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Human Rights in the Age of National Populism. Les droits de l’homme rendent-ils idiots? Justine Lacroix et Jean-Yves Pranchère.

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Les droits de l'homme rendent-ils idiots ? - Lacroix - Pranchère ...

 Les droits de l’homme rendent-ils idiot ? (2019) Justine Lacroix et Jean-Yves Pranchère.

“This sphere that we are deserting, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham.”

Karl Marx Capital Vol 1. Chapter 6. The Buying and Selling of Labour-Power.

Earlier this year Benjamin Ward, of Human Rights Watch, wrote,

The government’s new Attorney General Suella Braverman, its top legal adviser, is on record recently arguing that the courts’ ability to hold the government to account should be restrained, and expressing her criticism of human rights.

It’s increasingly clear that Johnson plans to water down the Human Rights Act, which keeps us safe from government harm, and make it harder for British courts to intervene when the state tramples on people’s rights.

“Human rights are no longer popular”, Justine Lacroix and Jean-Yves Pranchère begin Les droits de l’homme rendent-ils idiot ? with this statement from a former  judge at the European Court of Human Rights, Françoise Tulkens. That they are not a “priority” for governments. Not only have we seen national populist leaders, on both sides of the Atlantic, in practice undermine human rights protections, but scorn for  “droits-de-l’hommisme” has grown. The idea that rights-culture, rights-ideology, is a feature of the “nouvel ordre néolibérale” , an alliance between capitalist economics and social liberalism, remains influential on the left. Individual rights lead to individualism, people “sans appartenance et sans obligation à l’égard de la collectivité” (without belonging and without obligation to the collective)  The “culture of narcissism” a demand for “respect” without concern for others, undermines the family, and “respect d’autrui” (others). The “multiplication” of rights, and obsession about them,  has created bad citizens and a world of “incivilité”.

Les droits de l’homme rendent-ils idiot ? is a defence of human rights on the “champ intellectuel”. This is a crowded field. The authors begin by warning that national populism, or, as they call it,  “illiberal democracy”, puts forward an ideal of “l”homogénéité nationale” in countries like Poland and Hungary that moulds politics against  what Carl Schmitt called “the enemy”. This is in contrast to the democratic principles though by the thinker Claude Lefort. For the former Socialisme ou Barbarie thinker democracy comes from everybody, but democratic (institutional) sovereignty is an “empty” space (lieu vide)  in that no party in the name of the people can permanently occupy it.  Efforts, from identifying ‘the’ people with one party, or determining politics through a totalitarian one-party, one person, “égocrate” eats up the very incertianity that breathes life into democracy.  Lefort, as they later outline, is a touchstone for the idea that human rights are self-created, part of a long process he called the “democratic revolution”. Human rights are a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to create this democratic world, one  that everybody can live in.

Lacroix and  Pranchère do not cite Jacques Rancière. But the radical philosopher’s asserted  that human rights are constantly redefined, through “dissensus”  from the “outside” by the “plebe”, the “rights of the rightless” (Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?). “In this way, the ‘‘abstract’’ and litigious Rights of Man and of the citizen are tentatively turned into real rights, belonging to real groups, attached to their identity and to the recognition of their place in the global population”.This underlines the way that those excluded from the homogeneous sovereign people of national populism create new demands. Written in 1791 Olympe de Gouges’s Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne is one such claim followed by her calls to abolish slavery,. First and foremost she demanded the right for women to be equals in politics, “A woman has the right to mount the scaffold. She must possess equally the right to mount the speaker’s platform.” The Guillotine did not stop her voice ringing  throughout the ages.

Neoliberalism is an economic project, a belief in the efficiency of markets, not a belief in human rights. Hayek was opposed to human rights and any kind of social “constructionism”, opposing human rights in the same vein as Edmund Burke, with a experimental knowledge rooted in tradition. Only  “néolibéralisme est responsable pour le néolibéralisme.” Against this Lacroix and  Pranchère praise a side of John Stuart Mill and Benjamin Constant’s political liberalism, their resistance to authoritarianism. They can help indicate to those who draw on the human rights thought see  the need to balance “liberty and equality”.

