Against the Eternal Law(s) of Human Rights: Towards a Becoming-Chaotic of Time

Marneros, Christos (2022) Against the Eternal Law(s) of Human Rights: Towards a Becoming-Chaotic of Time. In: The Times and Temporalities of International Human Rights Law. Human Rights Law in Perspective. Human Rights Law in Perspective . Hart Publishing, pp. 179-194. ISBN 978-1-5099-4990-8

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The notions and question(s) of time and of truth – or in better terms, ‘the Truth’ – are closely intertwined. Indeed, since the period of antiquity, this close relation between Truth and time is, usually, manifested in a form which is akin to two ‘parallel lines’ that always face each other but, nonetheless they do not intersect. This is because, Truth, for the ancients, was to be conceived of as something ‘eternal’ and as such, something which can be understood as ‘timeless’ or something which is universal and unchangeable for all times that are and for those to come (Smith 2013: 377). On the other hand, time was understood in terms of movement and as such, time was considered subordinate to movement (or non-movement) and to that extent to eternity as well. For example, Aristotle in his Physics defines time as ‘the number of movement’ (1936: 219b5-10). Hence, Truth, in its understanding as an absolute transcendent entity, transcends every form of movement and thus, it is manifested as eternal or timeless.

While, in modern philosophy, and especially with Kant, we witness some effort to ‘liberate’ time from its subordination to movement, modernity’s mode of thought tends to remain entrapped in that understanding of time as a measure to movement (e.g. our understanding of a linear conception of past, present and future) and to that extent, time is also subordinate to the ‘immobility’ and ‘truthfulness’ of our ‘eternal values’, one of them being human rights, and more specifically, human rights law (in both its international and regional manifestations).

Indeed, such a view, with regards to human rights, was held by one of the most important French philosophers of the 20th century, the late Gilles Deleuze. In his ferocious, yet brief (and relatively overlooked) critique of human rights, Deleuze states that in our age, philosophical thought has become ‘barren’ and that human rights are responsible for this ‘uncreative’ stalemate because they ‘provide our eternal values’ (1995: 121-122). A central difficulty that results from these remarks is the fact that Deleuze does not clarify whether he criticises a particular human rights discourse, tradition, philosophical system, laws or the idea of human rights as such. Nonetheless, from a particular comment made by Deleuze, we can infer that human rights law does not escape the aforementioned ferocious criticism. In particular, the philosopher states that ‘human rights and their declarations are never made as a function of the people who are directly concerned’ (Deleuze and Parnet, 2004, emphasis added). As such, not only rights, and to that extent human rights law, are ‘out of time’ but they are also ‘out of touch’ with life, its particularities and the predicaments of the so-called subjects of their protection. This is because, and due to their conception as ‘eternal,’ they fail to account for constant change and never-ending, creative becomings, that are not to be reduced in purely historical events and a linear understanding of time as a measure to movement an eternity of Truth.

While the multiple developments of human right law may suggest that such claims by Deleuze could be characterised as ‘outdated’ (Paton, 2012: 17), I would argue that this is not the case. Indeed, if we take as an example the debates around the potential evolution and ever-expanding, definitions of the ‘the right to life’ – for example, the extension of the right ‘beyond the absence of death’ (Wicks, 2012: 199) to incorporate conditions that are paramount for the continuation of life, questions about the legal status of foetuses, or even the question whether the right to life can also incorporate ‘a right to die’ – some may go as far as to interpret these novelties as signs of ‘progress’ and of an ‘inclusive’ vision of human rights law. However, if we pay closer attention to Deleuze’s critical comments towards rights, they do not seem to refute the ability of rights and their laws to expand, change or regress. What seems to be the issue with the predominant rights-oriented mode of thought is that it is based on presupposed, eternal or timeless values that lead back to the aforementioned problem between time and Truth. As such, while we could witness several changes of rights and their laws, these changes occur within a predetermined framework, that significantly lacks creativity and thus, it is entrapped within these timeless presuppositions (be that certain notions of justice, dignity, the law or an understanding of the human subject as a closed entity or a unity).

On the other hand – and this is the main hypothesis of this chapter – Deleuze’s understanding of time (which is not reduced to a simple measure to movement of non-movement) as a notion of ‘pure becoming’ and of never-ending variation and change could, potentially, lead to a (re)thinking of human rights and their laws that do ‘not stand’ above or ‘out of time’ as eternal Truth(s). It is in that sense, that we refer to a becoming-chaotic of time, where chaos can be thought as a constant variation, ‘an infinite speed’ that ‘take[s] shape and vanish[es]’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 42) and thus as something creative that questions any supposed ‘truthfulness’ of eternal values. Ultimately, this exploration not only aims to bring together the question of human rights law and time but also to bring these eternal law(s) of rights closer to life and its specificities.

Keywords:Deleuze, Becoming, Transcendence, Untimely, Eternal Values, Right to Life
Subjects:L Social studies > L210 Political Theories
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V500 Philosophy
M Law > M240 Jurisprudence
Divisions:College of Social Science > Lincoln Law School
ID Code:48947
Deposited On:11 Apr 2022 14:06

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