“The inhuman character of human rights”

A Synopsis of the homonymous book of Prof. Christos Yannaras

The word “rights” means the claim or requirement that results from any kind of written or common Law. There is no such thing as “rights” that does not spring from a system of Law. That’s why whoever has “rights”, keeps power: It is the power (provided by Law) of an individual or a group of individuals who demand for a public or a private interest to be satisfied. The enactment of this power is a claim mandatory upon all. The same terms of “claim-requirement-power” of interest signify that the rights refer to private or collective f o r t i f i c a t i o n s ( s a f e g u a r d i n g ) . The self-existent, self-interest unit (that is an individual or a group of individuals) fortifies their claims through the Law. And, on the other side, it’s the same Law that restricts their innumerable claims and defines their obligations. In any case, rights and obligations, fortification and restriction of interest, aim to bring a balance in peoples’ relationships, but following an i n d i v i d u a l i s t i c logic. The logic of the rights of Law, although refers to relationships, is not the logic of relation – communion of needs; But it is the logic of the self-centering priority of interest. The rights provide an equalizing and unclassified power of interest to undifferentiated units. A wealthy man and a broke man have in principle the same financial liberties or rights. An analphabet citizen and an owner of a media company have the same legal right of the freedom of expression, no matter how differently weights the power of their word. The anthropologic basis for the logic of rights is the person before the law, which means the abstract vehicle of rights that has nothing to do with the actual human existence. The existential o t h e r n e s s of every human being — the unique, distinct and unrepeatable mode of every single existence— is refuted (discredited) by the logic of the rights’ enactment.

But. 11-22. It has nothing to do with the interest and the utilitarian relationships that characterize a “society”. 2 3 And here we have to make another clarification in order to signal the difference between the word “person-persona” and the Greek word “πρόσωπο” (prosopo). accept equation of their interests as well as equation of the hierarchy of their interests. society has nothing to do with kinonia. p. I use the word “communion” as a translation of the Greek word “kinonia”. Mass (Harvard U. through this institutional equation. The official translation of the word “kinonia” is the English word “society”. Being . and it probably came from the Greek word “προσωπείον” that is the mask the actors used to wear in ancient tragedies. The same roles are those who define the fortification of the respective rights: the civil rights. and agree that they all have an equalizing enactment of their private claims. the Roman “persona” started to be used among the Jurists to signify the “role” someone plays in his social or legal affairs. the word “kinonia” is used to express the love among the Persons of the Holy Trinity. an abstract interpretation of a total of undifferentiated units2.) 1971. (For a deeper analysis. also to signal the communion of love between spouses. actually.P. the political rights and the social rights3. The abstract person before the law defines the criterion and aim of society: the equation functions as a reassurance and self-confirmation for the individual. A Theory of Justice. see JOHN ZIZIOULAS. and a loving bond. But the ontological reason or the source of the being is the “person” that is free from the necessity of essence.This refutation of the existential otherness of persons is enacted through a convention: The Law as the “source” of rights in modernity is a “social contract” (a form of pactum subjectionis1). means the unity that results from an organic coexistense. have as a basis the sharing of persons’ needs. The logic of the social contract is by default utilitarian. The word persona in ancient Rome used to signal the theatrical role. In that way. There is no essence without the “person”. The word “prosopo” in “Byzantine” era turned out to signal the free existence and the ontological mode of existence. The same being is identified with the “prosopo” (person) and not with the essence. it excludes any ontological (existential) interpretation of the social event. 118-192. Cambridge. Later. and again has nothing to do with the real existence but it is an “application” of the existence. The communion of persons is interpreted as a corporate association of individuals (societás) who. The roles are those of the civilian. In ancient Greek world it’s the organic participation in the common struggle of city’s life. And there is no “person” without essence. 1 See also: JOHN RAWLS. Kinonia means an indefinable dynamic of relations that give priority to the otherness of existence. step down their existential otherness in favour of the total. the term “communion” has declined to an arithmetic sum total. It skates over the indefinable dynamic of the communal relations of persons and reduces to a phenomenology (a visible reality): It attributes persons with objective roles they have to play in the frame of a structural co-habitation. Later. the citizen and the member of society.

