Date of Submission

Spring 2017

Academic Programs and Concentrations

Human Rights; Anthropology

Project Advisor 1

Ann Seaton

Project Advisor 2

Peter Rosenblum

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Hannah Arendt's name and ideas are pervasive in Human Rights critical theory. In fact, Arendt is one of the few scholars we can confidently situate within the Human Rights canon in 2017. Contemporary "re-readings" of The Human Condition and The Origins of Totalitarianism tend to appropriate Arendtian ideas in the attempt to create a theoretical basis for universal rights. Nevertheless, Arendt wrote a defense of racial segregation in the American South, and held personal views that contradict most contemporary notions of social justice. In this paper, I take a deconstructive approach to the reactionary assumptions about humanity and justice that Arendt and her disciples inherit and perpetuate from a longstanding liberal tradition. I then analyze the ways Arendtian rhetoric advances reactionary premises resembling those of the American "alt-right," arguing that Arendt's political theory provides a precarious intellectual foundation for any social justice project. In addition to reading Arendt's own texts closely, I also consider more recent interlocutors in Human Rights -- such as Ayten Gündoğdu and Giorgio Agamben -- who appropriate Arendt's theory to advance a universalist project of human rights.

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