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Political Forms of Modern SocietySummary.docx

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Political Science
Keith Haysom

Political Forms of Modern Society – Claude Lefort The question that Claude Lefort is trying to address in this reading is the question of “whether human rights belong in the political sphere?” Lefort attempts to answer this question by giving the example of the Soviet Union and the action they took against dissidents: At this time Marxism began to change; it took on a liberal phraseology. This change came from the discovery of the concentration camps in the Soviet Union and the efforts of dissidents throughout socialist states. These events all had an impact on human rights and the demand for respect. These rights that people were fighting for embodied the struggle against oppression. The actions of the dissidents gave rise to a re-evaluation of human rights: The dissidents had no political ambition, they were fighting for the guarantees in force that democratic nations had. However, the rights they were demanding were incompatible to a totalitarian system which automatically forced the issue into the political sphere. This is because the rights that they were fighting for were connected to the idea of society, which the totalitarian system is against. - Through the fights of the dissidents a new state model that recognized human rights emerged. Human rights therefore, became the enemy of power for a totalitarian regime because it was an opposition against the coercive methods of a totalitarian model. However, the Communists defended themselves in the trials against the dissidents by claiming that they the actions they took were, “in defence of a regime presented as positive in the overall sense”. Therefore, there is a general indifference to violation of rights by political figures because it is accepted that they will use any means necessary to defend their position. This protects the Communists from these criticisms. The only problem with this is how the state can accommodate human rights while still being able to preserve itself. This raises the question of whether the coercive methods that they used were used because they needed to preserve the political system or whether those methods went beyond that were just used for oppression. This was a realist point of view, because the Communists argued that the violation of human rights is a violation of individual rights which are not political, therefore, violations of human rights do not call the state into question because the government is just following the laws which the individuals are subjected to. Marx’s Critique of Human Rights: In this reading Lefort examines On the Jewish Question, where Marx presented his framework of human rights. - Marx believes that the rights of man are distinct from the rights of a citizen. The rights of a citizen are the same as the rights of a member of civil society aka of the egoistic man separated from other men and from the community. From this he derives his views on... - Opinion: this is legitimate at the moment when it seems to be a spiritual equivalent of private property - Liberty: which is defined as the individual’s right to do everything that harms no one else, and presupposes that everyone is an isolated monad, withdrawn into himself - Property: this is defined legally as each citizen’s rights to enjoy and dispose as he wishes of his property, income, fruits of his labour and industry; it makes everyman see in other men not the realization of their own freedom but the barrier to their own freedom. - Equality: is a new version of the theory of the monad (what is this?) - Security: which is the highest social concept of civil society, it is the idea that the whole society exists to guarantee each of its members the preservation of his person, his rights, and his property (“insurance of his egoism”) He takes many of these ideas from the Declaration of 1791 and 1793. Lefort presents Marx’s theory of human emancipation to help the reader understand his view of human rights: - From the bourgeois revolution came political emancipation (the delimitation of a sphere of politics as a sphere of the universal, leaving society reduced to a combination of particular interests and individual existences) - Marx regards political emancipation as a transitory phase to human emancipation - Political emancipation is when the state is free from something (i.e.: religion which Marx discussed in “On the Jewish Question”). - Human emancipation is when a man has taken back into himself the abstract citizen and recognizes his own powers as social powers so that social force is no longer separated from him as a political power. This means that he sees politics and the rights of man are the same illusion. Lefort believes that Marx’s framework of politics and human rights is flawed; Marx is not flawed in his ideas of the rights but rather of what he is unable to find in them. - He is blinded by the ideological version of rights found in the Declarations of 1791 and 1793 and did not examine how the rights would work in practice. Lefort has a few criticisms of Marx: First, he criticizes Marx’s view onliberty . Marx’s view is that man can do everything that does not harm another man, this right turns man into a monad and it is based on separation of man from man. - The flaw in this is that Marx did not take into account that every action whether done in the private or public sphere links men together. Another criticism Lefort has of Marx is that he ignores the practical significance of the Declaration, mainly concerning the two articles of freedom which he did not even address. - The two articles he ignores are Article 10 (that no man may be challenged in his right to hold opinions) and Article 11 (that the free communication of thoughts and opinions
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