ages of torture and insecurity for the western people. because it distorts the initial definition of politics. CHRISTOS YANNARAS. In the collective co-habitation the individual is threatened by the savageness of power of those who are powerful and also the arbitrarity of the governors. i. it is a pre-political achievement (it goes before politics). does not start with the modern individualization of man. The same logic of individual rights presupposes anything collective. Brookline Mass. H. the rights concerned specific individuals or specific social classes. as Communion. The secureness is accomplished by the gathering of individual rights from common mutual Law which is enacted by the central government.C. 1985. who have secured the conditions of their self-dependence and selfmanagement of their interests.-SVS Press.The fortification of individual’s rights appeared to be the beginning -and the pursuit. however then. as opponent to what is private: the society and the State power (the government) is a threat for the individual. In fact. In reverse. the communion of citizens.e. The notion of right has been known in the West since the dark ages. Also. the individualization might be a progress with regard to the dark ages. We should not forget that the enactment of the individual rights determines the boundaries of the European modernity: it marks the end of the “dark ages” experience. common to all humans. Orth. but it introduces a tragic retrocession beside the historical fact of ancient Greek politics and the priority of person (prosopo) of the so called “Byzantine” anthropology. Press. It does not aim in principle to the city (“polis”) neither to the formation of communal relations. this is about the administrative balancing of interests —it is not politics. But then. 2006) . but it aims to the fortification of individual autonomy and to the collective co-habitation as a numeral co-existence of undifferentiated units. the political society. Let’s see why. without discriminations. The radical innovation of Modernity lies in the fact that Modernity made rights "human". However.of the political life.Y. N. Person and Eros. The fortification of rights by the Law is an important defense against such threatening.

are in tune with the common experiential certitude5. But. Frag. what we have that is peculiar to us. credit or dignity as acceptable. we know to be false”4. only when it is verified by common experience —only when by its announcement we share with others. a “common exercise”. at least. 4 5 Heraclitus.The concept and requirement of individual rights is absent from the ancient Greek world as well as from the Roman and “Byzantine” tradition. In ancient democracy of Athens. The community that secures the truth is not the one where the individual is adjusted or subordinated to the word and opinion of majority. Diels-Kranz I. 29-30. From Heraclitus to the neo-Platonists. it does not mean that Greeks and Romans used to consider the Emperor’s arbitrarity in the use of power. However. The “truth” for the ancient Greek world was very different from that of the demand for “objectivity”. knowledge of truth was verified as an event of communion: “everything that we share. The Greeks developed their first settlements into “polis” (cities) from the time that their “common utilities” — the servicing of the utilitarian needs of co-habitation — gave way to the priority of “excersizing the truth”. there was a totally different logic: it was a political logic. and not because we are naturally gifted with our own intellectual capability. they used to understand them as an organic result of the participation of citizen to the common achievement of the relations of community. credit or dignity of person not as a requirement of individuals’ fortification. The ancient Greek polis (city) and the politics founded on an ontological (existential) request: it was the pursuit of the “truth” of life. and “truth” for the ancient Greeks is the imitationfulfillment of the logical harmony and order that constitute the universe to cosmos (that in Greek means ornament). and this cannot be an individual effort or aim. p. Knowledge is proved true. who defined the concept of the terms “polis-politia-politiki” (city-city state-politics). But the notion of community has to do with the event of participation that constitutes the logicality (rationality) of persons. or the violation of the citizen’s freedom. .148. neither as a way of defense against the State power. We become logical so far as we participate in common logic. that is “the life to be according to the truth”. understand and are understood. we know to be true. it is by definition a social event. they used to conceive freedom.

