Third Person: Politics of Life and Philosophy of the Impersonal // Reviews // Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // University of Notre Dame

Chiara Bottici reviews Esposito’s Third Person: Politics of Life and Philosophy of the Impersonal. This is a quite glowing review. But noting that in the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights called for “unconditional demand for the dignity and worth of the human person”–clearly Kantian language–Bottici writes,” Yet, as Esposito acutely observes, this revival has largely failed to produce its expected results. Have human rights actually been extended to all human beings since then?” Then Bottici quotes Esposito:

If we look at the 60 years that separate us from the Declaration of 1948, we certainly cannot argue that fundamental rights have been extended to all human beings, or even that there has been a significant reduction in the number of people who remain uncertain that their vital needs will be satisfied. Despite the rising rhetoric of humanitarian commitment, human life remains largely outside the protection of the law; so much so that one could easily argue that, even in the context of an increasing juridification of society, no right is more disregarded than the right to life for millions of human beings who are condemned to certain death from starvation, disease and war. (p. 73)

Who would have guessed a Kantian regulative ideal did not produce results? The very forms of sovereigntism contested–namely humanitarian intervention–that would immediately come to mind as giving force to these “commitments” are critiqued throughout Third Person, and one wonders whether the politics of the “impersonal” is not that which Arendt and Derrida–in different ways–had already critiqued as the flip side of the vitalisms of modernity. At the least, after a war in which untold tens of millions were killed, to make the claim above–an empirical one made to bolster a straight line from linguistic usage to absolute violence (and yet, only that in the West is discussed in the book)–is again to think the political in a kind of Heideggerian hyperbole that leads from a proto-history of the West leading to its denouement. I discuss some of this in an upcoming critique of vitalist/immanentist politics in a paper for Angelaki, but I should return to the point in a more extended way after I get my book on time out of the way.


    1. You raise a good point: obviously the UN Declaration is a hodge-podge of different influences. I just took on the Kantian one since it’s a bit odd argument to say what it wrong with a principle is its lack of enforcement–the principle is always prior to its enforcement and gives rise to the reason for its enforcement in the first place. (Derrida’s Force of Law essay takes this up, albeit in a different way.)

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