cases. In such areas chaos is the norm and war is a way of life. In so far as there is a government it operates in a way similar to an organised crime syndicate.

The premodern state may be too weak even to secure its home territory, let alone pose a threat internationally, but it can provide a base for non-state actors who may represent a danger to the postmodern world. If non-state actors, notably drug, crime, or terrorist syndicates take to using premodern bases for attacks on the more orderly parts of the world, then the organised states may eventually have to respond. If they become too dangerous for established states to tolerate, it is possible to imagine a defensive imperialism. It is not going too far to view the West's response to Afghanistan in this light.

How should we deal with the pre-modern chaos? To become involved in a zone of chaos is risky; if the intervention is prolonged it may become unsustainable in public opinion; if the intervention is unsuccessful it may be damaging to the government that ordered it. But the risks of letting countries rot, as the West did Afghanistan, may be even greater.

What form should intervention take? The most logical way to deal with chaos, and the one most employed in the past is colonisation. But colonisation is unacceptable to postmodern states (and, as it happens, to some modern states too). It is precisely because of the death of imperialism that we are seeing the emergence of the pre-modern world. Empire and imperialism are words that have become a form of abuse in the postmodern world. Today, there are no colonial powers willing to take on the job, though the opportunities, perhaps even the need for colonisation is as great as it ever was in the nineteenth century. Those left out of the global economy risk falling into a vicious circle. Weak government means disorder and that means falling investment. In the 1950s, South Korea had a lower GNP per head than Zambia: the one has achieved membership of the global economy, the other has not.

All the conditions for imperialism are there, but both the supply and demand for imperialism have dried up. And yet the weak still need the strong and the strong still need an orderly world. A world in which the efficient and well governed export stability and liberty, and which is open for investment and growth - all of this seems eminently desirable.

What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values. We can already discern its outline: an imperialism which, like all imperialism, aims to bring order and organisation but which rests today on the voluntary principle.

Postmodern imperialism takes two forms. First there is the voluntary imperialism of the global economy. This is usually operated by an international consortium through International Financial Institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank - it is characteristic of the new imperialism that it is multilateral. These institutions provide help to states wishing to find their way back into the global economy and into the virtuous circle of investment and prosperity. In return they make demands which, they hope, address the political and economic failures that have contributed to the original need for assistance. Aid theology today increasingly emphasises governance. If states wish to benefit, they must open themselves up to the interference of international organisations and foreign states (just as, for different reasons, the postmodern world has also opened itself up.)

The second form of postmodern imperialism might be called the imperialism of neighbours. Instability in your neighbourhood poses threats which no state can ignore. Misgovernment, ethnic violence and crime in the Balkans poses a threat to Europe. The response has been to create something like a voluntary UN protectorate in Bosnia and Kosovo. It is no surprise that in both cases the High Representative is European. Europe provides most of the aid that keeps Bosnia and Kosovo running and most of the soldiers (though the US presence is an indispensable stabilising factor). In a further unprecedented move, the EU has offered unilateral free-market access to all the countries of the former Yugoslavia for all products including most agricultural produce. It is not just soldiers that come from the international community; it is police, judges, prison officers, central bankers and others. Elections are organised and monitored by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Local police are financed and trained by the UN. As auxiliaries to this effort - in many areas indispensable to it - are over a hundred NGOs.

One additional point needs to be made. It is dangerous if a neighbouring state is taken over in some way by organised or disorganised crime - which is what state collapse usually amounts to. But Usama bin Laden has now demonstrated for those who had not already realised, that today all the world is, potentially at least, our neighbour.

The Balkans are a special case. Elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe the EU is engaged in a programme which will eventually lead to massive enlargement. In the past empires have imposed their laws and systems of government; in this case no one is imposing anything. Instead, a voluntary movement of self-imposition is taking place. While you are a candidate for EU membership you have to accept what is given - a whole mass of laws and regulations - as subject countries once did. But the prize is that once you are inside you will have a voice in the commonwealth. If this process is a kind of voluntary imperialism, the end state might be describes as a cooperative empire. 'Commonwealth' might indeed not be a bad name.

The postmodern EU offers a vision of cooperative empire, a common liberty and a common security without the ethnic domination and centralised absolutism to which past empires have been subject, but also without the ethnic exclusiveness that is the hallmark of the nation state - inappropriate in an era without borders and unworkable in regions such as the Balkans. A cooperative empire might be the domestic political framework that best matches the altered substance of the postmodern state: a framework in which each has a share in the government, in which no single country dominates and in which the governing principles are not ethnic but legal. The lightest of touches will be required from the centre; the 'imperial bureaucracy' must be under control, accountable, and the servant, not the master, of the commonwealth. Such an institution must be as dedicated to liberty and democracy as its constituent parts. Like Rome, this commonwealth would provide its citizens with some of its laws, some coins and the occasional road.

That perhaps is the vision. Can it be realised? Only time will tell. The question is how much time there may be. In the modern world the secret race to acquire nuclear weapons goes on. In the premodern world the interests of organised crime - including international terrorism - grow greater and faster than the state. There may not be much time left.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Humanities in an Absolutist World

Roscoe Pound (1870-1964) Law School, Harvard University
The Classical Journal, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Oct., 1943), pp. 1-14

Man’s significant achievement is civilization, the continual raising of human powers to a higher unfolding, a continually increasing mastery of, or control over, external or physical nature and over internal or human nature. Civilization is an accumulative activity. Both its aspects, control of physical nature and control of human nature, are added to from generation to generation and the whole is an accumulation of ages. In the present, the progress of control  over  physical  nature,  of  harnessing  external  nature  to man's use, has been so rapid and has been carried so far beyond what had been taken to be the limit of human powers, that it has all but blinded us to the other side, the control of internal nature. But in truth the two are interdependent. It is the control over internal or human nature which has made possible the division of labor by which the harnessing of physical nature has been made possible. If men were subject to constant aggression from their fellows, if they could not safely assume that they could go about their daily tasks free from attack, there could not be the experiment and research and investigation which have enabled man to inherit the earth and to maintain and increase that inheritance. The accumulation from generation to generation would be dissipated if it were not for the check upon man's destructive instincts which is achieved through accumulated control of internal nature. But the control over external nature relieves the pressure of the environment in which man lives and enables the accumulated control over internal nature to persist and increase.

In the history of civilization the outstanding period, from the standpoint of control over internal nature, is classical antiquity, the Greek-Hellenistic-Roman civilization, which happily kept no small degree of continuity during the Middle Ages, and was revived at the Renaissance. This period is as marked for one side of civilization as the nineteenth century and the present are likely to be held in the future for the other side. Indeed, the civilization of ancient Greece, carried on in the Hellenistic era and established for the world by the organizing and administrative genius of the Romans, is a decisive element in the civilization of today.

Art, letters, oratory, philosophy, history writing, are an inheritance from the Greeks. Law, administration, politics, are an inheritance from the Romans. The Greeks even worked out the field tactics to which the military science of today has reverted. Greek and Latin are a preponderant element in the languages which derive from Western Europe. Thus they enter decisively into our thinking, writing, and speaking, and thus into our doing. The last of the Caesars fell a generation ago. But the principles of adjusting human relations and ordering human conduct worked out in theory by Greek philosophers and made into law by Roman jurists of the days of the first Caesars govern in the tribunals of today. Latin was the universal language from the establishment of Roman hegemony and of Roman law as the law of the world for at least nineteen hundred years. All modern literature in all languages is full of allusions to the classics; of allusions to persons and events and stories out of the poets and dramatists and historians of Greece and Rome. One who knows nothing of the great authors of antiquity is cut off from the great authors of the modern world as well. To take but one example, a generation which grows up without anyone knowing Horace, has missed something irreplaceable. To cease to teach the classics is to deprive the oncoming generation of opportunity of fruitful contact with a decisive element in the civilization in which it is to live. A generation cut off from its inherited past is no master of its present. What men do is conditioned by the materials with which they must work in doing it. On one side of our civilization these are for the most significant part materials bequeathed to us by the Greeks and the Romans.

But we are told that we are entering upon a new era. The past is to be canceled. We are to begin with a clean slate. Our accumulated control over external nature has gone so far that there remains only the task of making it available for universal human contentment. Then there will be no occasion for control over internal nature. The causes of envy and strife are to go with want and fear. Mankind will settle down to a passive enjoyment of the material goods of existence and will neither require nor desire anything more.

There are abundant signs of a significant change from the ideas and ideals and values which governed in the immediate past. It is not, however, a change to something wholly new. It is largely a reversion to something with which the student of classical antiquity is well acquainted; to modes of thought against which Socrates argued with the sophists, about which Plato and Aristotle wrote in founding a science of politics, about which Stoics debated with Epicureans, which Christianity put down, for a time at least, when it closed the skeptical and Epicurean schools of philosophy.

Whatever the confident self-styled advanced thinkers of today may be looking forward to, the immediate actual result is a cult of force. We seem to be listening again to Thrasymachus, who argued that the shepherd protects the sheep in order to shear them for wool and slaughter them for mutton, and in the same way the political ruler protects the governed in order to be able to despoil them. The sophists are coming into their own in ethics, and Machiavelli is hailed as a prophet in a realism which in law and in politics takes force to be the reality and those who wield the force of politically organized society, as the representatives of force, to be the actualities of the legal order and of the political order. A favorite phrase of the realist is "the brute facts"; a phrase used not in sadness that there should be such facts, but with a certain relish, as if brutality were the test of reality and the discovery of brute facts argued superior intelligence and discernment. In practice this makes force a test of significance. The significant things in the world are force and the satisfaction of material wants. Education must be shaped to the exigencies of these. Nothing else is to be taught or learned. Such a doctrine carried into practice, a regime to that pattern, would indeed give us a new world. But it would be new by reverting to a very old type.

 Biologists tell us that what they call giantism in an organism is a sign of decadence. When the organism has developed to giant proportions, the next step is decline and the ultimate step is fall. In the same way, there are times in the history of civilization when things seem to have become too big for men to manage them. They get out of hand. The social order ceases to function efficiently. There is a gradual breakdown, followed after a time of chaos and anarchy by a gradual rebuilding of a social order, which in tum may develop a bigness beyond human powers of management and so break down. It may be significant that today the air is full of grandiose schemes for world organization.

The Hellenistic world was in such an era. The greater and richer part of the civilized world had been swallowed up in the empire of Alexander. An age of independent city-states was succeeded by one of great military empires ruled autocratically. Later, the Roman hegemony, in which, as it culminated in the Empire, every free man in the civilized world was a Roman citizen, the law of the city of Rome had become the law of the world, and all political authority was centralized in the first citizen of Rome, was another era of the same kind. It is significant that the first citizen of such a state became a military autocrat. The mark of thinking of such times is likely to be disillusionment. Epicureanism arose in the period of the successors of Alexander, and grew increasingly strong in the Hellenistic era. It throve in the corresponding period of Roman history, the Empire from Augustus to Diocletian and Constantine. It was the most firmly intrenched of the Greek schools of philosophy, although it has contributed the least to the general progress of thought. It was so well fitted to a period of bigness and incipient decay that the Epicureans were the last school to give way before the rise of Christianity. When the schools of philosophy were abolished, they were the most widespread and tenacious of the anti-Christian sects.

