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On Making Dehumanization Possible

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Extract

Contemporary liberal assertions equate illegal oppression and practices of expulsion from the juridical order with exclusion from humanity. It is often argued that violence ensuing from the abandonment of persons beyond the pale of the law not only violates their humanity but also, and perhaps more crucially dehumanizes them or constitutes them as less than human. While the objective of these critical assertions is to expose the radical evil that illegal violence can institute, they also establish an equation between the protection of the law and the constitution of humanity, effectively granting the former a magical power to endow the latter. Moreover, these critical assertions reproduce a particular conviction that humanity is a status to be recognized and conferred, or seized and taken away. Rather than leave this relation between humanity and the law intact, by pointing to its political instrumentality in contemporary human rights campaigns, this paper examines what this relation does to politics and to subjects of violence beyond its instrumental use directed at highlighting the suffering of subjects (by employing a dehumanization rhetoric) and at insisting on human-rights-based remedies to combat it. The paper asks the following questions. First, what conceptual and theoretical assumptions about humanity and the law, as well as about the relation between them, make possible the dehumanization argument? Second, to what degree has the law's conception of humanity as a status moved beyond the juridical field, leading many humanist practitioners to assert, albeit critically, that certain groups and individuals are dehumanized? And, finally, what other ways of being human are foreclosed by the conceptual assumptions grounding the law-based humanity argument?

Type
Little-Known Documents
Information
PMLA , Volume 121 , Issue 5 , October 2006 , pp. 1544 - 1551
Copyright
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2006

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