- “The Rights of Those Who Have Not the Rights that They Have”The Human, the Citizen, the Intervals
Rancière, rights, political subjetification, emancipation, violence, resistance, community, Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó
One of the fundamental assumptions underlying the debate over the relation between law and violence, maintained by very different reflections such as those of Benjamin, Derrida, Nancy, and Agamben, is that political space is framed by boundaries of exclusion and inclusion, which also suppose an order of meaning in virtue of which those who appear as radically “other” (as mere life, animal life, inhuman life, the irrational, the senseless) are reduced, excluded, coerced, or subjected in relation to such ordering. This assumption entails the challenge of thinking of politics as exposed to “the infinite otherness to the Other,” or to the “infinite, asymmetrical gift, which introduces alterity (understood now as unmasterable excess) at the heart of the common” (Acosta 2013, 31). However, such an assumption and challenge is alien to the thought of Jacques Rancière, for whom “otherness does not come [End Page 153] to politics from the outside, for the precise reason that it already has its own otherness, its own principle of heterogeneity” (Rancière 2010, 53). In this essay, I do not want to deal directly with this confrontation that Rancière undertakes against dissimilar reflections and proposals—encompassed by the author as “ethics of alterity”—and which he may have problematized rather hastily and unfairly. I would prefer to think about the way in which, for Rancière, “politics has its own otherness,” understood as “its own principle of heterogeneity,” and to discuss, together with this, the position that Rancière has assumed regarding the question of rights; namely, the way he distances himself both from interpretations that emphasize only the violence of law, the normalizing power of law on the one hand, and also from those that emphasize its governmental, deliberative, and consensual uses on the other.1 Such distancing allows Rancière to argue that rights, particularly human rights, may produce and reproduce forms of domination and subjection, but they may also be mobilized by emancipatory collective actions and operate in them as “the rights of those who have not the rights that they have and have the rights that they have not” (Rancière 2004, 302).
At stake in this distancing from ethics of alterity and governmental uses of law is the way in which Rancière understands the forms of domination/subjection and his reflections on political subjectification. On the one hand, he insists that if the forms of domination presuppose the fixing of some boundaries or coordinates of meaning, the problem is not so much the exclusion of the unmasterable other, but the saturation of the distances-gaps (écarts) and intervals that may emerge between forms of expression, regimes of sense, affections, images, texts, bodies, identities. On the other hand, he emphasizes that those gaps are precisely what allows bodies to alter, to become others, to create other forms of enunciation and make other problems visible. However, this does not result from an openness to the other, as a “transcendental horizon,” or an unmasterable excess, but from an inventing of the other as a process of subjectification “which continually creates ‘newcomers,’ new subjects that enact the equal power of anyone and everyone and construct new words about community in the given” (Rancière 2010, 59). As we shall see later, the political use that Rancière makes of human rights has to do precisely with these breaches or gaps that are what characterize them, as [End Page 154] previously highlighted by Burke, Marx, Arendt, and Agamben.2 These gaps do not necessarily enact the violence of the allegedly universal over the contingency of the real, the empty formalism of rights that masks forms of exploitation, or their dangerous identification with the rights of the nation-state, which implies their emptiness; rather, they may assert themselves as intervals that open up possibilities of political subjectification, “since political subjects exist in the interval between different identities, between Man and citizen” (Rancière 2010, 56).
For Rancière, failing to acknowledge the political...