Today, in another era of unmanageable bigness, we come upon tenacious give-it-up philosophies once more. Epicurus was wholly indifferent to the form of political organization of society. The real point in existence was to lead a happy life. If he lived under a wise ruler, the man seeking a happy life need have no fear of being disturbed. He could pursue a serene, untroubled existence. If the ruler was a tyrant, the wise man, like Br'er Rabbit, would "jes' lie low" and so escape the tyrant's notice and live an undisturbed life of happiness. Today what Epicurus put as happiness, current social philosophies put as security. The ideal is an undisturbed enjoyment of the means of satisfying material wants. Put concretely it seems to be a vested right in a life job with an assured maximum wage, fixed short hours, allowing much time for leisure at stated periods, a prohibiting of anyone from an overactivity which might give him an advantage, and compelling all to a regimented minimum exertion that would obviate the exciting of envy, and a guaranteed pension at the age of sixty, dispensing with the need of providing one's own reserve. This is the ideal existence Epicurus pictured-the condition of a happy life, the condition of perfect mental equilibrium, neither perturbed nor perturbable. In contrast, the last century identified security with liberty. Men sought security from interference with their activities. They sought to be secure against aggression so that they might freely do their part in the division of labor in a competitive economic order. They sought to be secure against governmental action except so far as was necessary to free them from aggressions of others. Now, instead of seeking to be secure against government, men expect to be made secure by government. But they expect to be secure in a new way; not to be secure in their activities but to be secure against necessity of activity, to be secure in satisfaction of their material wants with a minimum of required individual activity.

Very likely the change reflects the exigencies of a bigger and more crowded world. Possibly it is due in part to the development of luxury, leading to disinclination to the free competitive carving out of a place for oneself which the last century took for happiness. At any rate, freedom from worry about what one can achieve, renouncing of ambition to do things, and acceptance of political events as they may happen, go together as an accepted philosophy of wise living, as they did in the social philosophy of Epicurus.

Marxian economic realism has much in common with the Epicurean social philosophy. The static ideal of a happy life is to be attained as we get rid of classes. It is assumed that when property is abolished all competition between human beings  will ease. Everyone will live undisturbed, without ambition, without envy, and so freed from strife. Once the class struggle has been brought to an end, Marx looked forward to the same social ethical result as Epicurus. But there is nothing in the history of civilization or in experience of human relations in a crowded world to warrant such assumptions. We may be sure that after property is abolished men will still want and claim to use things which cannot be used by more than one or by more than one at a time. It is not likely that there will always be enough at all times of every material good of existence to enable everyone at every moment to have or do all that he can wish, so that no contentions can arise as to possession or use and enjoyment . Nor is it likely in any time which we can foresee that there will be no conflicts or overlappings of the desires and demands involved in the individual life. Such ideas, however, seem to go with bigness such as the economic unification of the world has brought about in the present century.

Along with the disillusioned or give-it-up philosophies of such a time there goes a changed attitude toward government. Instead of wanting to do things, men want to have things done for them, and they turn to government to do for them what they require for a happy life. But they have no wish to be active in government. They turn to absolute political ideas. Eras of bigness and autocracy have gone together. Today while we all do lip service to democracy there is a manifest turning to autocracy. The democracy is to be an absolute democracy. Those who wield its authority are not to be hampered by constitutions or laws or law. What they do is to be law because they do it. They are to be free to make us all happy by an absolute power to pass on the goods of existence to us by such measure of values as suits them.

Such ideas of a happy life, and of politically organized society as the means of assuring that happy life, require an omnicompetent government. They require a government with absolute power to carry out the plan of an undisturbed life of serenity, free from all envy, want, or worry, by control of all activity no less than of all material goods. The restless must be held down, the active must be taught to keep quiet in a passive happiness, those inclined to question the economic order must be taught to accept the regime of security in which their material wants are satisfied. Hence such a polity must of necessity take over education. Men are to be educated to fit into the regime of government-provided material happiness. Those things which will tend to achieve and maintain such a regime are to be taught. All else is to be given up. Either it will hinder the bringing about and making permanent of the new regime or it will tend to impair it when established. There is no place for any of it in the ideal regime.

Applied to international relations, the give-it-up philosophies must be wonderfully heartening doctrine for dictators. Applied to internal administration they are proving wonderfully heartening doctrine for bureaucrats. Can we doubt that a sense of helplessness in the Hellenistic era and again in the era of the later Roman Empire led to general acceptance of a philosophy that taught to let the government run itself or the governors run it in their own way? Can we doubt that a sense of helplessness in our time, a feeling of helplessness to make international relations conform to ideals, leads to acquiescence in theories of force; or that difficulty in an overcrowded world to make adjustments of private relations according to law achieve ideal results, leads to a theory of a law as simply a threat of state force and hence of law as whatever officials do in applying that force?

But if we are moved at times to feel helpless and give up to power and force, those who wield the force of politically organized society have no misgivings. They have supreme confidence that the omnicompetence of the state means the omnicompetence of the officials who act in the name and by the authority of the state, and are ready, assuming themselves to be ex-officio experts, to prescribe detailed regulations for every human activity.

We recognize such conditions when we look at them as they are manifest in the older parts of the world. We have not been prepared to see them as they have been developing gradually but steadily in our own polity. As a leader in American legal education has put it, it is simply a question of what we expect government to do. If we expect it to provide for all our wants by a benevolent paternal care and maternal solicitude, we must expect to surrender to it all responsibility and invest it-and that means those persons who carry it on-with all power. Such a regime is fostered by the exigencies of war. But it was growing long before the war and independent of war conditions. The give-it-up philosophies were taught and preached before and apart from the war. They have been urged by a strong group in both English and American institutions of learning and are propagated today by teachers who advocate an unrestrained administrative power over liberty and property.

What is happening, what is to happen, to the humanities in such a time?
In this connection we must note another characteristic of the time, namely, distrust of reason. In this respect also the thought of today is akin to that of Epicurus. We are taught by the psychological realists that consciously or unconsciously men do what they wish to do and then justify what they have done by reasons conjured up by a desire to be reasonable, which nevertheless are not the real determinants of their behavior. Consequently, by not distinguishing reason from reasons, reason comes to be regarded as a mere name for specious justifying to oneself of what one desires to do and does accordingly. Reason is taken to be illusion. The reality is taken to be the wish, achieved by force or by the force of a politically organized society. This is brought out notably in the difference between the biographies of the last century and those of today. The biographies of the last century were taken up with what their subject did and how he did it. They assume that he had reasons for what he did which were consistent with his purposes and professions, and that his mistakes were due to miscalculation, unless the evidence constrains a different conclusion. The biographies of today are taken up with their subject's hidden motives; if not very creditable, so much the better as the biographer sees it. The evidence does not disclose the motives. The assumed motives interpret the evidence. If the biographer can show that George Washington's motives may be made out to have been not always very creditable, it only goes to show that his actions were after all merely phenomena and to remind us that it is unscientific to apply our subjective ideas of praise and blame to phenomena.

At any rate, we can find one powerful antidote to such teachings in the humanities, and it is perhaps for that reason that the advocates of so-called realism would suppress the teaching of them. At the beginning of the present century the German Emperor objected to the education which, he said, trained the youth to be young Greeks and Romans instead of to be modem Germans. But the results of education to be Germans ought to give us pause if we think to make Americans by an education that seeks to make Americans to a pattern of a land given up to satisfaction of material wants provided by a regime of absolute government .

But I hear people say, the aggregate of knowledge has become so vast that teaching must be confined to those things that count in the world of today. There are translations of the classics available in English and those whose interests lead them to explore the writings of antiquity can find what they seek in those translations. It is a waste of the time that must be given to the things of today to study difficult dead languages in order to find what translations have made accessible in modern languages. The time is needed for the natural and physical sciences, which teach us how to harness more of external nature to producing the material goods of human existence, and to the social sciences, which are to teach us how those goods are to be made to satisfy human desires. Here we have three fallacious propositions: (1) that education is only the acquisition of knowledge, (2) that even the best translation is or can be a substitute for the original of a classic, and (3) that the social sciences are so far advanced that we may rely upon them for objective judgments of the social order and of the problems and phenomena of ethics and economics and politics and jurisprudence. We have to learn the formulas of the social scientists as we once learned the formulated dogmas of the natural and physical sciences. Let us look at these propositions.

Knowledge as such is worth little without knowing how to use it. It is likely to be so up-to-date that it is out of date tomorrow .Discrimination, reasoned judgment, and creative thinking must work upon knowledge to make it fruitful. No one can approach a mastery of all the details of knowledge in even the narrowest field. But he can attain the wisdom that will enable him to lay hold upon those details when and where he requires them and to make something of them. Without this, the study of up-to-date subjects as merely so many tracts of knowledge is futile. Very likely the supposed facts will have ceased to be so regarded by scientists as soon as they have been learned. The wise scholar, however, knows how to find them as they stand at the moment and appraise them for his purposes, and he can often do this although he approaches a subject in which he never had a formal course.

Wisdom is not gained by the use of translations. It is not acquired when students write confidently about Aristotle without having read or being able to read a line of him. It is not developed by slovenly use of language such as follows from never having been compelled to compare the same thought expressed in two languages and brought to see how different it may appear unless the translator is sure of the words no less than of the idea. What teacher of today has not seen confused thought bred of loose writing, due to lack of the disciplined use of words which is acquired by learning the languages from which even our scientific terminology is derived? What teacher has not encountered the type of student who wants to write a thesis on poetic usage and expects to use Pope's Iliad to show him the usage of Homer? Who has not met students of church history who cannot read the New Testament in the original, students writing on medieval philosophy and essaying to criticize a great thinker who cannot read a word of Thomas Aquinas in the tongue in which he wrote, students of legal history who cannot read Magna Carta as it was written, students of history who must take the significant historical documents at second or third hand? I have too often witnessed the pathetic struggles of would-be students of our legal history to handle the monuments of our law in the Middle Ages with no adequate grasp of the language in which they were written. I shall not soon forget the graduate student who thought he could read the Code of Justinian by the light of nature and was astonished to find that conventus did not, as he supposed, mean convent but meant agreement. Nor are such things confined to students. Who of us has not had occasion to feel for the earnest teacher who missed the fundamentals of his education in school and college and now is found struggling to gain what too late he perceives he sorely needs? A great injustice had been done to all of these by leading them to think they were acquiring an adequate foundation for what they desired to do, and leaving them to discover their mistake too late.

Even now, when the majority of those who go to our colleges have had some training in Latin, the teacher has learned to expect some almost incredible atrocities due to ignorance abetted by carelessness. In my last twenty years of law teaching I have become used to being told that in a proceeding in rem the rem must be before the court. I have ceased to be shocked when a college graduate tells me that son assault demesne is Anglo-Saxon, that in pais is Latin, and that non compos mentis is French. I can even keep a straight face when a law student, a college graduate, reading in the books about the doctrine of the Good Samaritan cases, asks me who the Good "Sarmatian" was. My friends in other lines tell me of the entomologist describing a new insect who thought confluenta was the feminine of conjluens, or the botanist who wished to coin a word for "downward-directed" and with no knowledge of Greek consulted a Greek dictionary and coined barithynetic – I suppose for katithynetic. I have been told of a student of dramatics who spoke of "Andromash," and we have all heard "chaos" pronounced "chouse" and "Chloe" pronounced "Shlowie" by those who held degrees in arts. Those who perpetrate such things lack much more than a knowledge of the classical languages. They have failed to learn what to do with the materials with which they must work. We may be sure that these slovenlinesses will not be the only ones of which they will be guilty. But what will there be when no one who studies history or law or entomology or botany or dramatics knows any better? It won't do to say, for example, that a law dictionary will tell the law student what he needs. One must know something even to use a dictionary. When it comes about that no one is taught in his teachable years the languages and literatures which are at the foundation of what we say and write, our terminology in every branch of learning must become chaotic, and loose writing lead to loose thinking, and a general loss of morale in scholarship, of which we see abundant symptoms already today.

