I began the dissertation with the Before the Law parable, making a parallel between the metaphoric episode illustrated by Franz Kafka, and the current situation of Syrian refugees. In this paper, we have explored the history of human rights, acknowledging their ambiguous and -at times- contradictory tenets, use, and implementation. I then proceeded with a deconstructive analysis of their philosophical foundation; the liberal utilitarian institutionalisation of political asylum; the reification of the law, and the false finitude of political communities. There are three prevailing ideas to be remembered.
Firstly, the ethical concern presented here arises from the risk posed by popular acceptance of the legitimacy of state sovereignty above individual rights of recognition, self-expression, and inclusion. The source of human rights cannot be located within a presumed essence of an entity, nor can it be attached to certain legal identities. Indeed, human rights violation does not take away asylum seekers’ humanity, nor can legal reforms alone solve the violence which arises from unequal relations of power. Substantial acts of resistance are necessary to oppose the rhetoric which portrays the state as having the duty to impose measures (e.g. surveillance) onto populations, which leads to a division between the ‘regular citizen’, the ‘genuine’ asylum seeker, and the ‘bogus’ asylum seeker. The belief in the so-called ‘unity of the nation’ based on the idea of consensus and ‘national harmony’ constructs foreign populations as threatening, and allows the Home Office to further their intrusive and violent policies which risk to encourage an attitude of scepticism within the British population. It is no coincidence that the EDL can claim to be a ‘human rights organisation’, when the human rights discourse has become trivialised and used for different ends by numerous groups. In response to this, a radical gesture is needed to inscribe the political on the current systems of democracy by exposing the exclusionary practices of sovereign bodies. Following Derrida’s method in The Beast and the Sovereign (2009), I have criticised the legitimacy of the state and international law to affect politics, looking for ‘a slow and differentiated deconstruction’ of the logic of the necessity of sovereignty to police populations (Derrida 2005b:75; emphasis in original).
Secondly, by engaging with Rancière’s thought, I have been able to make a distinction between forms of politics, to formulate a move towards equality. I argued that the identitarian politics suggested by Arendt, and the utilitarian and liberal principles upheld by current international bodies are not enough for a total liberation of the human rights project. From the horizon of equality one can understand the fallacy of ‘inequality talk’; contrary to the restrictive rhetoric of government officials, everyone is equally entitled to be an active part of the demos. It is important to affirm once again that equality is not to be defined solely in terms of ‘one person – one vote’; voting itself is not political, as it relies on state rule, without the possibility of making structural, substantive change. Instead of merely counting identities and votes, what is important is how one counts, how one is understood. Following this rationale, the paper constitutes a call for an increased awareness of the risk of considering human rights as the sole measure of equality. At a time when the apolitical dimension of international law and institutions is portrayed in positive light, critique is especially necessary.
Furthermore, in this paper I suggested a new way of thinking about politics by analysing contemporary events related to political asylum. Additionally, I have sought to re-construct and politicise the project of human rights by illustrating the possibility of a different ethics upon which democracy can be based. There can be no radical politics pursued in the name of a sovereign power (the state, the law) or partitioning ethics (utilitarianism, neo-liberalism). A progressive political process presupposes continual scepticism, critique, and transformation of any form of partitioning, and against locating the political within the confines of a particular sphere. Radical politics, hospitality, and democracy are ever-possible events and processes which cannot be annihilated, but only temporarily subdued under the controlling logic of sovereignty which reduces justice to law.
Finally, the very basis of the legal and political tenets of sovereign bodies ought to be scrutinised, for an ethical politics to successfully be informed by the unconditional principle of hospitality. Derrida’s ethics has shown that not all self-acclaimed ‘hospitable’ practices are indeed so. It is to be assumed that the complex relationship between the sovereign and ‘the beast’ (the subaltern) maintains the difficulty of overcoming the current immigration laws which are in themselves inhospitable. For both Derrida and Rancière, democracy proper cannot be realised within actuality, it always remains to-come, as neither equality nor hospitality are finite. Therefore, politics-as-dissensus plays a crucial role in highlighting the ineluctable aporetic effects of democracy and hospitality to constantly challenge the operating sovereign powers. When the laws of state hospitality presume a conditional opening to the Other in a fashion similar to Kafka’s gatekeeper, our task is to recognise the possibility and immanent necessity of interrupting this practice in order to keep the gate open. What is left is a call for an engagement with a Sisyphean exercise of maintaining democracy through unforeseen political acts which fundamentally challenge the legitimacy of sovereignty, and expose the ordinariness of contemporary exclusionary politics.