Many on the left remain suspicious of human rights. Some of this goes back to the early years of socialism. Marx’s famous reference to human rights in Capital was accompanied by support for the “legal limitation of the working day”, a modest Magna Carta. In the passage heading the present review, Jeremy  Bentham was as an unlikely figure to muster in support of human rights. He was, the authors note, as hostile to the French Revolution’s founding declarations as De Maistre and Edmund Burke. More so in fact, in Anarchical Fallacies Critique of the Doctrine of Inalienable, Natural Rights (1796), he dismissed them” Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense, — nonsense upon stilts.” Perhaps Benthan advocacy of the workhouse could be seen as a means to ensure the greatest good, through a felicific calculus of pleasure and pain, but of human rights ideology, there was none.

Justine Lacroix and Jean-Yves Pranchère offer this way of looking at Marx’s views. In the celebrated statement that the  “free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” implies that we base on the liberty of all on the liberty of each individual, and not the other way around. (Il s’agissait bien de fonder le liberté de tous sur la liberté de chacun, et non l’inverse.” (Page 94)

Lacroix and  Pranchère are academics, who have published on political theory and human rights. They are both  based on Brussels. But, references to (mostly) French language controversies aside (they offer important insights into the writings of Marcel Gauchet for example)  Les droits de l’homme rendent-ils idiot ?  has striking echoes of near- identical debates in Britain and the anglophone world. In part this is the result of the curious reprise of US polemicist Christopher Lasch’ writings on the “therapeutic” roots of narcissistic politics,  by, amongst many others,  the French ‘original socialist’ Jean-Claude Michéa, who considers that the original fault of French socialism was to have aligned with liberalism. But, as we have indicated with PM Boris Johnson’s potential attacks on human rights legislation, these are not only issues stuck in the world of ideas. From here we move to the global ‘culture wars’, and to clashes on battle-grounds of American liberalism and conservatism, Bolsarono’s Brazil, and back to Europe’s illiberal states and national populists.

There is , it could be argued, increasing convergence between the ideas of conservatives and a certain nationalist or “sovereigntist” left. This has a more limited range, perhaps to Europe. where the stakes have involved parties of the left with  influential socialist traditions that are marginal in the USA. Every one of the book’s broader account of the claims against human rights and the “culture wars”  they are held to foster, every linkage between neoliberalism and human rights, every complaint against ‘ interfering’ laws and gender politics, is to be found on the Spiked Magazine (run by former Revolutionary Marxists ) site, Blue Labour (whose views on the family could be inserted into many paragraphs), in the writings of the Full Brexit supporters and in groupuscules like the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

Les droits de l’homme rendent-ils idiot ?  makes a case that has its counterpart in Britain, and elsewhere, despite our obvious different historical relationship to the first French Republic’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789. A defence of human rights as part of a strategy of solidarity (“une politique de la solidarité”) and internationalism open to defending both individuals and social groups fighting injustice. Justine Lacroix and Jean-Yves Pranchère are to be congratulated on showing some of the way.

See also: Review: Les droits de l’homme rendent-ils idiot ?


Belarus and the New International Solidarity.

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Global Solidarity Needed with Belarus Democrats,

One of the most influential books on nationalism in modern times was Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities.  (1983) Thinking about the nation as “an imagined political political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” a “deep horizontal comradeship”, in different styles (languages, cultures), and though the arrival of print,  in which this relationship occupies people’s minds, and through the sovereign state, were hallmarks of Anderson’s approach.

Imagined Communities was at its most convincing for the case that nationalism was not just another ‘ism’, “a system of ideas, an ideology”.  It was at its least plausible when it extended an argument against those who tried to battle against nationalisms which were plainly an ideology, part of political projects which projected a future for a national sovereign body based on the common “fellowship” of a people. Critics of Anderson, such as Eric Hobsbawm, pointed out that that the idea of People and Nation are no doubt created in this way (Including very imaginary inventions of tradition and organic roots). But “politics constantly tended to take up an remould such pre-political elements for its own purposes”. (Nations and Nationalism since 1780. 1991)

In this millennium a new generation of nationalists has learnt to “speak for dead people” to defend their nationalism and imagined sovereignty. National populisms, amongst other boasts,  claim to give voice to the People against the ‘globalist elites’. These themes have helped sustain governments like Donald Trump’s , the election of Boris Johnson, and to propel the hardline regimes of Poland and Hungary.