We are told, however, that those things which are not indispensable must in education in a democracy give way to those which are indispensable. As to this one must make three observations. In the first place, it assumes that democracy requires a common training for all, a training in the mechanic arts and the sciences behind them, and in social sciences on the model of the physical sciences. No one is to be allowed an opportunity of development outside of this program of preparation for material production and politics. Secondly, it assumes that education is complete on leaving school, and hence that there need be no preparation for scholarly self-development of an element needed in any other than a stagnant or enslaved population. Third, it assumes that the social sciences are or can be such as the physical and natural sciences are; that ultimate truths as to economics and politics and sociology are impartible by teaching, and that knowledge of these truths is essential to a democratically organized people.

I have no quarrel with the social sciences. I am now in my forty­ fourth year of teaching jurisprudence, and for forty of those years have taught it from the sociological standpoint. I have urged the importance of ethics and economics and politics and sociology in connection with law in forty years of law-school teaching. But I do not deceive myself as to those so-called sciences. So far as they are not descriptive, they are in continual flux. In the nature of things they cannot be sciences in the sense of physics or chemistry or astronomy. They have been organized as philosophies, have been worked out on the lines of geometry, have been remade to theories of history, have had their period of positivism, have turned to social psychology, and are now in an era of neo-Kantian methodology in some hands and of economic determinism or psychological realism or relativist skepticism or phenomenological intuitionism in other hands. They do not impart wisdom; they need to be approached with acquired wisdom. Nothing of what was taught as economics, political science, or sociology when I was an undergraduate is held or taught today. Since I left college, sociology has gone through four, or perhaps even five, phases. Indeed, those who have gone furthest in these sciences in the immediate past were not originally trained in them. They are not foundation subjects. They belong in the superstructure.

Notice how extremes meet in a time of reaction to absolutist political ideas. In an autocracy men are to be trained in the physical and natural sciences so as to promote material production. They are to be trained in the social sciences so as to promote passive obedience. In an absolutist democracy men are to be trained in the physical and natural sciences because those sciences have to do with the means of satisfying material wants. They are to be trained in the social sciences because those sciences have to do with politically organized society as an organization of force whereby satisfaction of material wants is to be attained. As an important personage in our government has told us, the rising generation must be taught what government can do for them. The relegation of the humanities to a back shelf, proposed by the Kaiser at the beginning of the present century, has been taken over to be urged as a program of a democracy. Such ideas go along with the rise of absolute theories of government throughout the world. An omnicompetent government is to tell us what we shall be suffered to teach, and the oncoming generation is to be suffered to learn nothing that does not belong to a regime of satisfying material wants by the force of a political organization of society. It is assumed that there is nothing in life but the satisfaction of material wants and force as a means of securing satisfaction of them.

America was colonized in a similar period of absolutist political ideas-in the era of the Tudor and Stuart monarchy in England, of the old regime of which the rule of Louis XIV was the type in France, of the monarchy set up by Charles V in Spain, of the establishment of the absolute rule of the Hapsburgs in Austria. England of the Puritan Revolution shook these ideas violently and at the Revolution of 1688 definitely cast them off for two centuries. The colonists who came to America settled in the wilderness in order to escape them. When we settled our own polity at the end of the eighteenth century, we established it as a constitutional democracy, carefully guarded against the reposing of unlimited power anywhere. Moreover, these early Americans, because they did not believe in an omnicompetent government or superman rulers, set up institutions for liberal education. Within six years after their arrival in the wilderness in the new world, the founders of Massachusetts set up a college in order that there might continue to be a learned ministry after their ministers who had come from the English universities were laid in the dust. As our country expanded in its westward extension across the continent, state after state in its organic law provided for a state university in order that liberal learning might be the opportunity of every one. It was not till our era of expansion was over and one of industrialization began that state institutions for mechanical education were more and more established. But these for a generation did not greatly disturb the humanities. The movement to displace them is a phenomenon of the era of bigness.

Outward forms of government are no panacea. We can't do better than we try to do. If we are content to lapse into a revived Epicureanism, if we are content to seek nothing more than a general condition of undisturbed passivity under the benevolent care of an omnicompetent government, we can very well leave education to the sciences which have to do with providing the material goods of existence and those which teach us how the government secures or is to secure them for us. If we are not content with being, as Horace put it, pigs of the drove of Epicurus, but seek to live active, human lives, even at some risk of envy and strife and wish for things unattainable, we must stand firm against projects which will cut our people off from the great heritage of the past and deny them the opportunity of contact with the best that men have thought and written in the history of civilization.

I cannot think that, when what is meant by the displacement of the humanities is brought home to them, the intelligent people of America will consent to bow the knee to Baal. I am confident that, as Milton put it, we shall be able to speak words of persuasion to abundance of reasonable men, once we make plain the plausible fallacy behind the idea of teaching only the indispensables, and that the physical and the social sciences are the indispensables . We can have a democracy without having a people devoted solely to production and consumption. Those who are fighting to preserve the humanities are working for a democracy that can endure. One which sinks into materialistic apathy must in the end go the way of the peoples which have succumbed to the perils of mere bigness in the past.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Paradox of Knowing

David Dunning, Department of Psychology, Uris Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York            
The Psychologist, The British Psychological Society, Volume 26 – Part 6 – Pages:414-417 (June 2013)

Why do we have greater insight into others than ourselves?

People appear to know other people better than they know themselves, at least when it comes to predicting future behaviour and achievement. Why? People display a rather accurate grasp of human nature in general, knowing how social behaviour is shaped by situational and internal constraints. They just exempt themselves from this understanding, thinking instead that their own actions are more a product of their agency, intentions, and free will – a phenomenon we term ‘misguided exceptionalism’. How does this relate to cultural differences in self-insight? And are there areas of human life where people may still know themselves better than they know other people?

To know others is wisdom, to know one’s self is enlightenment.                                                   Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu

For the past twenty-odd years, the main discovery in my lab has been finding out just how unenlightened people are, at least in the terms that Lao Tzu put it. People appear to harbour many and frequent false beliefs about their own competence, character, place in the social world, and future (Dunning, 2005; Dunning et al., 2004). If ‘knowing yourself’ is a task that many philosophers and social commentators – from both Western and Eastern traditions – have exhorted people to accomplish, it appears that very few are taking the advice seriously enough to succeed.

But here is the rub. Although people may not possess much enlightenment, according to Lao Tzu’s criteria, they do instead seem to display a lot of wisdom. At least when it comes to making predictions about the future, people achieve more accuracy forecasting what their peers will do than what they themselves will do. Through their predictions, they seem to possess a rough but valid wisdom about the general dynamics of human nature and how it is reflected in people’s actions. They just fail to display the same sagacity when it comes to understanding their own personal dynamics. As psychologists, they appear to be much better social psychologists than self-psychologists.

The ‘holier-than-thou’ phenomenon

The ‘holier-than-thou’ phenomenon in behavioural prediction perhaps best illustrates this paradox of greater insight into other people than the self. The phenomenon is defined as people predicting they are far more likely to engage in socially desirable acts than their peers. Across several studies, we have asked people to forecast how they will behave in situations that have an ethical, civic or altruistic tone. For example, we ask whether they will donate to charity, or cooperate with another person in an experiment, or vote in an upcoming election. We also ask them the likelihood that their peers will do the same. Consistently, we find that respondents claim that they are much more likely to act in a socially desirable way than their peers are (Balcetis & Dunning, 2008, 2013; Epley & Dunning, 2000, 2006).

But here is the key twist: We then expose an equivalent set of respondents to the actual situation, to see which prediction – self or peer – better anticipates the true rate at which people ‘do the right thing’. Do self-predictions better anticipate the rate that people act in desirable ways, with people, thus, showing undue cynicism about the character of their peers? Or do peer predictions prove more accurate, demonstrating that people believe too much in their better selves? In our studies we find that people’s peer predictions are the more accurate ones. Self-predictions, in contrast, are wildly optimistic. For example, in one study, a full 90 per cent of students in a large-lecture psychology class eligible to vote in an upcoming US presidential election said that they would. They then provided another student with some relevant information about themselves, such as how interested they were in the election and how pleased would they be if their favoured candidate won. Peers given such information predicted that only 67 per cent of respondents would vote. Actual voting rate among those respondents when the election arrived: 61 per cent (Epley & Dunning, 2000, Study 2).

Time and again we have seen such a pattern. For example, 83 per cent of students forecast that they would buy a daffodil for charity in an upcoming drive for the American Cancer Society, but that only 56 per cent of their peers would. When we check back, we found that only 43 per cent had done so (Epley & Dunning, 2000, Study 1). In a Prisoner’s Dilemma game played in the lab, 84 per cent of participants said they would cooperate rather than betray their partner, but that only 64 per cent would do likewise. The actual cooperation rate was 61 per cent (Epley & Dunning, Study 2).

Accuracy as correlation

But wait, a careful reader might say. People might prove overconfident about their own behaviour, but surely they know more about themselves than other people do. This accuracy just reveals itself in a different way. Namely, if we look instead at the correlation between people’s predictions and their actions, we might find a stronger relationship for self-predictions than for peers. More specifically, people may overpredict the chance that they will vote. But those who say they will vote will still be much more likely to vote than those who say they will not. Forecasts from peers will fail to separate voters from nonvoters so successfully.

This assertion is plausible, but it surprisingly fails empirical test. When we look at accuracy from a correlational perspective, we find that peers at least equal overall the accuracy rates of those making self-predictions (see also Spain et al., 2000; Vazire & Mehl, 2008). In one of our voting studies, peers who received just five scant pieces of information about another person’s view of an upcoming election predicted that person just as well (r = .48) as did people predicting their own actions (r = .51) in correlational terms. Other researchers report similar findings: All it takes is a few pieces of information for a peer to achieve accuracy rates that equal the self. The behaviour can be a performance in an upcoming exam (Helzer & Dunning, 2012) or performance on IQ tests (Borkenau & Liebler, 1993).

And, if the action is one that people find significant, and if peers are familiar with the person in question, then peer prediction begins to outdo self-prediction. Roommates and parents, for example, outpredict how long a person’s college romance will last, relative to self-prediction (MacDonald & Ross, 1999). Ratings of supervisors and peers outclass self-ratings in predicting how well surgical residents will do on their final surgical exams (Riscucci et al., 1989). Ratings of peers do better at predicting who will receive a promotion in the Navy early relative to self-impressions (Bass & Yammarino, 1991).

Misguided exceptionalism

Taken together, all this research suggests that people tend to possess useful insight when it comes to understanding human nature. But this research also suggests that people fail to apply this wisdom to the self. In a sense, people exempt themselves from whatever valid psychological understanding they have about their friends and contemporaries. Instead, they tend to think of themselves as special, as responding to a different psychological dynamic. The rules that govern other people’s psychology fail to apply to them. We have come to call this tendency misguided exceptionalism.

What is it about their understanding of other people that respondents exempt themselves from? We contend, with data, that people recognise that others tend to be constrained in what they do. There are forces, both internal and external to the individual, which are out of their control but that influence how they behave. The smell of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies does break people’s willpower.

The opinions of the crowd place pressures on other people to conform.
But these constraints are for other people. When it comes to our own behaviour, we tend to emphasise instead our own agency, the force of our own character, and what we aspire, intend or plan to do. Relative to others, we believe that our actions are largely a product of our own intentions, aspirations and free will (Buehler et al., 1994; Critcher & Dunning, 2013; Koehler & Poon, 2006; Kruger & Gilovich, 2004; Peetz & Buehler, 2009). We consider ourselves free agents generally immune to the constraints that dictate other people’s actions.