the real existence and life. Law and Justice define the conditions of the individuals’ participation to the common request for the life to be true. The honor of being a citizen provided much more privileges than those conventionally provided (through the civil code) by the protection of individual rights7. But in Ancient Greece. Because a political function is "sacred" (it serves the truth). a positive or a negative answer to the metaphysical question. any bodily punishment of harm was unthinkable for a citizen (whipping. Every citizen "has reason and power": from the moment that he is a citizen. 7 . One can therefore understand that the safeguarding of "individual rights" was entirely useless in the ancient Greek world . build up a concrete notion of Justice. individualization perpetuates the primary. The civil code (political laws) just put the boundaries and coordinates the communal struggle of citizens to achieve the aim of truth and eudemonism. Politics always presupposes an interpretation of the vehicle of needs— of the individual human existence and collective coexistence— and this is a clearly ontological consideration. he or she is by definition capable of holding any political office (this is why citizens were selected randomly and not elected). drank hemlock by himself -there was no executioner to kill him. the problems of ontology are problems of politics too.] The Aristotle’s adherence on justice as the logicality of communal relations. while. on truth as virtue. instinctive turn (recourse) to self-confirmation—self-profit—selfutility. the Power meant all citizens together (the demos) -the "State" (power) belonged to the demos (democracy). on logicality as analogy and proportion. a citizen's body is sacred too. favour to its ontological realism.Then. hitting. "individual rights" protect an individual from the arbitrary exercise of Power. As long as politics express communal requests. who preferred death to exile. and it aims to communal relations that constitute the “real good”. on eudemonism as existential perfection and wholeness. etc. that is to be according to the logical harmony and decency6. The problems of politics have also an ontological basis and in reverse. 6 In Modernity. on analogy and proportion as truth. it was unthinkable to insult a citizen's body.).the whole idea was incompatible with the Greek version of politics. it presupposes a concept for life and co-existence that is a practical confrontation with metaphysics. [The determinant between politics and individualization is this: politics have an ontological content. It was also unthinkable to have an executioner: Socrates. on virtue as eudemonism. In Ancient Greece.

then in every case being. God is not obliged by his Essence to be God. It does not tell us that God has love. “To live unselfishly in order to receive the selfoffering of the Other. God is the true existence and life. that the mode by which God is is love. existence and life is inseparable from the dynamic of love. Massachusetts 2005). Their Existence is drawn from the actualization of life as communion. Holy Cross Orthodox Press. then life must function as love in order to be actualized. It assures us that God is is love. is not an impersonal cosmic necessity or the uncaused logic of harmony and decency of relations. giving birth eternally to the Son and sending forth the Holy Spirit. 8 Think yourself to be in love. The real existence and causal origin of being for the Christian experience is God as a personal existence (hypostasis). and from this mode springs each possibility and expression of life. Rather he is in principle a Person. Since the mode by which God is is love. transl. he is not subject to the necessity of his existence. God is a Trinity of Persons and this Trinity is a Monad (unit) of life.” (CHRISTOS YANNARAS. the cause and source and starting point of being. Not existing and then loving as an afterthought. a property of God. Variations on the Song of Songs. then existence does not constitute life. but really in love. which exists in consequence as a Person. and in the degree in which you love. Each Person exists not for himself but he exists offering himself in a community of love with the other Persons. If. the Father hypostasizes his Being in a Triad of Persons. because the life of the Person of God is not a simple survival but an unbroken union of love.The ontological basis of politics is much clearly clarified by the Christian experience. In Christian perspective the “real existence” that constitutes the measurement of the true life. from life which is identified with self-offering love8. then. . who being absolutely free from every necessity and every predetermination hypostasizes (makes into hypostases-persons) his Being. by Norman Russel. Free and out of love. that love is an attribute. He exists. If it does not function as love. since he loves and love is only an event of freedom. God is not in principle a given Essence. but existing because you love. Holy Scripture assures us that “God is love”. his Essence. constitutes the principle and mode of his Existence as a community of personal freedom and love. that God is as love.

