Student Number: W1370944
Is Arendt’s argument on human rights still relevant? Or has something changed today?
Hannah Arendt  introduces us to the expression of the “right to have rights”, a universal right to speak and act in public which according to Arendt was more valuable even than the right to life. It exists because we are human beings and therefore part of a pluralistic society that is detached from a sovereign state or government. This was first realised by Arendt when she spoke of totalitarian European nation states which had an inability to protect people’s human rights; specifically focusing on Communism and Nazism [p.296]. In fact Arendt  suggests that people during totalitarian regimes who lost the states protection also lost their rights and this created a void for them to exist in, an internment camp; a place where people who had lost their home could exist [p.297].
To Arendt the lack of power to peoples  “opinions and actions” [p.176] are part of the occurrence of their loss of right to any form of political stature or a right to reside as part of a nation state. In the Origins of Totalitarianism Arendt states “nobody even wants to oppress them” [Bernstein 1996, p.81]. It is that lack of worth that is so prevalent today; the consensus that a stateless person is devoid of all political life and so has no authority to manipulate the world around them, they are right-less and powerless to do anything. When Arendt’s argument on stateless people is compared to today’s contemporary society we see a strong argument that still exists. Arendt  focuses greatly on the occurrence of refugees and displaced persons and the incompatibility of sovereignty and human rights [p.133]. It can be suggested the relevance of her argument is apparent in that the world today has refugees and internally displaced persons that number in their tens of millions. This is one part of Arendt’s argument that has changed little since the 1950’s, in fact the plight of stateless people has increasingly got worse in a world were a human right to belong to a political community is to some taken for granted and to others taken away.
To further her argument Arendt  goes on to say that as a human being our protection should be guaranteed by the human race itself, the political community should protect the rights of others from within [p.296-297], similar to Arendt’s argument Thomas Hobbes  suggests that a polity is the only realistic way to protect human rights and that rights themselves depend on human beings forming a political entity with a sovereign power to enforce and protect [p.113]. But Arendt does not believe that this should come in the form of a declaration or a signed consensus. Arendt  suggests that only the right of actions, or political participation; the right to make oneself heard, can in turn manipulate or influence the political world we live in [p.105-136].
Arendt  declares that rights are in a contradictory battle with the state. Nations can grant people the right to freedom but can repudiate the action hastily [p.95-111]. This worsens when taking into account the supremacy of national citizenship within the state. This has caused minority groups to be marginalized because as Arendt  suggests human rights are dependent on the state to protect and enforce them, but consequently the state puts its homogenous people first [p.36]. An example of this can be seen with the treatment of an ethnic community such as the Romani people who are often marginalized in society and portrayed as a separate entity to the nation state. Seen as problematic or degenerate they have suffered at the hands of different polices such as forced assimilation. This sort of marginalisation is evident as nations today are founded on citizen rights rather than basic human rights.
We live in a world were membership is the only thing that can secure any form of protection...