Much recent empirical work reveals this differential emphasis for the self. People think their futures are more wide-open and unpredictable, and that their intentions and desires will be more important authors of their futures than similar intentions and desires will be for other people (Pronin & Kugler, 2010). When predicting their own exam performance, people emphasise (actually, too much, it turns out) their aspiration level, that is, the score they are working to achieve (Helzer & Dunning, 2012), but they emphasise instead a person’s past achievement (appropriately, it turns out) in predictions of others. College students consider their future potential – or, rather, the person they are aiming to be – to be a bigger part of themselves than it is in other people (Williams & Gilovich, 2008; Williams et al., 2012). People predicting who will give to charity consider the prediction to be one about a person’s character and attitudes – that is, until they confront a chance to give themselves, in which case they switch to emphasising situational factors in their accounts of giving (Balcetis & Dunning, 2008).

College students harbour reservations about excessive drinking, but not
recognising that others also feel this same reluctance, they go along
with the crowd

Misunderstanding situations

Ultimately, this misguided exceptionalism and overemphasis on individual agency means that people fail to apply an accurate understanding of human nature to themselves, one that would make their predictions more accurate. People, for example, are surprisingly good at understanding how situational circumstances influence people’s behaviour. In one study, we described a ‘bystander apathy’ study to students. Students were shown an experiment in which a research assistant accidentally spilled a box of jigsaw puzzle pieces. These students were then asked the likelihood that they would help pick the pieces up relative to the percentage of other students who would help. Of key importance, participants were shown two variations of this basic situation – one in which they were alone versus one in which they were sitting in a group of three people.

Those familiar with social psychology will recognise that people are more likely to help when they are alone rather than in a group (Latané & Darley, 1970). In the group, people are seized by the inertia of not knowing immediately whether to help, and thus taking their cue to do nothing based on the fact that everyone else, lost in the same indecision, ends up doing nothing, too. But would our participants show insight into this principle? Not according to their self-predictions. Participants stated that they would be roughly 90 per cent likely to help either alone or in the group. They did, though, concede that other people would be influenced, and that the rate of helping would go down 22 per cent (from 72 per cent to 50 per cent) among other people by introducing the group. Of key import, when we ran the study for real, we found that placing people in a group had a 27 per cent impact (from 50 per cent down to 23 per cent) on actual behaviour. Again, peer predictions largely anticipated this impact. Self-predictions did not (Balcetis & Dunning, 2013).

This belief that self-behaviour ‘floats’ above the impact of situational circumstances and constraints can lead people to forgo decisions that would actually help them. Consider the task of staying within a monthly budget. In one study, participants were offered a service that would provide them with savings tips plus a constant monitoring of their finance. For themselves, participants felt the service would be superfluous. It would have almost zero impact on their ability to achieve their budget goals. What mattered for them instead was the strength of their intentions to save money (Koehler et al., 2011).

But, in reality, a random sample of participants assigned to the service was roughly 11 per cent more likely to reach their budget goals. And, a group of participants asked to judge the impact of the service on other people estimated that the service would matter; that others would be 17 per cent more likely to reach their goals. Again, predictions about others better reflected reality than predictions about the self, in that people could recognise the impact of an important situational aid on others, but felt they themselves were immune to those influences (Koehler et al., 2011).

Cultural influences

This overemphasis on the self’s agency suggests possible cultural differences in the holier-than-thou effect. And, indeed, such cultural differences arise. It is the individualist cultures of Western Europe and North America that emphasise autonomy, agency and the imposition of will onto the environment (Fiske et al., 1998; Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Far Eastern cultures, such as Japan, emphasise instead interdependence, social roles and group harmony – that is, social constraints on the self. Might those cultures, thus, be relatively immune to the ‘holier’ phenomenon?

Across several studies, we have found that people from collectivist cultures display much less self-error than did those from individualist ones. For example, young children attending a summer school on Mallorca were asked how many candies they would donate to other children if they were asked, as well as how many candies other children on average would donate.

A week later, the children were actually asked to donate. Children from more individualist countries (e.g. Britain) donated many fewer candies than they had predicted, but those from more collectivist countries (e.g. Spain) donated on average just as many as they had predicted. Both groups were accurate in their predictions about their peers (Balcetis et al., 2008).

Does the self have any advantage?

Extant psychological research, however, does suggest one area where this general story about self- and social insight will reverse. People may be wiser when it comes to predicting the public and observable actions of others rather than self, but they do appear to have privileged insight into aspects of the self that are not available for other people to view. People know that below the surface of their public appearance is a private individual who feels doubt, anxiety, inhibition and ambivalence that he or she may not let wholly come to the surface (Spain et al., 2000; Vazire, 2010; Vazire & Carlson, 2010, 2011). Of course, this individual does not see this roiling interior life in others.

As a consequence, people may lack awareness that what’s inside themselves is similarly churning and stirring within others. Thus, for example, people often consider themselves more shy, self-critical, and indecisive than other people (Miller & McFarland, 1987). College students harbour reservations about excessive drinking, but not recognising that others also feel this same reluctance, they go along with the crowd to excess on a Saturday night (Prentice & Miller, 1993). In a similar vein, college students harbour much more discomfort about casual sex than they believe their peers do, with each sex overestimating the comfort level of the other sex when it comes to ‘hooking up’ (Lambert et al., 2003).

Concluding remarks

Thus, current psychological research suggests that people may be wise, at least when it comes to understanding and anticipating other people, but they stand in the way of letting this wisdom lead to their own enlightenment. However, if research reveals this problem, it also suggests a potential solution to it. What we presume about other people’s behaviour and futures is likely a valuable indicator of what awaits us in the same situation – and may be much better indicator of our future than any scenario we are spinning directly about ourselves. When predictions matter, we should not spend a great deal of time predicting what we think we will do. Instead, we should ask what other people are likely to do. Or, we should hand the prediction of our own future over to another person who knows a little about us.

Whatever we do, we should note that perhaps we are, indeed, uniquely special individuals, but that it is too easy to overemphasise that fact. In anticipating the future, we should be mindful of the continuity that lies between our self-nature and the nature of others. It is in recognising this continuity that we realise the path that leads to our wisdom may be a pretty good path to our enlightenment, too. At the very least, that thought does remind one of another Chinese proverb that has survived the centuries, perhaps best indicating its worth – that to know what lies for us along the road ahead, we should be sure to ask those coming back.

Balcetis, E. & Dunning, D. (2008). A mile in moccasins: How situational experience reduces dispositionism in social judgment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 102–114.
Balcetis, E. & Dunning, D. (2013). Considering the situation: Why people are better social psychologists than self-psychologists. Self and Identity, 12, 1–15.
Balcetis, E., Dunning, D. & Miller, R.L. (2008). Do collectivists ‘know themselves’ better than individualists? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1252–1267.
Bass, B.M. & Yammarino, F.J. (1991). Congruence of self and others’ leadership ratings of Naval officers for understanding successful performance. Applied Psychology, 40, 437–454.
Buehler, R., Griffin, D. & Ross, M. (1994). Exploring the ‘planning fallacy’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 366–381.
Borkenau, P. & Liebler, A. (1993). Convergence of stranger ratings of personality and intelligence with self-ratings, partner ratings, and measured intelligence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 546–553.
Critcher, C.R. & Dunning, D. (2013). Predicting persons’ goodness versus a person’s goodness: Forecasts diverge for populations versus individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 28–44.
Dunning, D. (2005). Self-insight: Roadblocks and detours on the path to knowing thyself. New York: Psychology Press.
Dunning, D., Heath, C. & Suls, J. (2004). Flawed self-assessment: Implications for health, education, and the workplace. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5, 71–106.
Epley, N. & Dunning, D. (2000). Feeling ‘holier than thou’: Are self-serving assessments produced by errors in self or social prediction? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 861–875.
Epley, N. & Dunning, D. (2006). The mixed blessings of self-knowledge in behavioral prediction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 641–655.
Fiske, A., Kitayama, S., Markus, H.R. & Nisbett, R.E. (1998). The cultural matrix of social psychology. In D. Gilbert, S. Fiske & G. Lindzey (Eds.) The handbook of social psychology (4th edn, pp.915–981). San Francisco: McGraw-Hill.
Helzer, E.G. & Dunning, D. (2012). Why and when peer prediction is superior to self-prediction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 38–53.
Koehler, D.J. & Poon, C.S.K. (2006). Self-predictions overweight the strength of current intentions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 517–524.
Koehler, D.J., White, R.J. & John, L.K. (2011). Good intentions, optimistic self-predictions, and missed opportunities. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2, 90–96.
Kruger, J. & Gilovich, T. (2004). Actions and intentions in self-assessments: The road to self-enhancement is paved with good intentions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 328–339.
Lambert, T.A., Kahn, A.S. & Apple, K.J. (2003). Pluralistic ignorance and hooking up. Journal of Sex Research, 40, 129–133.
Latané, B. & Darley, J. (1970). The unresponsive bystander: Why doesn't he help? New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
MacDonald, T.K. & Ross, M. (1999). Assessing the accuracy of predictions about dating relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 1417–1429.
Markus, H.R. & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self. Psychological Review, 98, 224–253.
Miller, D.T. & McFarland, C. (1987). Pluralistic ignorance: When similarity is interpreted as dissimilarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 298–305.
Peetz, J. & Buehler, R. (2009). Is there a budget fallacy? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 1579–1591.
Prentice, D.A. & Miller, D.T. (1993). Pluralistic ignorance and alcohol use on campus: Some consequences of misperceiving the social norm. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 243–356.
Pronin, E. & Kugler, M.B. (2010). People believe they have more free will than others. Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences, 107, 22469–22474.
Risucci, D.A., Tortolano, A.J. & Ward, R.J. (1989). Ratings of surgical residents by self, supervisors and peers. Surgical Gynecology and Obstetrics, 169, 519–526.
Spain, J.S., Eaton, L.G. & Funder, D.C. (2000). Perspectives on personality. Journal of Personality, 68, 837–867.
Vazire, S. (2010). Who knows what about a person? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 281–300.
Vazire, S. & Carlson, E.N. (2010). Self-knowledge of personality. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 605–620.
Vazire, S. & Carlson, E.N. (2011). Others sometimes know us better than we know ourselves. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20, 104–108.
Vazire, S., & Mehl, M.R. (2008). Knowing me, knowing you. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1202–1216.
Williams, E.F. & Gilovich, T. (2008). Conceptions of the self and others across time. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1037–1046.

Williams, E., Gilovich, T. & Dunning, D. (2012). Being all that you can be. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 143–154.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Paradoxes of Human Rights

Costas Douzinas, Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, University of London                     Constellations, An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory, Volume 20, Issue 1, pages 51-67, March 2013                                       

A new ideal has triumphed on the world stage: human rights. It unites traditional enemies, left and right, the pulpit and the state, the minister and the rebel, the developing world and the liberals of the West. The new world order, we are told, is genuinely liberal democratic. Ideological controversies of the past have given way to general agreement about the universality of western values and have placed human rights at the core of international law. After the collapse of communism, human rights have become the ideology after the end of ideologies, at the end of history, the morality of international relations, a way of conducting politics according to ethical norms.

And yet many doubts persist. The record of human rights violations since their ringing declarations at the end of the eighteenth century, after WWII and again since 1989 is quite appalling. If the twentieth century is the epoch of human rights, their triumph is, to say the least, something of a paradox. Our era has witnessed more violations of their principles than any previous, less “enlightened” one. Ours is the epoch of massacre, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. At no point in human history has there been a greater gap between the north and the south, between the poor and the rich in the developed world, or between the seduced and the excluded globally. Life expectancy at birth is around 45 years in sub-Saharan Africa but over 80 years in Northern Europe. No belief of progress allows us to ignore that never before in ‘peacetime’ and in absolute figures, have so many men, women, and children been subjugated, starved, or exterminated.

