Rights of Man vs. Rights of the Citizen

As always when I should be hard at work, I plan on running a tangent on the reading material used for the essay. In my class on postmodern international relations theory, the question that has been nagging me and unsettling my idealist inner self is one concerning resistance. According to pomo theory, the sovereignty of state is autoimmune. What this means is that in order for a state to exercise the law, it must derive its power from outside the law. For example, Derrida uses the example of the Founding Fathers and the US Constitution. They signed a declaration (legally binding) on a people that did not yet exist. In other words, the founding moment is empty of its democratic ideal precisely because it was founded on authoritarian means (placing a law on citizens not yet existing).  This idea follows Foucault’s conception that sovereignty is necessarily oppressive (the double bind) and Arendt who says that it is within the state’s power to dictate who has  citizenship or who does not (*cough* Sarkozy and the Roma)

The problem with this is if state sovereignty is by definition oppression of the excluded and necessarily creates a “camp” as Agamben’s state of exception, what resistance is left? What could the bare political life of Jewish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps have done to resist their condition? What can the Roma do against European policies depriving them of citizenship? What would the Tamil refugees have done if Canadian immigration authorities had decided not to process their refugee status? What about the prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, who is held in an American military space not declared to be American soil?

These spaces demonstrate disturbingly that without a passport, you have no human rights. The options of resistance proposed in the class were grim, since in such situations, all you have left is your physical self, now politicized in its state of exception. Stories of people sewing their lips and eyes shut, people burning off their fingerprints, and other forms of bodily mutilation. To me, such options appear extremely drastic and it strikes me that there is a wide gap in application between foreign relations and international ethics. It troubles me, but there must be a form of resistance. I agree with Foucault that we have a duty to resist power structures wherever they exist and I like Said’s idea that pointing out this grave issue is a start to attacking the problem, but what else? Would an academic revolution necessarily entail a revolution in the international structure towards a more ethical mindset in terms of human rights, and not merely the rights of the citizen? I would like to think so…

No to Biopolitical Tattooing – By Giorgio Agamben, Le Monde (English Translation)

Non au tatouage biopolitique – par Giorgio Agamben, Le Monde (Original)

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