The left has had a hard time finding an alternative. A few, like the editors of the journal which Benedict’s brother,{erry sustained for many years, have variously welcomed ‘anti-system’ movements of all stripes against the ‘globalising’ ‘neoliberal’ European Union, and relished Brexit  as shocks to the world order, while spending their time in wishful thinking about a small American left unable to create an alternative would-be hegemonic radicalism to national populism.

Some wish to channel national feeling into left populism. Attempts to do so have not been successful, as the failure of the most explicit left-wing populist project, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise indicates. This suggests that the diversity of modern European societies may be one reason why it is not easy to mobilise and draw together  the “people” against a capitalist elite, but not as difficult to speak for one group of people against an ‘anti-national’ enemy, foreigners in general and domestic groups of migrant origin.

Reflecting on his academic career  in the posthumous A Life Beyond Boundaries (2016) Anderson spoke of his writing on nationalism.

I began to recognise that the fundamental drawback of this type of comparison, that using the nation and nation states as the basic units of analysis totally ignored the obvious fact that in reality these units were tied together and crosscut by ‘global’ political-intellectual currents such as liberalism, fascism, communism and socialism, as well as vast religious networks and economic and technological forces. I has also to take seriously the reality that very few people have ever been ‘solely’ nationalist. (Page 128)

People can be “gripped” by global cultural and political products and ideas, Hollywood, Manga comics, neoliberalism, Islamism, human rights, and democracy, As he observed, global forms of communication, created with the “telegraph and the steamship” had moved on. One word, Internet, plus, another, global travel. And another migration. We can communicate across the world not just through “supranational’ languages, like English, Arabic, Spanish, French, Mandarin, but in any language, if only through with the help Google translation. TO the Internet we can add migration, global travel, and migration.

It seems that many on the left, particularly the pro-Brexit left which prepared the ground for Boris Johnson’s message of Get Brexit Done, have been unable to grapple with the results of these underlying changes.

These are times and conditions not just for the rise of national populism, but for a new internationalism to grow.

In recent weeks we have seen support for Chinese democrats, protests against the persecution of the Uighurs, and a wave of deep empathy with Beirut.

But for some on the left the model of solidarity seems stuck on the late 19th century. That is, calls for solidarity between the peoples, each separate, and communicated to through vertically. It is suggested that people are constantly getting their support ‘wrong’, and should leave it to official channels; that our real business is with our “Own” imperialism.

This is not going to happen…..

Revolts in places across the world inspire direct support.

Here is –  clear, simple and an intensely moving – account  of one.

Lukashenko may be announced the winner. But his victory won’t last long

Let’s put this type of response in the dustbin of history:

Background Articles: Why the clock is ticking for Belarus’s Lukashenko

The opposition’s wooing of Moscow may have sealed the fate of Europe’s “last dictator”.

Belarus blues: can Europe’s ‘last dictator’ survive rising discontent?

Andrew Roth.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 10, 2020 at 12:19 pm

Corbyn and McDonnell Faced “hundreds” of incidents of Factionalist Obstruction – Joe Ryle.

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Who is the worst threat to Labour over the leaked report on right ...
Labour Needs to Turn its Back on All Factionalism.

Today a disturbing account of how the factional opponents of Jeremy Corbyn reacted to his leadership of the Labour Party has been published.

I saw from the inside how Labour staff worked to prevent a Labour government

The work of senior Labour staffers to stop Labour winning is only just starting to come out.

Joe Ryle Open Democracy.

Ryle has a background in climate activism and took up work for John McDonnell and Labour ” mostly unaware of all its different political affiliations and factions”.

The Evening Standard (February the 23rd 2016)  reported,

Joe Ryle helped organise for activist group Momentum in London, where some MPs fear it is behind attempts to deselect them.

