This is a critical introduction to the special issue on the fundamental rights of states. Whether such rights exist, the bounds of their existence, or whether they ought to be striven towards are questions of considerable import in the wake of the Greek sovereign debt crisis, or even given the ongoing Palestinian struggle for permanent sovereignty over their natural resources. I briefly outline how we might consider the question: is there any progressive political value in buttressing the state and its autonomy, through the doctrine of fundamental rights, in today's neoliberal world? First, I examine how we may progressively look at fundamental rights—as doctrine, narrative, memory or discourse. Second, I question the extent to which it is useful to see competing subjectivities, ie the maligned state against technocratic institutions, in a time where neoliberal logic has come to structure the workings of the state. It becomes quickly apparent that the discourse of fundamental rights may be used to both resist neoliberalism and enable it.
Sahib Singh and Jean d’Aspremont
‘What meaning has the concept of murder, when we are confronted with the mass production of corpses?’ Hannah Arendt asks this question of her readers as she attempts to understand the workings of totalitarianism. It may, though, also sound apt for today’s international law and its concepts. Contemporary international lawyers ply their trade knowing full well that significant parts of this law are structurally implicated in and perpetuate on-going economic and social injustices. Yet lawyers idealistically and increasingly resort to international law’s promises. How could our greater recourse to concepts such as universality, aggression, development, humanity or rights (to name but a few) not be tinged with a sense of futility? But this would miss Arendt’s point, for her question is a critique of how we are prone to think with concepts. Recourse to the concept of murder in order to understand, explain and evaluate the known horrors of the concentration camps meant giving in to a certain common sense. It was to concede to the ‘great temptation to explain away the intrinsically incredible by means of liberal rationalizations’. Modes of thought or attitudes that seek to reduce the complexities (and horrors) of our social world to inadequate categories are not merely unwarranted but potentially dangerous. It is, after all, not inadequate concepts or attempts to grasp the ungraspable and infinitely complex that Arendt indicts, but rather those who would do so by turning away from life and hence responsibility.