On Human Rights

Gilles Deleuze

From L'Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze, avec Claire Parnet, Vidéo Éd. Montparnasse, 1996.

The reverence that people display toward human rights -- it almost makes one want to defend horrible, terrible positions. It is so much a part of the softheaded thinking that marks the shabby period we were talking about. It's pure abstraction. Human rights, after all, what does that mean? It's pure abstraction, it's empty. It's exactly what we were talking about before about desire, or at least what I was trying to get across about desire. Desire is not putting something up on a pedestal and saying, hey, I desire this. We don't desire liberty and so forth, for example; that doesn't mean anything. We find ourselves in situations.

Take today's Armenia, a recent example. What is the situation there? If I understand correctly -- please let me know if I don't, though that's not the point either -- there's an Armenian enclave in another Soviet republic. So there's an Armenian republic, and then an enclave. Well, that's a situation. First, there's the massacre that the Turks, or the Turkic people, I'm not sure, massacre the Armenians once again, in their enclave. The Armenians take refuge in their republic -- I think, and again, please correct my errors -- and then, there, an earthquake hits. It's as if they were in the Marquis de Sade. These poor people went through the worst ordeals that they could face, and they've only just escaped into shelter when Mother Nature starts it all up again.

I mean, we say "human rights", but in the end, that's a party line for intellectuals, and for odious intellectuals, and for intellectuals without any ideas of their own. Right off the bat, I've noticed that these declarations of human rights are never done by way of the people that are primarily concerned, the Armenian associations and communities, and so on. Their problem isn't human rights. What is it?

There's a set-up! As I was saying, desire is always through set-ups. Well, there's a set-up. What can be done to eliminate this enclave, or to make it livable? What is this interior enclave? That's a territorial question: not a human rights question, but a qusetion of territorial organisation. What are they going to suppose that Gorbachev is going to get out of the situation? How is he going to arrange things so that there's no longer this Armenian enclave delivered into the hands of the hostile Turks all around it? That's not a human rights issue, and it's not a justice issue. It's a matter of jurisprudence. All of the abominations through which humans have suffered are cases. They're not denials of abstract rights; they're abominable cases. One can say that these cases resemble other, have something in common, but they are situations for jurisprudence.

The Armenian problem is typical of what one might call a problem of jurisprudence. It is extraordinarily complex. What can be done to save the Armenians, and to enable the Armenians to extricate themselves from this situation? And then, on top of things, the earthquake kicks in. An earthquake whose unfolding also had its reasons, buildings which weren't well built, which weren't put together as they should have been. All of these things are jurisprudence cases. To act for liberty, to become a revolutionary, this is to act on the plane of jurisprudence. To call out to justice -- justice does not exist, and human rights do not exist. What counts is jurisprudence: *that* is the invention of rights, invention of the law. So those who are content to remind us of human rights, and recite lists of human rights -- they are idiots. It's not a question of applying human rights. It is one of inventing jurisprudences where, in each case, this or that will no longer be possible. And that's something quite different.

I'll take an example I quite like, because it's the only way to get across what jurisprudence is. People don't really understood, well, not everyone. People don't understand very well. I remember the time when it was forbidden to smoke in taxis. The first taxi drivers who forbade smoking in their taxis -- that made a lot of noise, because there were smokers. And among them was a lawyer.

I have always been passionate about jurisprudence, about law. Had I not done philosophy, I would have done law, but indeed, jurisprudence, not human rights. Because that's life. There are no human rights, there is life, and there are life rights. Only life goes case by case.

So, taxis. There was this guy who didn't want to be forbidden from smoking in taxi. So he took the taxi driver to court. I remember it very well: the taxi driver was ruled guilty. If the trial were to take place today, the taxi driver wouldn't be guilty, it would be the passenger who'd be the guilty party. But back then, the taxi driver was found guilty. Under what pretext? That, when someone took a taxi, he was the tenant. So the taxi passenger was likened to a tenant; the tenant is allowed to smoke in his own home under the right of use and support. It's as though he was an actual tenant, as though my landlord told me: no, you may not smoke in my home. And I'd say: yes, if I am the tenant, I can smoke in my own home. So the taxi was made out to be a sort of mobile apartment in whcih the passenger was the tenant.

Ten years later, it's become almost universal: there is almost no taxi in which one can smoke, period. The taxi is no longer made out to be like renting an apartment, it's a public service. In a public service, forbidding smoking is permitted. All that is jurisprudence. There's no issue of rights of this or that. It's the matter of a situation, and a situation that evolves. And fighting for freedom, really, is doing jurisprudence.

So there you have it, the Armenian example seems typical to me. Human rights -- what do they mean? They mean: aha, the Turks don't have the right to massacre the Armenians. Fine, so the Turks don't have the right to massacre the Armenians. And? It's really nuts. Or, worse, I think they're hypocrites, all these notions of human rights. It is zero, philosophically it is zero. Law isn't created through declarations of human rights. Creation, in law, is jurisprudence, and that's the only thing there is. So: fighting for jurisprudence. That's what being on the left is about. It's creating the right.

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