There is a second paradox: if the world has accepted a common humanitarian vision, have conflicts of ideology, religion, and ethnicity ceased? Obviously not. This means that human rights have no common meaning or that the term describes radically different phenomena. There is something more: human rights are perhaps the most important liberal legal institution. Liberal jurisprudence and political philosophy, however, have failed rather badly in their understanding of rights. Two hundred years of social theory and the three major ‘continents’ of thought, according to Louis Althusser, do not enter the annals of jurisprudence: Hegel, Marx, the post-Marxists, and the dialectic of struggle; Nietzsche, Foucault, and the analytics of power; Freud, the post-Freudians, psychoanalysis and subjectivity. As a result, jurisprudence and political philosophy return to the 18th century and update the social contract with ‘original positions’ and ‘veils of ignorance,’ the categorical imperative with ‘ideal speech’ situations and fundamental discourse principles all referring to individuals fully in control of themselves.

The mainstreaming of human rights and the rise of cosmopolitanism coincided with the emergence of what sociologists have called “globalization,” economists “neo-liberalism,” and political philosophers “post-democratic governance.” Is there a link between recent moralistic ideology, greedy capitalism and bio-political governmentality? My answer is a clear yes. Nationally, the bio-political form of power has increased the surveillance, disciplining, and control of life. Morality (and rights as morality's main building block in late capitalism) was always part of the dominant order, in close contact with each epoch's forms of power. Recently, however, rights have mutated from a relative defense against power to a modality of its operations. If rights express, promote and legalize individual desire, they have been contaminated by desire's nihilism. Internationally, the modernist edifice is undermined at the point when the completion of the decolonization process and the relative rise of the developing world create the prospect of a successful defense of its interests. The imposition of ‘cosmopolitan’ economic, cultural, legal, and military policies is an attempt to reassert western hegemony.

The wars of the new world order as well as the 2008 economic crisis and its political culmination in 2011 give us a unique opportunity to examine the post-1989 settlement. The best time to demystify ideology is when it enters into crisis. At this point, the taken for granted, “natural”, invisible premises of ideology come to the surface, become objectified, and can be understood for the first time as constructs. The ‘humanitarian’ interpretation of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars highlighted the absurdity of killing humans to ‘save’ humanity. The absence of human rights demands in Madrid, Athens, or Occupy Wall Street indicated their limited relevance for the most important movement of our times. In the wake of this world wave of protest, several major themes of political philosophy need to be re-visited.

This essay briefly presents an alternative approach to human rights built over a long period of campaigning and scholarship in a trilogy of books.1 It follows the insight that the term human rights, with its immense symbolic capital, has been co-opted to a large number of relatively independent discourses, practices, institutions and campaigns. As a result no global ‘theory’ of rights exists or can be created. Different theoretical perspectives and disciplinary approaches are therefore necessary. This article starts a short history of the idea of humanity and moves to the political, legal, philosophical, and psychological aspects of rights. To indicate this multi-layered approach, it puts forward an axiom and seven theses that re-write the standard liberal approach to rights.

The Human Rights Axiom

The end of human rights is to resist public and private domination and oppression. They lose that end when they become the political ideology or idolatry of neo-liberal capitalism or the contemporary version of the civilizing mission.

Thesis 1

The idea of ‘humanity’ has no fixed meaning and cannot act as the source of moral or legal rules. Historically, the idea has been used to classify people into the fully human, the lesser human, and the inhuman.

If ‘humanity’ is the normative source of moral and legal rules, do we know what ‘humanity’ is? Important philosophical and ontological questions are involved here. Let me have a brief look at its history.

Pre-modern societies did not develop a comprehensive idea of the human species. Free men were Athenians or Spartans, Romans or Carthaginians, but not members of humanity; they were Greeks or barbarians, but not humans. According to classical philosophy, a teleologically determined human nature distributes people across social hierarchies and roles and endows them with differentiated characteristics. The word humanitas appeared for the first time in the Roman Republic as a translation of the Greek word paideia. It was defined as eruditio et institutio in bonas artes (the closest modern equivalent is the German Bildung). The Romans inherited the concept from Stoicism and used it to distinguish between the homo humanus, the educated Roman who was conversant with Greek culture and philosophy and was subjected to the jus civile, and the homines barbari, who included the majority of the uneducated non-Roman inhabitants of the Empire. Humanity enters the western lexicon as an attribute and predicate of homo, as a term of separation and distinction. For Cicero as well as the younger Scipio, humanitas implies generosity, politeness, civilization, and culture and is opposed to barbarism and animality.2 “Only those who conform to certain standards are really men in the full sense, and fully merit the adjective ‘human’ or the attribute ‘humanity.’”3 Hannah Arendt puts it sarcastically: ‘a human being or homo in the original meaning of the word indicates someone outside the range of law and the body politic of the citizens, as for instance a slave – but certainly a politically irrelevant being.’4

If we now turn to the political and legal uses of humanitas, a similar history emerges. The concept ‘humanity’ has been consistently used to separate, distribute, and classify people into rulers, ruled, and excluded. ‘Humanity’ acts as a normative source for politics and law against a background of variable inhumanity. This strategy of political separation curiously entered the historical stage at the precise point when the first proper universalist conception of humanitas emerged in Christian theology, captured in the St Paul's statement, that there is no Greek or Jew, man or woman, free man or slave (Epistle to the Galatians 3:28). All people are equally part of humanity because they can be saved in God's plan of salvation and, secondly, because they share the attributes of humanity now sharply differentiated from a transcended divinity and a subhuman animality. For classical humanism, reason determines the human: man is a zoon logon echon or animale rationale. For Christian metaphysics, on the other hand, the immortal soul, both carried and imprisoned by the body, is the mark of humanity. The new idea of universal equality, unknown to the Greeks, entered the western world as a combination of classical and Christian metaphysics.

The divisive action of ‘humanity’ survived the invention of its spiritual equality. Pope, Emperor, Prince, and King, these representatives and disciples of God on earth were absolute rulers. Their subjects, the sub-jecti or sub-diti, take the law and their commands from their political superiors. More importantly, people will be saved in Christ only if they accept the faith, since non-Christians have no place in the providential plan. This radical divide and exclusion founded the ecumenical mission and proselytizing drive of Church and Empire. Christ's spiritual law of love turned into a battle cry: let us bring the pagans to the grace of God, let us make the singular event of Christ universal, let us impose the message of truth and love upon the whole world. The classical separation between Greek (or human) and barbarian was based on clearly demarcated territorial and linguistic frontiers. In the Christian empire, the frontier was internalized and split the known globe diagonally between the faithful and the heathen. The barbarians were no longer beyond the city as the city expanded to include the known world. They became ‘enemies within’ to be appropriately corrected or eliminated if they stubbornly refused spiritual or secular salvation.

The meaning of humanity after the conquest of the ‘New World’ was vigorously contested in one of the most important public debates in history. In April 1550, Charles V of Spain called a council of state in Valladolid to discuss the Spanish attitude towards the vanquished Indians of Mexico. The philosopher Ginés de Sepulveda and the Bishop Bartholomé de las Casas, two major figures of the Spanish Enlightenment, debated on opposite sides. Sepulveda, who had just translated Aristotle's Politics into Spanish, argued that “the Spaniards rule with perfect right over the barbarians who, in prudence, talent, virtue, humanity are as inferior to the Spaniards as children to adults, women to men, the savage and cruel to the mild and gentle, I might say as monkey to men.”5 The Spanish crown should feel no qualms in dealing with Indian evil. The Indians could be enslaved and treated as barbarian and savage slaves in order to be civilized and proselytized.

Las Casas disagreed. The Indians have well-established customs and settled ways of life, he argued, they value prudence and have the ability to govern and organize families and cities. They have the Christian virtues of gentleness, peacefulness, simplicity, humility, generosity, and patience, and are waiting to be converted. They look like our father Adam before the Fall, wrote las Casas in his Apologia, they are ‘unwitting’ Christians. In an early definition of humanism, las Casas argued that “all the people of the world are humans under the only one definition of all humans and of each one, that is that they are rational…Thus all races of humankind are one.”6 His arguments combined Christian theology and political utility. Respecting local customs is good morality but also good politics: the Indians would convert to Christianity (las Casas’ main concern) but also accept the authority of the Crown and replenish its coffers, if they were made to feel that their traditions, laws, and cultures are respected. But las Casas’ Christian universalism was, like all universalisms, exclusive. He repeatedly condemned “Turks and Moors, the veritable barbarian outcasts of the nations” since they cannot be seen as “unwitting” Christians. An “empirical” universalism of superiority and hierarchy (Sepulveda) and a normative one of truth and love (las Casas) end up being not very different. As Tzvetan Todorov pithily remarks, there is “violence in the conviction that one possesses the truth oneself, whereas this is not the case for others, and that one must furthermore impose that truth on those others.”7

The conflicting interpretations of humanity by Sepulveda and las Casas capture the dominant ideologies of Western empires, imperialisms, and colonialisms. At one end, the (racial) other is inhuman or subhuman. This justifies enslavement, atrocities, and even annihilation as strategies of the civilizing mission. At the other end, conquest, occupation, and forceful conversion are strategies of spiritual or material development, of progress and integration of the innocent, naïve, undeveloped others into the main body of humanity.

These two definitions and strategies towards otherness act as supports of western subjectivity. The helplessness, passivity, and inferiority of the “undeveloped” others turns them into our narcissistic mirror-image and potential double. These unfortunates are the infants of humanity. They are victimized and sacrificed by their own radical evildoers; they are rescued by the West who helps them grow, develop and become our likeness. Because the victim is our mirror image, we know what his interest is and impose it “for his own good.” At the other end, the irrational, cruel, victimizing others are projections of the Other of our unconscious. As Slavoj Žižek puts it, “there is a kind of passive exposure to an overwhelming Otherness, which is the very basis of being human…[the inhuman] is marked by a terrifying excess which, although it negates what we understand as ‘humanity’ is inherent to being human.”8 We have called this abysmal other lurking in the psyche and unsettling the ego various names: God or Satan, barbarian or foreigner, in psychoanalysis the death drive or the Real. Today they have become the “axis of evil,” the “rogue state,” the “bogus refugee,” or the “illegal” migrant. They are contemporary heirs to Sepulveda's “monkeys,” epochal representatives of inhumanity.

A comparison of the cognitive strategies associated with the Latinate humanitas and the Greek anthropos is instructive. The humanity of humanism (and of the academic Humanities9) unites knowing subject and known object following the protocols of self-reflection. The anthropos of physical and social anthropology, on the other hand, is the object only of cognition. Physical anthropology examines bodies, senses, and emotions, the material supports of life. Social anthropology studies diverse non-western peoples, societies, and cultures, but not the human species in its essence or totality. These peoples emerged out of and became the object of observation and study through discovery, conquest, and colonization in the new world, Africa, Asia, or in the peripheries of Europe. As Nishitani Osamu puts it, humanity and anthropos signify two asymmetrical regimes of knowledge.10 Humanity is civilization, anthropos is outside or before civilization. In our globalized world, the minor literatures of anthropos are examined by comparative literature, which compares “civilization” with lesser cultures.

The gradual decline of Western dominance is changing these hierarchies. Similarly, the disquiet with a normative universalism, based on a false conception of humanity, indicates the rise of local, concrete, and context-bound normativities.

In conclusion, because ‘humanity’ has no fixed meaning, it cannot act as a source of norms. Its meaning and scope keeps changing according to political and ideological priorities. The continuously changing conceptions of humanity are the best manifestations of the metaphysics of an age. Perhaps the time has come for anthropos to replace the human. Perhaps the rights to come will be anthropic (to coin a term) rather than human, expressing and promoting singularities and differences instead of the sameness and equivalences of hitherto dominant identities.