He also played an active role in aviation campaign group Plane Stupid, with whom he was arrested after a protest at Stansted Airport.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell under fire for employing Momentum and Plane Stupid activist

Ryle may have been aware of Labour’s factionalism because he had been a Green Party member, and Press Officer, for Keith Taylor Green Party MEP (South East England).

GIven the way the Green Party, and the European Parliament, operate,  was it surprising to find this? ” We were in for quite a shock when we were confronted with the machine of Labour HQ.”

This tweet from John McDonnell indicates that his work was appreciated.


The story that has just broken will unsettle anybody, even to those familiar with machine politics.


Joe Ryle states,

Some of the behaviour of senior officials at Labour HQ has already been documented in the 860-page leaked Labour report. But there’s a lot more that went on behind the scenes and I think it’s important that people have the whole story.

There is plenty of detail to back his account up.

The most shocking sabotage I personally witnessed was an encounter with the notoriously difficult regional offices who were often the most ideologically opposed to the Corbyn regime. At my request, attempts were made to organise a rally for John McDonnell via one of the regional offices. Given that John was one of the most senior members of the shadow cabinet, I expected my request to be met with enthusiasm.

When I found out that the location they had chosen was in the middle of nowhere I was left flabbergasted. I was told this tactic had been used before – apparently to avoid lots of members showing up and being won round by the new regime.

There were hundreds more incidents like this that I’m aware of; press releases regularly blocked from going out, staff members briefing against Corbyn’s office, weekly planning grids leaked including the 2019 General Election grid, an almost constant refusal to share content on the party’s social media platforms and the coordination of staff resignations to damage the party. As a political first, the party’s 2017 manifesto was also infamously leaked.

Ryle continues,

.On the night of the 2017 General Election I was in the press team at the party’s HQ. I’ll never forget the deathly silence and the looks on the faces of those staffers that we knew to have been plotting against Corbyn since day one. While we celebrated robbing Theresa May of her majority, party staffers mourned in the room next door: “they are cheering and we are silent and grey faced. Opposite to what I had been working towards for the last couple of years!!, one senior staffer allegedly wrote on WhatsApp that night, according to the leaked report.

This is serious account from somebody who is well-regarded as a party worker.

It needs a proper response.

Factionalism amongst opponents of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell was rife in  key Labour Party structures.

We need to end Labour factionalism, Keir Starmer has said.

That means all. factionalism.

But is this true?

The number of extra votes in marginal seats that Labour needed in 2017 to give Corbyn a chance of being prime minister was an agonising 2,227. This will forever remain a sore point for many of us. Because as the leaked report exposed – we know that in 2017 party resources never reached many of the winnable seats that they should have, with allies of the small faction in party HQ standing in safe seats seen as the first priority.


Without the actions of this small group of highly experienced saboteurs, I genuinely believe we would now be three years into a Labour government investing in our NHS and public services – an outcome which surely would have better prepared the country for the Coronavirus pandemic.

The idea that Labour came within a whisker of winning in 2017 is simply not true.

NIck Tyrone, no doubt a factional opponent of the left,  points out,

No, Labour did not almost win the 2017 general election. Here’s a breakdown of why – and why this is important

I’ll give the Corbynistas their precious 2,227 votes exactly where they need them so they can take those seven seats off the Tories by one vote each. For the sake of what follows, they are theirs. So, what happens if Labour gets those seven seats off the Conservatives in 2017? They won the election then, right? No, not even remotely close.

An extra seven seats would have given Labour 269, which if you are a keen observer of British politics you will note would still have put Labour someways off the 326 needed to have an outright majority in parliament and even way short of the 321 needed for a nominal majority when Sinn Fein, the speaker, etc are taken out of the equation. More than 50 seats short in fact, which is a strange way to call something a victory. So, what the hell are the Corbynistas on about then? Well, remember they took these seven seats off of the Tories, which means instead of the 317 the Conservatives actually ended up with, they now have 310. Even hooking up with the DUP only collectively gets them 320. If you add Labour’s 269 to the SNP’s 35, the Lib Dems 12, Plaid Cymru’s 4 and Caroline Lucas, you get 321. A one seat majority over the Tory-DUP configuration! Which means Corbyn would have been prime minister! Right?


Written by Andrew Coates

August 7, 2020 at 11:17 am