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IGHC Research Seminar Series

Thu., Jan. 25, 2018, 10:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m., L.R. Wilson Hall 3001, McMaster University The Right to Have Rights and Juridical Sleights: Towards a Constructively Cynical Appraisal of Statelessness, Dr. John McGuire

Jan 09, 2018

The Right to Have Rights and Juridical Sleights: Towards a Constructively Cynical Appraisal of Statelessness
A Political Science Research in Progress Seminar

When Hannah Arendt first formulated her notion of a ‘right to have rights’ (Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951), the total population of refugees stood at around 2.1 million. According to the latest estimate by the UNHCR, the global population of refugees is now estimated to exceed 21.3 million people (including 5.2 million Palestinians). Additionally, there are over 10 million stateless persons without any recognized nationality—who are themselves only a fraction of the 65.3 million people who have been forced (at least temporarily) from their places of origin. Closer to home, as the United States enters what we might call the ‘Caligula’ phase of imperial decline, we have witnessed the fates of 800,000 undocumented Americans callously thrown into legal uncertainty as a result of the Trump administration’s hurried unspooling of rudimentary protections against imprisonment and deportation established under the DACA programme.

As theorists concerned with defining and defending categories of political identity and agency, what should we make of the steadily growing, and increasingly permanent population of de jure and de facto stateless persons? More importantly, how are the displaced and dispossessed themselves learning to cope (both collectively and individually) with their consignment to a juridical no man’s land? How does ‘legitimate’ or ‘reasonable’ moral agency constitute itself in a blighted political landscape? In this paper, I will argue that ‘cynicism’ encapsulates the moral-political marginalization of persons forced to navigate an environment defined by militarized policing, racial profiling, and endless broken promises.

Despite the negative connotations of the term, cynicism is not ‘depoliticizing’; rather, it expresses a vital, non-defeatist mode of strategic ‘coping’ utilized by those who have been made subject to grotesque and uncorrectable power. As a methodological orientation for theory, cynicism entails not only suspending efforts to justify ‘fundamental’ rights and duties, it also raises pertinent questions about the way political agency should be defined. Within a non-ideal world, replete with institutional failures and democratic deficiencies, distrust and disenchantment are not necessarily counterproductive or purely self-serving.

Cynicism’s constructive potential is found in its critical ethos, which is at once profoundly disenchanted with the empty pieties of power-brokers, yet also refuses to yield to the simpler seductions of demagoguery and violence.

About the Speaker

John McGuire received his PhD from University College Dublin. For the next two years he is EU-sponsored Marie Curie Visiting Scholar at the Department of Political Science and the Institute for Globalization and the Human Condition. His book, Friends of the Gods? Cynics, Platonists, and the Problem of Theory, is forthcoming from Brill Publishers.