Thesis 2

Power and morality, empire and cosmopolitanism, sovereignty and rights, law and desire are not fatal enemies. Instead, a historically specific amalgam of power and morality forms the structuring order of each epoch and society.

We will explore the strong internal connection between these superficially antagonistic principles, at the point of their emergence in the late 18th century here and in the post-1989 order in the next part.

The religious grounding of humanity was undermined by the liberal political philosophies of early modernity. The foundation of humanity was transferred from God to (human) nature. Human nature has been interpreted as an empirical fact, a normative value, or both. Science has driven the first approach. The mark of humanity has been variously sought in language, reason or evolution. Man as species existence emerged as a result of legal and political innovations. The idea of humanity is the creation of humanism, with legal humanism at the forefront. Indeed the great 18th century revolutions and declarations paradigmatically manifest and helped construct modern universalism. And yet, at the heart of humanism, humanity remained a strategy of division and classification.

We can follow briefly this contradictory process, which both proclaims the universal and excludes the local in the text of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, the manifesto of modernity. Article 1, the progenitor of normative universalism, states that ‘men are born and remain free and equal of right’ a claim repeated in the inaugural article of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Equality and liberty are declared natural entitlements and independent of governments, epochal, and local factors. And yet the Declaration is categorically clear about the real source of universal rights. Article 2 states that ‘the aim of any political association is to preserve the natural and inalienable rights of man’ and Article 3 proceeds to define this association: ‘The principle of all Sovereignty lies essentially with the nation.’

‘Natural’ and eternal rights are declared on behalf of the universal “man.” However these rights do not pre-exist but were created by the Declaration. A new type of political association, the sovereign nation and its state and a new type of ‘man’, the national citizen, came into existence and became the beneficiary of rights. In a paradoxical fashion, the declaration of universal principle established local sovereignty. From that point, statehood and territory follow a national principle and belong to a dual time. If the declaration inaugurated modernity, it also started nationalism and its consequences: genocide, ethnic and civil war, ethnic cleansing, minorities, refugees, the stateless. The spatial principle is clear: every state and territory should have its unique dominant nation and every nation should have its own state – a catastrophic development for peace as its extreme application since 1989 has shown.

The new temporal principle replaced religious eschatology with a historical teleology, which promised the future suturing of humanity and nation. This teleology has two possible variants: either the nation imposes its rule on humanity or universalism undermines parochial divides and identities. Both variants became apparent when the Romans turned Stoic cosmopolitanism into the imperial legal regulation of jus gentium. In France, the first alternative appeared in the Napoleonic war, which allegedly spread the civilizing influence through conquest and occupation (according to Hegel, Napoleon was the world spirit on horseback); while the second was the beginning of a modern cosmopolitanism, in which slavery was abolished and colonial people were given political rights for a limited time after the Revolution. From the imperial deformation of Stoic cosmopolitanism to the current use of human rights to legitimize Western global hegemony, every normative universalism has decayed into imperial globalism. The split between normative and empirical humanity resists its healing, precisely because universal normativity has been invariably defined by a part of humanity.

The universal humanity of liberal constitutions was the normative ground of division and exclusion. A gap was opened between universal “man,” the ontological principle of modernity, and national citizen, its political instantiation and the real beneficiary of rights. The nation-state came into existence through the exclusion of other people and nations. The modern subject reaches her humanity by acquiring political rights of citizenship, which guarantee her admission to the universal human nature by excluding from that status others. The alien as a non-citizen is the modern barbarian. He does not have rights because he is not part of the state and he is a lesser human being because he is not a citizen. One is a man to greater or lesser degree because one is a citizen to a greater or lesser degree. The alien is the gap between man and citizen.

In our globalised world, not to have citizenship, to be stateless or a refugee, is the worst fate. Strictly speaking, human rights do not exist: if they are given to people on account of their humanity and not of some lower level group membership, then refugees, the sans papiers migrants and prisoners in Guatanamo Bay and similar detention centers, who have little if any legal protection, should be their main beneficiaries. They have few, if any, rights. They are legally abandoned, bare life, the homines sacri of the new world order.

The epochal move to the subject is driven and exemplified by legal personality. As species existence, the “man” of the rights of man appears without gender, color, history, or tradition. He has no needs or desires, he is an empty vessel united with all others through three abstract traits: free will, reason, and the soul (now the mind) — the universal elements of human essence. This minimum of humanity allows “man” to claim autonomy, moral responsibility, and legal subjectivity. At the same time, the empirical man who actually enjoys the ‘rights of man’ is a man all too man: a well-off, heterosexual, white, urban male who condenses in his person the abstract dignity of humanity and the real prerogatives of belonging to the community of the powerful. A second exclusion therefore conditions humanism, humanity and its rights. Mankind excludes improper men, that is, men of no property or propriety, humans without rhyme and reason, women, racial, and ethnic sexual minorities. Rights construct humans against a variable inhumanity or anthropology. Indeed these “inhuman conditions of humanity,” as Pheng Cheah has called them, act as quasi-transcendental preconditions of modern life.11

The contemporary history of human rights can be seen as the ongoing and always failing struggle to close the gap between the abstract man and the concrete citizen; to add flesh, blood and sex to the pale outline of the ‘human’ and extend the dignities and privileges of the powerful (the characteristics of normative humanity) to empirical humanity. This has not happened however and is unlikely to be achieved through the action of rights.

Thesis 3

The post-1989 order combines an economic system that generates huge structural inequalities and oppression with a juridico-political ideology promising dignity and equality. This major instability is contributing to its demise.

Why and how did this combination of neo-liberal capitalism and humanitarianism emerge? Capitalism has always moralized the economy and applied a gloss of righteousness to profit-making and unregulated competition precisely because it is so hard to believe. From Adam Smith's ‘hidden hand’ to the assertion that unrestrained egotism promotes the common good or that beneficial effects ‘trickle down’ if the rich get even bigger tax breaks, capitalism has consistently tried to claim the moral high ground.12

Similarly, human rights and their dissemination are not simply the result of the liberal or charitable disposition of the West. The predominantly negative meaning of freedom as the absence of external constraints – a euphemism for keeping state regulation of the economy at a minimum – has dominated the Western conception of human rights and turned them into the perfect companion of neo-liberalism. Global moral and civic rules are the necessary companion of the globalization of economic production and consumption, of the completion of world capitalism that follows neo-liberal dogmas. Over the last 30 years, we have witnessed, without much comment, the creation of global legal rules regulating the world capitalist economy, including rules on investment, trade, aid, and intellectual property. Robert Cooper has called it the voluntary imperialism of the global economy. “It is operated by an international consortium of financial Institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank…These institutions…make demands, which increasingly emphasise good governance. If states wish to benefit, they must open themselves up to the interference of international organisations and foreign states.” Cooper concludes that “what is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values.”13

The (implicit) promise to the developing world is that the violent or voluntary adoption of the market-led, neo-liberal model of good governance and limited rights will inexorably lead to Western economic standards. This is fraudulent. Historically, the Western ability to turn the protection of formal rights into a limited guarantee of material, economic, and social rights was partly based on huge transfers from the colonies to the metropolis. While universal morality militates in favor of reverse flows, Western policies on development aid and Third World debt indicate that this is not politically feasible. Indeed, the successive crises and re-arrangements of neoliberal capitalism lead to dispossession and displacement of family farming by agribusiness, to forced migration and urbanization. These processes expand the number of people without skills, status, or the basics for existence. They become human debris, the waste-life, the bottom billions. This neo-colonial attitude has now been extended from the periphery to the European core. Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and Spain have been subjected to the rigors of the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” of austerity and destruction of the welfare state, despite its failure in the developing world. More than half the young people of Spain and Greece are permanently unemployed and a whole generation is being destroyed. But this gene-cide, to coin a term, has not generated a human rights campaign.

As Immanuel Wallerstein put it, “if all humans have equal rights, and all the peoples have equal rights, then we cannot maintain the kind of inegalitarian system that the capitalist world economy has always been and always will be.”14 When the unbridgeability of the gap between the missionary statements on equality and dignity and the bleak reality of obscene inequality becomes apparent, human rights will lead to new and uncontrollable types of tension and conflict. Spanish soldiers met the advancing Napoleonic armies shouting “Down with freedom!” Today people meet the ‘peacekeepers’ of the new world order with cries of “Down with human rights!”

Social and political systems become hegemonic by turning their ideological priorities into universal principles and values. In the new world order, human rights are the perfect candidate for this role. Their core principles, interpreted negatively and economically, promote neo-liberal capitalist penetration. Under a different construction, their abstract provisions could subject the inequalities and indignities of late capitalism to withering attack. But this cannot happen as long as they are used by the dominant powers to spread the ‘values’ of an ideology based on the nihilism and insatiability of desire.

Despite differences in content, colonialism and the human rights movement form a continuum, episodes in the same drama, which started with the great discoveries of the new world and is now carried out in the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan: bringing civilization to the barbarians. The claim to spread Reason and Christianity gave western empires their sense of superiority and their universalizing impetus. The urge is still there; the ideas have been redefined but the belief in the universality of our world-view remains as strong as that of the colonialists. There is little difference between imposing reason and good governance and proselytizing for Christianity and human rights. They are both part of the cultural package of the West, aggressive and redemptive at the same time.

Thesis 4

Universalism and communitarianism rather than being opponents are two types of humanism dependent on each other. They are confronted by the ontology of singular equality

The debate about the meaning of humanity as the ground normative source is conducted between universalists and communitarians. The universalist claims that cultural values and moral norms should pass a test of universal applicability and logical consistency and often concludes that, if there is one moral truth but many errors, it is incumbent upon its agents to impose it on others.

Communitarians start from the obvious observation that values are context-bound and try to impose them on those who disagree with the oppressiveness of tradition. Both principles, when they become absolute essences and define the meaning and value of humanity without remainder, can find everything that resists them expendable.

Kosovo is a good example. The proud Serbians killed and ‘cleansed’ ethnic Albanians in order to protect the integrity of the ‘cradle’ of their nation (interestingly, like most wild nationalisms, celebrating a historic defeat). NATO bombers killed people in Belgrade and Kosovo from 35,000 feet in order to defend the rights of humanity. Both positions exemplify, perhaps in different ways, the contemporary metaphysical urge: they have made an axiomatic decision as to what constitutes the essence of humanity and follow it with a stubborn disregard for alternatives. They are the contemporary expressions of a humanism that defines the ‘essence’ of humanity all the way to its end, as telos and finish. To paraphrase Emanuel Levinas, to save the human we must defeat this type of humanism.

The individualism of universal principles forgets that every person is a world and comes into existence in common with others, that we are all in community. Every human is a singular being, unique in her existence as an unrepeatable concatenation of past encounters, desires, and dreams with future projections, expectations, and plans. Every single person forms a phenomenological cosmos of meaning and intentionality, in relations of desire conversation and recognition with others. Being in common is an integral part of being self: self is exposed to the other, it is posed in exteriority, the other is part of the intimacy of self. My face is “always exposed to others, always turned toward an other and faced by him or her never facing myself.”15

Indeed being in community with others is the opposite of common being or of belonging to an essential community. Communitarians, on the other hand, define community through the commonality of tradition, history, and culture, the various past crystallizations whose inescapable weight determines present possibilities. The essence of the communitarian community is often to compel or ‘allow’ people to find their ‘essence,’ common ‘humanity’ now defined as the spirit of the nation or of the people or the leader. We have to follow traditional values and exclude what is alien and other. Community as communion accepts human rights only to the extent that they help submerge the I into the We, all the way till death, the point of ‘absolute communion’ with dead tradition.16

Both universal morality and cultural identity express different aspects of human experience. Their comparison in the abstract is futile and their differences are not pronounced. When a state adopts ‘universal’ human rights, it will interpret and apply them, if at all, according to local legal procedures and moral principles, making the universal the handmaiden of the particular. The reverse is also true: even those legal systems that jealously guard traditional rights and cultural practices against the encroachment of the universal are already contaminated by it. All rights and principles, even if parochial in their content, share the universalizing impetus of their form. In this sense, rights carry the seed of the dissolution of community and the only defense is to resist the idea of rights altogether, something impossible in global neo-liberalism. The claims of universality and tradition, rather than standing opposed in mortal combat, have become uneasy allies, whose fragile liaison has been sanctioned by the World Bank.

