Human rights without humanism (2015)

Foucault News

Ben Golder, Human rights without humanism.
Why does Foucault—an avowed anti-humanist—turn to “rights” in his later works?, Stanford University Press blog, 27 October 2015


As human rights rise in popularity throughout the 1960s and 1970s so too does the work of thinkers (many of them French philosophers or theorists of language—structuralist, post-structuralist, postmodern) dedicated to deconstructing or critically historicizing the idea of “humanity.” How do we account for the exponential popularity of human rights as a political and legal medium in the same period as the increasing prominence of these post-humanist styles of thought that seemingly pull the humanist rug out from under the feet of the human rights movement?

And yet on closer reflection matters become even more curious, because as it turns out some of these very same anti-humanist thinkers themselves turn out to be human rights advocates. In 1948, the year of the Universal Declaration’s drafting…

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