- Main argument or idea the author is trying to communicate
The author is trying to postulate that every individual has the right to have rights today. By virtue of their personhood, they should be entitled to rights and have obligations towards others. The writer is objecting the traditional system where one had rights only if they were citizens and their ethnic background or racial background was a reason for one to have rights. People like refugees, stateless persons and displaced persons were not entitled to rights because of the lack of nationhood and statehood. As Arendt writes: every person has a right to have rights and a right to belong to some community. The person then is entitled to rights and must respect and uphold other people’s rights. The right to humanity in our person imposes a reciprocal obligation on us to enter into civil society and to accept our freedom will be limited by civil legislation, such that the freedom of one can be made compatible with the freedom of each under universal law.
- The passage in the text that best conveys the author’s point
The text that best conveys the author’s point is where he states that people’s sovereignty refers to the democratic self-organization and political will of the people, who may or may not share the same ethnicity, but who chose to constitute themselves as a sovereign and self-legislating body politic. This idea of popular sovereignty is distinct from nationalism, which presupposes that “the nation was an eternal organic body”. Arendt believed that this kind of nationalism, in addition to being conceptually false, becomes most virulent when it is rendered historically obsolete: “as for nationalism, it was never more evil or more fiercely defended since it became apparent that this once great and revolutionary principle of the national organization of peoples could no longer either guarantee true sovereignty of the people within or establish just a relationship among different peoples beyond the national borders.” Arendt saw that to attain real democratic sovereignty and to establish justice beyond borders, one needed to go beyond the state-centric model of the twentieth century. This stipulates that people are not referred to as a sovereign by their ethnicity or cultural background but be their moral decision to form a community and respect each individual’s rights and perform their obligations to prevent hurting another.
- The author’s arguments or ideas that speak most to my experiences
The first argument that speaks most to my experiences is when the writer states that we are not born equal; we become equal as members of a group on the strength of our decision to guarantee ourselves mutually equal rights. This speaks to my experiences, especially with discrimination becoming more prevalent in modern times, whereby people are discriminated based on their colour or race. This educates that we are not born the same, but we can mutually respect each other’s rights hence creating harmony.
The second idea is when the writer stipulates that the right of humanity in our person imposes a reciprocal obligation on us to enter into civil society and to accept that our freedom will be limited by civil legislation, such that the freedom of one can be made compatible with the freedom of each under universal law. This creates emphasize on respecting other people’s rights even as we enjoy our rights. For society to be harmonious, all individuals must appreciate and uphold each other’s rights.
- How this reading might be relevant for people working on social justice and human rights
The reading is relevant as it states that the right to have rights means the recognition of the universal status of the personhood of each human being independent of their national citizenship. It sheds light of the rights of refugees, stateless persons, displaced persons and minorities. In most instances, those people are discriminated against and are considered not to have any rights whatsoever. But this reading states that by their personhood, they have the right to have rights. They should be protected from human right violations. The refugees and stateless persons have a right to life, a right to human dignity, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, the right to freedom to join a political organization or religion.
This reading is helpful to those working in social justice and human rights as it sensitizes on the right to have rights despite one’s ethnic background. Therefore, those working in social justice and human right should create awareness on the rights of refugees, stateless persons and refugees. They should also expose the human rights violations that such people undergo so that action is taken. Those working in social justice should inform those whose rights have been violated on the procedure of asking for redress and remedies available to them.
- Two questions I would ask if I were leading the class discussion to promote discussion of the ideas.
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