Unpacking the Shorthand of Humanity with the Help of Hannah Arendt: On Minding the Gap Between Man and Citizen

Event date: 
31 Oct 2013
1:00pm to 2:00pm
Staff Common Room, Level 2, UNSW Law
Hannah Arendt
Mark Antaki
Associate Professor at McGill University's Faculty of Law
9385 1803

While it is more than common to trace human rights back to the eighteenth century and beyond, it is not so common to do so for crimes against humanity. However, the phrase crimes against humanity was not coined in the twentieth century to name a new wrong.  Rather, it was borrowed - and it has a history that parallels that of human rights. Hannah Arendt’s reflections on ‘humanity’ in such works as On Revolution, The Origins of Totalitarianism, and Eichmann in Jerusalem help shed light on what is at stake in the genealogy of crimes against humanity and on the dangers of inheriting the implicit understandings, tied to specific historical transformations, that allow the phrase to resonate as it does. Whereas the genealogy of crimes against humanity reveals an effort to isolate ‘man as such,’ Arendt’s work points to this effort as part of the evil ‘crimes against humanity’ seeks to name. Arendt’s famous ‘right to have rights,’ then, must be understood as an effort to close the gap between man and citizen, and not simply to mind it.

Mark Antaki is an Associate Professor at McGill University's Faculty of Law and a Fellow of McGill's Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley's program in Jurisprudence and Social Policy in 2005. His recent and forthcoming publications include The Turn to Imagination in Legal Theory: The Re-Enchantment of the World?; From the Bridge to the Book: South African and Modern Metaphors of Constitutionalism and Genre, Critique, and Human Rights.

Co-hosted by the AHRCentre and the Network for Interdisciplinary Studies of Law.