Douzinas sobre derechos humanos

Por Jorge Luis Fabra Zamora (

Tomado de aquí.

Seven Theses on Human Rights: (1) The Idea of Humanity

16 May 2013
Thesis 1: The idea of ‘humanity’ has no fixed meaning and cannot act as the source of moral or legal rules. Historically, the idea has been used to classify people into the fully human, the lesser human, and the inhuman.
If ‘human­ity’ is the norm­at­ive source of moral and legal rules, do we know what ‘human­ity’ is? Import­ant philo­soph­ical and onto­lo­gical ques­tions are involved here. Let me have a brief look at its history.
Pre-​modern soci­et­ies did not develop a com­pre­hens­ive idea of the human spe­cies. Free men were Atheni­ans or Spartans, Romans or Carthagini­ans, but not mem­bers of human­ity; they were Greeks or bar­bar­i­ans, but not humans. Accord­ing to clas­sical philo­sophy, a tele­olo­gic­ally determ­ined human nature dis­trib­utes people across social hier­arch­ies and roles and endows them with dif­fer­en­ti­ated char­ac­ter­ist­ics. The word human­itas appeared for the first time in the Roman Repub­lic as a trans­la­tion of the Greek word paideia. It was defined as eru­di­tio et insti­tu­tio in bonas artes (the closest mod­ern equi­val­ent is the Ger­man Bildung). The Romans inher­ited the concept from Stoicism and used it to dis­tin­guish between the homo humanus, the edu­cated Roman who was con­vers­ant with Greek cul­ture and philo­sophy and was sub­jec­ted to the jus civile, and the hom­ines bar­bari, who included the major­ity of the uneducated non-​Roman inhab­it­ants of the Empire. Human­ity enters the west­ern lex­icon as an attrib­ute and pre­dic­ate of homo, as a term of sep­ar­a­tion and dis­tinc­tion. For Cicero as well as the younger Sci­pio, human­itas implies gen­er­os­ity, polite­ness, civil­iz­a­tion, and cul­ture and is opposed to bar­bar­ism and anim­al­ity.1 “Only those who con­form to cer­tain stand­ards are really men in the full sense, and fully merit the adject­ive ‘human’ or the attrib­ute ‘human­ity.’”2 Han­nah Arendt puts it sar­castic­ally: ‘a human being or homo in the ori­ginal mean­ing of the word indic­ates someone out­side the range of law and the body politic of the cit­izens, as for instance a slave – but cer­tainly a polit­ic­ally irrel­ev­ant being.’3
If we now turn to the polit­ical and legal uses of human­itas, a sim­ilar his­tory emerges. The concept ‘human­ity’ has been con­sist­ently used to sep­ar­ate, dis­trib­ute, and clas­sify people into rulers, ruled, and excluded. ‘Human­ity’ acts as a norm­at­ive source for polit­ics and law against a back­ground of vari­able inhu­man­ity. This strategy of polit­ical sep­ar­a­tion curi­ously entered the his­tor­ical stage at the pre­cise point when the first proper uni­ver­sal­ist con­cep­tion of human­itas emerged in Chris­tian theo­logy, cap­tured in the St Paul’s state­ment, that there is no Greek or Jew, man or woman, free man or slave (Epistle to the Gala­tians 3:28). All people are equally part of human­ity because they can be saved in God’s plan of sal­va­tion and, secondly, because they share the attrib­utes of human­ity now sharply dif­fer­en­ti­ated from a tran­scen­ded divin­ity and a sub­hu­man anim­al­ity. For clas­sical human­ism, reason determ­ines the human: man is a zoon logon echon or ani­male rationale. For Chris­tian meta­phys­ics, on the other hand, the immor­tal soul, both car­ried and imprisoned by the body, is the mark of human­ity. The new idea of uni­ver­sal equal­ity, unknown to the Greeks, entered the west­ern world as a com­bin­a­tion of clas­sical and Chris­tian metaphysics.