From our perspective, humanity cannot act as a normative principle.. Humanity is not a property shared. It is discernible in the incessant surprising of the human condition and its exposure to an undecided open future. Its function lies not in a philosophical essence but in its non-essence, in the endless process of re-definition and the necessary but impossible attempt to escape external determination. Humanity has no foundation and no end; it is the definition of groundlessness.

Thesis 5

In advanced capitalist societies, human rights de-politicize politics.

Rights form the terrain on which people are distributed into rulers, ruled, and excluded. Power's mode of operation is revealed, if we observe which people are given or deprived of which rights at which particular place or point in time. In this sense, human rights both conceal and affirm the dominant structure of a period and help combat it. Marx was the first to realize the paradoxical nature of rights. Natural rights emerged as a symbol of universal emancipation, but they were at the same time a powerful weapon in the hands of the rising capitalist class, securing and naturalizing emerging dominant economic and social relations. They were used to take out of political challenge the central institutions of capitalism such as religion, property, contractual relations and the family, thus providing the best protection possible. Ideologies, private interests, and egotistical concerns appear natural, normal, and for the public good when they are glossed over by rights vocabulary. As Marx inimitably put it, “freedom, equality, property and Bentham.”17

Early human rights were historical victories of groups and individuals against state power while at the same time promoting a new type of domination. As Giorgio Agamben argues, they “simultaneously prepared a tacit but increasing inscription of individuals’ lives within the state order, thus offering a new and more dreadful foundation for the very sovereign power from which they wanted to liberate themselves.”18 In late capitalism, with its proliferating bio-political regulation, the endlessly multiplying rights paradoxically increase power's investment on bodies.

If classical natural rights protected property and religion by making them ‘apolitical’, the main effect of rights today is to depoliticize politics itself. Let us introduce a key distinction in recent political philosophy between politics (la politique) and the political (le politique). According to Chantal Mouffe, politics is the terrain of routine political life, the activity of debating, lobbying, and horse-trading that takes places around Westminster and Capitol Hill.19 The ‘political,’ on the other hand, refers to the way in which the social bond is instituted and concerns deep rifts in society. The political is the expression and articulation of the irreducibility of social conflict. Politics organizes the practices and institutions through which order is created, normalizing social co-existence in the context of conflict provided by the political.

This deep antagonism is the result of the tension between the structured social body, where every group has its role, function, and place, and what Jacques Rancière calls “the part of no part.” Groups that have been radically excluded from the social order; they are invisible, outside the established sense of what exists and is acceptable. Politics proper erupts only when an excluded part demands to be included and must change the rules of inclusion to achieve that. When they succeed, a new political subject is constituted, in excess to the hierarchized and visible group of groups and a division is put in the pre-existing common sense.20

What is the role of human rights in this division between politics and the political? Right claims reinforce rather than challenge established arrangements. The claimant accepts the established power and distribution orders and transforms the political claim into a demand for admission to the law. The role of law is to transform social and political tensions into a set of solvable problems regulated by rules and hand them over to rule experts. The rights claimant is the opposite of the revolutionaries of the early declarations, whose task was to change the overall design of the law. To this extent, his actions abandon the original commitment of rights to resist and oppose oppression and domination. The ‘excessive’ subjects, who stand for the universal from a position of exclusion, have been replaced by social and identity groups seeking recognition and limited re-distribution.

In the new world order the right-claims of the excluded are foreclosed by political, legal, and military means. Economic migrants, refugees, prisoners of the war on terror, the sans papiers, inhabitants of African camps, these ‘one use humans’ are the indispensable precondition of human rights but, at the same time, they are the living, or rather dying, proof of their impossibility. Successful human rights struggles have undoubtedly improved the lives of people by marginal re-arrangements of social hierarchies and non-threatening re-distributions of the social product. But their effect is to de-politicize conflict and remove the possibility of radical change.

We can conclude that human rights claims and struggles bring to the surface the exclusion, domination and exploitation, and inescapable strife that permeates social and political life. But, at the same time, they conceal the deep roots of strife and domination by framing struggle and resistance in the terms of legal and individual remedies which, if successful, lead to small individual improvements and a marginal re-arrangement of the social edifice. Can human rights re-activate a politics of resistance? The intrinsic link between early natural rights, (religious) transcendence, and political radicalism opened the possibility. It is still active in parts of the world not fully incorporated in the biopolitical operations of power. But only just. The metaphysics of the age is that of the deconstruction of essence and meaning, the closing of the divide between ideal and real, the subjection of the universal to the dominant particular. Economic globalization and semiotic monolingualism are carrying this task out in practice; its intellectual apologists do it in theory. The political and moral duty of the critic is to keep the rift open and to discover and fight for transcendence in immanence.

Thesis 6

In advanced capitalist societies, human rights become strategies for the publicization and legalization of (insatiable) individual desire.

Liberal theories from Immanuel Kant to John Rawls present the self as a solitary and rational entity endowed with natural characteristics and rights and in full control of himself. Rights to life, liberty, and property are presented as integral to humanity's well-being. The social contract (or its heuristic restatement through the “original position”) creates society and government but preserves these rights and makes them binding on government. Rights and today human rights are pre-social, they belong to humans precisely because they are humans. We use this natural patrimony as tools or instruments to confront the outside world, to defend our interests, and to pursue our life plans

This position is sharply contrasted by Hegelian and Marxist dialectics, hermeneutics and psychoanalysis. The human self is not a stable and isolated entity that, once formed, goes into the world and acts according to pre-arranged motives and intentions. Self is created through constant interactions with others, the subject is always inter-subjective. My identity is constructed in an ongoing dialogue and struggle for recognition, in which others (both people and institutions) acknowledge certain characteristics, attributes, and traits as mine, helping create my own sense of self. Identity emerges out of this conversation and struggle with others which follows the dialectic of desire. Law is a tool and effect of this dialectic; human rights acknowledge the constitutive role of desire.

Hegel's basic idea can be put simply. The self is both separate from and dependent upon the external world. Dependence on the not-I, both the object and the other person, makes the self realize that he is not complete but lacking and that he is constantly driven by desire. Life is a continuous struggle to overcome the foreignness of the other person or object. Survival depends on overcoming this radical split from the not-I, while maintaining the sense of uniqueness of self.21

Identity is therefore dynamic always on the move. I am in ongoing dialogue with others, a conversation that keeps changing others and re-drawing my own self-image. Human rights do not belong to humans and do not follow the dictates of humanity; they construct humans. A human being is someone who can successfully claim human rights and the group of rights we have determines how “human” we are; our identity depends on the bunch of rights we can successfully mobilize in relations with others. If this is the case, rights must be linked with deep-seated psychological functions and needs. From the heights of Hegelian dialectics, we now move to the much darker territory of Freudian psychoanalysis.

Jus vitam institutare, the law constitutes life, states a Roman maxim. For psychoanalysis it remains true. We become independent, speaking subjects by entering the symbolic order of language and law. But this first ‘symbolic castration’ must be supplemented by a second that makes us legal subjects. It introduces us into the social contract leaving behind the family life of protection, love, and care. The symbolic order imposes upon us the demands of social life. God, King, or the Sovereign act as universal fathers, representing an omnipotent and unitary social power, which places us in the social division of labor. If, according to Jacques Lacan, the name of the father makes us speaking subjects, the name of the Sovereign turns us into legal subjects and citizens.

This second entry into the law denies, like symbolic castration, the perceived wholeness of family intimacy and replaces it with partial recognitions and incomplete entitlements. Rights by their nature cannot treat the whole person. In law, a person is never a complete being but a persona, ritual or theatrical mask, that hides his or her face under a combination of partial rights. The legal subject is a combination of overlapping and conflicting rights and duties; they are law's blessing and curse. Rights are manifestations of individual desire as well as tools of societal bonding. Following the standard Lacanian division, rights have symbolic, imaginary, and real aspects. Their symbolic function places us in the social division of labor, hierarchy, and exclusion, the imaginary gives us a (false) sense of wholeness while the real disrupts the pleasures of the symbolic and the falsifications of the imaginary. Psychoanalysis offers the most advanced explanation of the constitutive and contradictory work of rights.

The symbolic function of rights bestows legal personality and introduces people to independence away from the intimacy of family. Law and rights construct a formal structure, which allocates us to a place in a matrix of relations strictly indifferent to the needs or desires of flesh and blood people. Legal rights offer the minimum recognition of abstract humanity, formal equivalence and moral responsibility, irrespective of individual characteristics. At the same time, they place people on a grid of distinct and hierarchical roles and functions, of prohibitions, entitlements and exclusions. Social and economic rights add a layer of difference to abstract similarity; they recognize gender, race, religion, and sexuality, in part moving recognition from the abstract equality of humanity to differentiated qualities, characteristics, and predications. Human rights may promise universal happiness but their empirical existence and enforcement depends on genealogies, hierarchies of power and contingencies that allocate the necessary resources ignoring and dismissing expectations or needs. The legal person that rights and duties construct resembles a caricature of the actual human self. The face has been replaced by an image in the cubist style; the nose comes out of the mouth, eyes protrude on the sides, forehead and chin are reversed. It projects a three-dimensional object onto a flat canvas.

The integrity of self denied by the symbolic order of rights returns in the imaginary. Human rights promise an end to conflict, social peace and well-being (the pursuit of happiness was an early promise in the American Declaration of Independence). A society of rights offers an ideal place, a stage and supplement for the ideal ego. As a man of rights, I see myself as someone with dignity, respect, and self-respect, at peace with the world. A society that guarantees rights is a good place, peaceful and affluent, a social order made for and fitting the individual who stands at its center. A legal system that protects rights is rationally coherent and closed (Ronald Dworkin calls it a “seamless web”), morally good (it has principles and the consequent “right” answers to all “hard” problems), pragmatically efficient.

The imaginary domain of rights creates an immediate, imaged and imagined bond, between the subject, her ideal ego, and the world. Human rights project a fantasy of wholeness, which unites body and soul into an integrated self. It is a beautiful self that fits in a good world, a society made for the subject. The anticipated completeness, the projected future integrity that underpins present identity is non-existent and impossible however and, moreover, differs from person to person and from community to community. Our imaginary identification with a good society accepts too easily that the language, signs and images of human rights are (or can become) our reality. The right to work, people assert, exists since it is written in the Universal Declaration, the international Covenants, the Constitution, the law, the statements of politicians. Billions of people have no food, no employment, no education, or health care – but this brutal fact does not weaken the assertion of the ideal. The necessary replacement of materiality by signs, of needs and desires by words and images makes people believe that the mere existence of legal texts and institutions, with little performance or action, affects and completes bodies.

