1. Human rights as a measure of radical equality

For Rancière, equality is the very premise from which one has to start when talking about politics, inequality being a stultifying fiction established through the construction of subjectivities and roles within society by an ordering police (1991:7). As such, any promise of equality in a community is a utopian goal because ‘equality it not given, nor is it claimed […] it is practiced, it is verified’ (1991:137). It is the dogmatic promises which presuppose equality as illusory that Rancière dismisses, his solution against stultifying discourses being to re-politicise human rights by focusing on the reality of equality enacted in situations of inequality (Schaap 2012:163). Whereas the ‘human’ in human rights represents for Arendt one who lacks political power and representation, for Rancière stating the equality between all humans as a condition of the ‘human’ is a way of verifying equality. It is not enough to make the argument that the loss of citizenship and political power can be solved merely by coercing a community to recognise the rights of refugees – an emancipatory gesture towards the use of human rights must go beyond communitarian grounding.

Juridical practice refers to those who are already known and counted within a totality. Thus, a permanent altering of jurisfiction is needed, to challenge the anticipation of the refugee’s arrival. In practice, the Declaration of Human Rights and the Rights of Refugees resemble to an extent the promise voiced by Kafka’s gatekeeper, holding people in indefinite postponement. It is only those who qualify that are given asylum, according to bureaucratic and legal criteria. It is to be noted, though, that Agamben’s argument that the project of human rights is obsolete and entirely colonised by the subjectifying law of the state is a non sequitur – more credit needs to be given to the context within which rights claims occur. Accordingly, the fight for equality ought to be carried on two fronts: both in terms of staging and verifying equality (the second condition of Rancière’s rights), and by inscribing equality within the law, as ‘written rights’ (Rancière 2004a:302-3). Through politics (as an act of democracy), the uncounted can stage their equality. This is the democracy-to-come envisioned by both Derrida and Rancière: it can never be fully actualised, but nevertheless it represents a messianic promise of verification and interruption through repetitive events which exceed calculation and prediction.