The divis­ive action of ‘human­ity’ sur­vived the inven­tion of its spir­itual equal­ity. Pope, Emperor, Prince, and King, these rep­res­ent­at­ives and dis­ciples of God on earth were abso­lute rulers. Their sub­jects, the sub-​jecti or sub-​diti, take the law and their com­mands from their polit­ical super­i­ors. More import­antly, people will be saved in Christ only if they accept the faith, since non-​Christians have no place in the provid­en­tial plan. This rad­ical divide and exclu­sion foun­ded the ecu­men­ical mis­sion and pros­elyt­iz­ing drive of Church and Empire. Christ’s spir­itual law of love turned into a battle cry: let us bring the pagans to the grace of God, let us make the sin­gu­lar event of Christ uni­ver­sal, let us impose the mes­sage of truth and love upon the whole world. The clas­sical sep­ar­a­tion between Greek (or human) and bar­bar­ian was based on clearly demarc­ated ter­rit­orial and lin­guistic fron­ti­ers. In the Chris­tian empire, the fron­tier was intern­al­ized and split the known globe diag­on­ally between the faith­ful and the hea­then. The bar­bar­i­ans were no longer bey­ond the city as the city expan­ded to include the known world. They became ‘enemies within’ to be appro­pri­ately cor­rec­ted or elim­in­ated if they stub­bornly refused spir­itual or sec­u­lar salvation.
The mean­ing of human­ity after the con­quest of the ‘New World’ was vig­or­ously con­tested in one of the most import­ant pub­lic debates in his­tory. In April 1550, Charles V of Spain called a coun­cil of state in Val­lad­olid to dis­cuss the Span­ish atti­tude towards the van­quished Indi­ans of Mex­ico. The philo­sopher Ginés de Sepul­veda and the Bishop Bartho­lomé de las Casas, two major fig­ures of the Span­ish Enlight­en­ment, debated on oppos­ite sides. Sepul­veda, who had just trans­lated Aristotle’s Polit­ics into Span­ish, argued that “the Span­iards rule with per­fect right over the bar­bar­i­ans who, in prudence, tal­ent, vir­tue, human­ity are as inferior to the Span­iards as chil­dren to adults, women to men, the sav­age and cruel to the mild and gentle, I might say as mon­key to men.”4 The Span­ish crown should feel no qualms in deal­ing with Indian evil. The Indi­ans could be enslaved and treated as bar­bar­ian and sav­age slaves in order to be civ­il­ized and proselytized.
Las Casas dis­agreed. The Indi­ans have well-​established cus­toms and settled ways of life, he argued, they value prudence and have the abil­ity to gov­ern and organ­ize fam­il­ies and cit­ies. They have the Chris­tian vir­tues of gen­tle­ness, peace­ful­ness, sim­pli­city, humil­ity, gen­er­os­ity, and patience, and are wait­ing to be con­ver­ted. They look like our father Adam before the Fall, wrote las Casas in his Apo­lo­gia, they are ‘unwit­ting’ Chris­ti­ans. In an early defin­i­tion of human­ism, las Casas argued that “all the people of the world are humans under the only one defin­i­tion of all humans and of each one, that is that they are rational … Thus all races of human­kind are one.”5 His argu­ments com­bined Chris­tian theo­logy and polit­ical util­ity. Respect­ing local cus­toms is good mor­al­ity but also good polit­ics: the Indi­ans would con­vert to Chris­tian­ity (las Casas’ main con­cern) but also accept the author­ity of the Crown and replen­ish its cof­fers, if they were made to feel that their tra­di­tions, laws, and cul­tures are respec­ted. But las Casas’ Chris­tian uni­ver­sal­ism was, like all uni­ver­sal­isms, exclus­ive. He repeatedly con­demned “Turks and Moors, the ver­it­able bar­bar­ian out­casts of the nations” since they can­not be seen as “unwit­ting” Chris­ti­ans. An “empir­ical” uni­ver­sal­ism of superi­or­ity and hier­archy (Sepul­veda) and a norm­at­ive one of truth and love (las Casas) end up being not very dif­fer­ent. As Tzvetan Todorov pith­ily remarks, there is “viol­ence in the con­vic­tion that one pos­sesses the truth one­self, whereas this is not the case for oth­ers, and that one must fur­ther­more impose that truth on those oth­ers.”6
The con­flict­ing inter­pret­a­tions of human­ity by Sepul­veda and las Casas cap­ture the dom­in­ant ideo­lo­gies of West­ern empires, imper­i­al­isms, and colo­ni­al­isms. At one end, the (racial) other is inhu­man or sub­hu­man. This jus­ti­fies enslave­ment, atro­cit­ies, and even anni­hil­a­tion as strategies of the civil­iz­ing mis­sion. At the other end, con­quest, occu­pa­tion, and force­ful con­ver­sion are strategies of spir­itual or mater­ial devel­op­ment, of pro­gress and integ­ra­tion of the inno­cent, naïve, undeveloped oth­ers into the main body of humanity.