The imaginary promoted by human rights enthusiasts presents a world made for my sake, in which the law meets (or ought to and will meet) my desires. This happy identification with the social and legal system is based on misrecognition. The world is indifferent to my being, happiness or travails. The law is not coherent or just. Morality is not law's business and peace is always temporary and precarious, never perpetual. The state of eu zein or well-being, the terminal point of human rights, is always deferred, its promise postponed its performance impossible. For the middle classes, to be sure, human rights are birth-right and patrimony. For the unfortunates of the world, on the other hand, they are only vague promises, fake supports for offering obedience, with their delivery permanently frustrated. Like the heaven of Christianity, human rights form a receding horizon that allows people to endure daily humiliations and subjugations.

The imaginary of rights is gradually replacing social justice. The decolonization struggles, the civil rights and counter-cultural movements fought for an ideal society based on justice and equality. In the human rights age, the pursuit of collective material welfare has given way to individual gratification and the avoidance of evil. The rights imaginary goes into overdrive when it turns images into “reality,” when legal clauses and terms replace food and shelter, when weasel words become the garb and grab of power. Rights emphasize the individual, his autonomy, and his place in the world. Like all imaginary identifications, they repress the recognition that the subject is inter-subjective and that the economic and social order is strictly indifferent to the fate of any particular individual. According to Louis Althusser, ideology is not “false consciousness” but is made up of ways of living, practices, and experiences that misrecognize our place in the world. It is “the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.” In this sense, human rights are ideology at its strongest but one very different from that of Michael Ignatieff.22

Finally, the symbolic and imaginary operation of rights finds its limit in the real. We hover around the vortex of the real: the lack at the core of subjectivity both causes our projects to fail and creates the drive to continue the effort. When we make a demand, we not only ask the other to fulfill a need but also to offer us unreserved love. An infant, who asks for his mother's breast, needs food but also asks for his mother's attention and love. Desire is always the desire of the other and signifies precisely the excess of demand over need. Each time my need for an object enters language and addresses the other, it is the request for recognition and love. But this demand for wholeness and unqualified recognition cannot be met by the big Other (language, law, the state) or the other person. The big Other is the cause and symbol of lack. The other person cannot offer what the subject lacks because he is also lacking. In our appeal to the other, we confront lack, a lack that can neither be filled nor fully symbolized.

Rights allow us to express our needs in language by formulating them as a demand. A human rights claim involves two demands addressed to the other: a specific request in relation to one aspect of the claimant's personality or status (such as to be left alone, not to suffer in one's bodily integrity, and to be treated equally), but, in addition, a much wider demand to have one's whole identity recognized in its specific characteristics. When a person of color claims, for example, that the rejection of a job application amounted to a denial of her human right to non-discrimination, she makes two related but relatively independent claims. The rejection is both to an unfair denial of the applicant's need for a job but also it denigrates her wider identity. Every right therefore links a need of a part of the body or personality with what exceeds need, the desire that the claimant be recognized and loved as a whole and complete person.

The subject of rights tries to find the missing object that will fill lack and turn him into a complete integral being in the desire of the other. But this object does not exist and cannot be possessed. Rights offer the hope that subject and society can become whole: ‘if only my attributes and characteristics were given legal recognition, I would be happy’; ‘if only the demands of human dignity and equality were fully enforced, society would be just.’ But desire cannot be fulfilled. Rights become a fantastic supplement that arouses but never satiates the subject's desire. Rights always agitate for more rights. They lead to new areas of claim and entitlement that again and again prove insufficient.

Today human rights have become the mark of civility. But their success is limited. No right can earn me the full recognition and love of the other. No bill of rights can complete the struggle for a just society. Indeed the more rights we introduce, the greater the pressure is to legislate for more, to enforce them better, to turn the person into an infinite collector of rights, and to turn humanity into an endlessly proliferating mosaic of laws. The law keeps colonizing life and the social world, while the endless spiral of more rights, acquisitions, and possessions fuels the subject's imagination and dominates the symbolic world. Rights become the reward for psychological lack and political impotence. Fully positivized rights and legalized desire extinguish the self-creating potential of human rights. They become the symptom of all-devouring desire – a sign of the Sovereign or the individual – and at the same time its partial cure. In a strange and paradoxical twist, the more rights we have the more insecure we feel.

But there is one right that is closely linked with the real of radical desire: the right to resistance and revolt. This right is close to the death drive, to the repressed call to transcend the distributions of the symbolic order and the genteel pleasures of the imaginary for something closer to our destructive and creative inner kernel. Taking risks and not giving up on your desire is the ethical call of psychoanalysis. Resistance and revolution is their social equivalent. In the same way that the impossible and disavowed real organizes the psyche, the right to resistance forms the void at the heart of the system of law, which protects it from sclerosis and ossification.23

We can conclude that rights are about recognition (symbolic) and distribution (imaginary); except that there is a right to resistance/revolt.

Thesis 7

For a cosmopolitanism to come (or the idea of communism).

Against imperial arrogance and cosmopolitan naivety, we must insist that global neo-liberal capitalism and human-rights-for-export are part of the same project. The two must be uncoupled; human rights can contribute little to the struggle against capitalist exploitation and political domination. Their promotion by western states and humanitarians turns them into a palliative: it is useful for a limited protection of individuals but it can blunt political resistance. Human rights can re-claim their redemptive role in the hands and imagination of those who return them to the tradition of resistance and struggle against the advice of the preachers of moralism, suffering humanity, and humanitarian philanthropy.

Liberal equality as a regulative principle has failed to close the gap between rich and poor. Equality must become an axiomatic presupposition: People are free and equal; equality is not the effect but the premise of action. Whatever denies this simple truth creates a right and duty of resistance. The equality of legal rights has consistently supported inequality; axiomatic equality (each counts as one in all relevant groups) is the impossible boundary of rights culture. It means that healthcare is due to everyone who needs it, irrespective of means; that rights to residence and work belong to all who find themselves in a part of the world irrespective of nationality; that political activities can be freely engaged by all irrespective of citizenship and against the explicit prohibitions of human rights law.

The combination of the right to resistance and axiomatic equality projects a humanity opposed both to universal individualism and communitarian closure. In the age of globalization, of mondialization we suffer from a poverty of world. Each one is a cosmos but we no longer have a world, only a series of disconnected situations. Everyone a world: a knot of past events and stories, people and encounters, desires and dreams. This is also the point of ekstasis, of opening up and moving away, immortals in our mortality, symbolically finite but imaginatively infinite. The cosmopolitan capitalists promise to make us citizens of the world under a global sovereign and a well-defined and terminal humanity. This is the universalization of the lack of world, the imperialism and empiricism to which every cosmopolitanism falls.

But we should not give up the universalizing impetus of the imaginary, the cosmos that uproots every polis, disturbs every filiation, contests all sovereignty and hegemony. Resistance and radical equality map out an imaginary domain of rights which is uncannily close to utopia. According to Ernst Bloch, the present foreshadows a future not yet and, one should add, not ever possible. The future projection of an order in which man is no longer a “degraded, enslaved, abandoned or, despised being” links the best traditions of the past with a powerful “reminiscence of the future.”24 It disturbs the linear concept of time and, like psychoanalysis, it imagines the present in the image of a prefigured beautiful future, which however will never come to be. In this sense, the imaginary domain is necessarily utopian, non-existing. And yet, this non-place or nothingness grounds our sense of identity, in the same way that utopia helps create a sense of social identity. We have re-discovered in Tunisia and Tahrir Square, in Madrid's Puerta del Sol and Athens’ Syntagma Square what goes beyond and against liberal cosmopolitanism, the principle of its excess. This is the promise of the cosmopolitanism to come – or the idea of communism.25

The cosmopolitanism to come is neither the terrain of nations nor an alliance of classes, although it draws from the treasure of solidarity. Dissatisfaction with the nation, state, and the inter-national comes from a bond between singularities, which cannot be turned into essential humanity, nation, or state. The cosmos to come is the world of each unique one, of whoever or anyone; the polis, the infinite encounters of singularities. What binds me to a Palestinian, a sans papiers migrant, or an unemployed youth is not membership of humanity, nation, state, or community but a bond that cannot be contained in the dominant interpretations of humanity and cosmos or of polis and state.

Law, the principle of the polis, prescribes what constitutes a reasonable order by accepting and validating some parts of collective life, while banning, excluding others, making them invisible. Law and rights link language with things or beings; they nominate what exists and condemn the rest to invisibility and marginality. As the formal and dominant decision about existence, law carries huge ontological power. Radical desire, on the other hand is the longing for what has been banned and declared impossible by the law; what confronts past catastrophes and incorporates the promise of the future.

The axiom of equality and the right to resistance prepare militant subjects in the ongoing struggle between justice and injustice. This being together of singularities in resistance is constructed here and now with friends and strangers in acts of hospitality, in cities of resistance, Cairo, Madrid, Athens.

1- Costas Douzinas, The End of Human Rights (Oxford: Hart, 2000); Costas Douzinas and Adam Gearey, Critical Jurisprudence (Oxford: Hart, 2005); Costas Douzinas, Human Rights and Empire (Abingdon: Routledge, 2007). This essay summarizes and moves forward this alternative approach to rights. The final part of this work entitled The Radical Philosophy of Right will be published by Routledge in 2014.
2- Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Viking Press, 1965), 107.
3- B.L. Ullman, “What are the Humanities?” Journal of Higher Education 17/6 (1946), at 302.
4- H.C. Baldry, The Unity of Mankind in Greek Thought, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 201.
5- Gin'es de Sepulveda, Democrates Segundo of De las Justas Causa de la Guerra contra los Indios (Madrid: Institute Fransisco de Vitoria, 1951), 33 quoted in Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America trans. Richard Howard (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999), 153.
6- Bartholomé de las Casas, Obras Completas, Vol. 7 (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1922), 536–7.
7- Todorov, The Conquest of America 166, 168.
8- Slavoj Žižek, “Against Human Rights 56,” New Left Review (July-August 2005), 34.
9- Costas Douzinas, “For a Humanities of Resistance,” Critical Legal Thinking, December 7, 2010
10- Nishitani Otamu, “Anthropos and Humanity: Two Western Concepts of ‘Human Being’” in Naoki Sakai and Jon Solomon (eds.), Translation, Biopolitics, Colonial Difference (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2006), 259–274.
11- Pheng Cheah, Inhuman Conditions (Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press, 2006), Chapter 7.
12- Jean-Claude Michéa, The Realm of Lesser Evil trans. David Fernbach (Cambridge and Malden: Polity Press, 2009), Chapter 3.
13- Robert Cooper, “The New Liberal Imperialism,” The Observer (April 1 2002), 3.
14- Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Insurmountable Contradictions of Liberalism” Southern Atlantic Quarterly (1995), 176–7.
15- Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), xxxviii.
16- Ibid.
17- Karl Marx, Capital, Volume One (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), 280.
18- Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford University Press, 1998), 121.
19- Chantal Mouffe, On the Political (London: Routledge, 2005), 8–9.
20- Jacques Rancière, Disagreement. trans. Julie Rose (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998); “Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?” in “And Justice for All?” Ian Balfour and Eduardo Cadava, special issue, eds., South Atlantic Quarterly, 103, no. 2–3 (2004), 297.
21- Costas Douzinas, “Identity, Recognition, Rights or What Can Hegel Teach Us About Human Rights?” Journal of Law and Society 29 (2002), 379–405.
22- Michael Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Ideology (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2001).
23- Costas Douzinas, “Adikia: On Communism and Rights,” in The Idea of Communism Costas Douzinas and Slavoj Žižek eds (London: Verso, 2010), 81–100.
24- Ernst Bloch, Natural Law and Human History trans. J.D. Schmidt (Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press, 1988), xxviii.
25- Costas Douzinas, Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis (Cambridge, Polity, 2013), Chapters 9, 10, and 11.