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Philosophy Today

Volume 61, Issue 4, Fall 2017

Werner Hamacher, Julia Ng
Pages 947-962
DOI: 10.5840/philtoday2017614181

The One Right No One Ever Has

The right to have rights was never a right to be had. Hannah Arendt’s famous formulation of the most elementary right of all, the right to participate in the definition of rights, is not a description of a given right that belongs to one or the other form of law, but an indictment of a deficit in the construction of legality on the basis of the right to withdraw legal protection from members of a community, and therefore to refuse rights. The one and only human right thus turns out to be ungrounded in anything but the idea of its being had: a “property right” that traces back to the legal, philosophical and linguistic definitions of “one’s own” since antiquity. Only the gift of the incalculable and of that which cannot possibly be legitimated can ground the autarchic self-relation of having: ungrounded in the rationally organized nature of any given, possessing the right to membership in a political community turns out to be permission to freely transfer this possession to another, without expectation of a return.

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