These two defin­i­tions and strategies towards oth­er­ness act as sup­ports of west­ern sub­jectiv­ity. The help­less­ness, passiv­ity, and inferi­or­ity of the “undeveloped” oth­ers turns them into our nar­ciss­istic mirror-​image and poten­tial double. These unfor­tu­nates are the infants of human­ity. They are vic­tim­ized and sac­ri­ficed by their own rad­ical evil­do­ers; they are res­cued by the West who helps them grow, develop and become our like­ness. Because the vic­tim is our mir­ror image, we know what his interest is and impose it “for his own good.” At the other end, the irra­tional, cruel, vic­tim­iz­ing oth­ers are pro­jec­tions of the Other of our uncon­scious. As Sla­voj Žižek puts it, “there is a kind of pass­ive expos­ure to an over­whelm­ing Oth­er­ness, which is the very basis of being human … [the inhu­man] is marked by a ter­ri­fy­ing excess which, although it neg­ates what we under­stand as ‘human­ity’ is inher­ent to being human.”7 We have called this abysmal other lurk­ing in the psyche and unset­tling the ego vari­ous names: God or Satan, bar­bar­ian or for­eigner, in psy­cho­ana­lysis the death drive or the Real. Today they have become the “axis of evil,” the “rogue state,” the “bogus refugee,” or the “illegal” migrant. They are con­tem­por­ary heirs to Sepulveda’s “mon­keys,” epochal rep­res­ent­at­ives of inhumanity.
A com­par­ison of the cog­nit­ive strategies asso­ci­ated with the Lat­in­ate human­itas and the Greek anthro­pos is instruct­ive. The human­ity of human­ism (and of the aca­demic Human­it­ies)8 unites know­ing sub­ject and known object fol­low­ing the pro­to­cols of self-​reflection. The anthro­pos of phys­ical and social anthro­po­logy, on the other hand, is the object only of cog­ni­tion. Phys­ical anthro­po­logy exam­ines bod­ies, senses, and emo­tions, the mater­ial sup­ports of life. Social anthro­po­logy stud­ies diverse non-​western peoples, soci­et­ies, and cul­tures, but not the human spe­cies in its essence or total­ity. These peoples emerged out of and became the object of obser­va­tion and study through dis­cov­ery, con­quest, and col­on­iz­a­tion in the new world, Africa, Asia, or in the peri­pher­ies of Europe. As Nishitani Osamu puts it, human­ity and anthro­pos sig­nify two asym­met­rical regimes of know­ledge. Human­ity is civil­iz­a­tion, anthro­pos is out­side or before civil­iz­a­tion. In our glob­al­ized world, the minor lit­er­at­ures of anthro­pos are examined by com­par­at­ive lit­er­at­ure, which com­pares “civil­iz­a­tion” with lesser cultures.
The gradual decline of West­ern dom­in­ance is chan­ging these hier­arch­ies. Sim­il­arly, the dis­quiet with a norm­at­ive uni­ver­sal­ism, based on a false con­cep­tion of human­ity, indic­ates the rise of local, con­crete, and context-​bound normativities.
In con­clu­sion, because ‘human­ity’ has no fixed mean­ing, it can­not act as a source of norms. Its mean­ing and scope keeps chan­ging accord­ing to polit­ical and ideo­lo­gical pri­or­it­ies. The con­tinu­ously chan­ging con­cep­tions of human­ity are the best mani­fest­a­tions of the meta­phys­ics of an age. Per­haps the time has come for anthro­pos to replace the human. Per­haps the rights to come will be anthropic (to coin a term) rather than human, express­ing and pro­mot­ing sin­gu­lar­it­ies and dif­fer­ences instead of the same­ness and equi­val­ences of hitherto dom­in­ant identities.
Cos­tas Douz­i­nas is Pro­fessor of Law and Dir­ector of the Birk­beck Insti­tute for the Human­it­ies, Uni­ver­sity of London.
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