In this way our entire life is transformed from individual survival to an event of communion. and it compassionately inclines a man inb the direction of all. concretize and reveal the city (the way of life "according to the truth") . to a “mode” of life which constitutes a relationship with God or leads progressively and experientially to a relationship with Ηim. and to him who is deserving of good it gives a double portion.John 4. In the historical person of Christ is confirmed the freedom of Uncreated to be in the mode of created. Only the response of man to the invitation of God’s love judges him: either he 9 Similar to the ancient Greek "assembly of the people". Greek citizens did not assemble primarily to discuss. incorruptibility and immortality: not the imitation of the secular "logic". just because God assumes human nature and makes it a participant of his own divine Nature. the way of life "according to the truth". God is just because He is faithful to what He is: He is love and he calls man to the fulfillment of a personal communion with Him. as an optional possibility. it does not requite a man who is deserving of evil. in the Eucharistic dinner. because "He is Life" (1. As grass and fire cannot coexist in one place. 10 “Mercy is opposed to justice. If. the only Son of the Father “become flesh”: Jesus.ISAAC THE SYRIAN (5th century). And he does so in the second Person of the Holy Trinity. for it gives to each as he deserves. it has nothing to do with the human “equitable justice” and “justification”. The Church does not call us to hold out some theoretical theses which must be accepted in principle. and be catechized but mainly to constitute. The same notion of God’s justice. then justice belongs to the potrion of wigkedness. is a sorrow and pity stirred up by goodness. it is evident that mercy belongs to the potrion of rightousness. but mainly to constitute. judge and take decisions. therefore. the society which constitutes the true existence and life. Justice is the faithfulness of man to the grace of God.16).This same mode of existence of God is also obtainable for man. Mercy. and when it makes recompense. Christians would not assemble primarily to pray. on the other hand. worship. either in the Old or the New Testament is founded on His mercy10. it does not incline to one side or show respect of persons. on the faithfulness of God’s love to His creation. the Christ of God. so justice and mercy cannot abide in one soul. a self-abandonment to the gift of divine eros (love) for man. . Justice is the equality in the even scale.” ST. perfection for man is the actualization of the mode of Divine existence and life which is nothing but love. And the Christian notion of justice is formed according to this exemplar: It is not a conformation to some commands that fix up behaviours and balance the utilitarian relations. She invites us to a personal relationship. It is a mode of existence that has been historically incarnated in the event of Ecclesia (Church)9. but of the Trinitarian Society of Persons. Then. but also the possibility of created to exist in the mode of freedom of Uncreated. Homily NH’. in the same way. concretize and reveal.

but first because they work as factors that “alter” the relation’s nature and conditions: they convert them to conditions of subordination and dependency. Those who are first. Being a participant and a member of the body of Church means that one only exists in order to love and be loved —therefore. transl. Not because these are “objectively” unfair and unjust deeds. publicans. Law directs but not valuates. Isolation in self-sufficiency. The existence is justified only as an event of community and relation. The Christian justice stands in the very opposite of the claims for fortification of the individual. do not need to establish individual rights. according to the conventional estimations. our efficiency. And here by relation we mean the achievement of freedom from the egocentric self-defense.becomes participant to what constitutes his salvation-existential wholeness or he fails to fulfill life —and this is the notion of sin (existential failure). a continual struggle for self-denial. (CHRISTOS YANNARAS. Luck. 31. as freedom from any predetermination of necessity. “The strength of the Church is made perfect in weakness mainly because only with the recognition of human inadequacy can we transpose the possibility of life into the love of God which “raises the dead”. as love11. Criterion of justification of man for the Christian experience is not the individual achievements of consistency to ethics. 11 . In the Christian perspective. 20). results. utilization of the Other. neither punishes: It’s just the indicator of the way for the achievement of relation as self-transcendance. bear out to be last and the last become first (Mark 10. even robbers. do not leave room for the skip of self-denial and self-transcendence which free the life-giving possibility of love”. sound judgment. T&T Clark Edinbugh 1991). attrition and death —that is. oppression. law delimitates the self-centered/egocentric existence from producing selfishness. or sinners. 13.e. far from any expectation of self-protection through a legislation which would be "mandatory for all". Participants to the ecclesiastical event. it is not the virtues which fortify the individual into an illusion of self-sufficiency (autarky). by Keith Schram. tyranny. Elements of Faith. satisfaction in our virtue. prostitutes. protection) of relations in order not to be alienated or damaged. the Law matters only as a way to deter the evil: It provides the necessary delimination (i.

the Law that results from the consideration of human being as primarily a natural (biological) existence. the Enlightment seemed to ignore the fact that a natural human collectiveness may extend from extreme unselfishness to the most brutal self-centernessq. but by the logic of the laws of nature which was objective and controllable. This “natural logic” of modernity is briefed. in the ultimate priority of individual’s rights that summarizes the system of Political Liberalism: Political Liberalism expresses the priority of fortification and activation of individual’s freedom. blind lust for power. in acto. from the co-suffering love and eros to sadism. as they constitute the way of "that which truly exists" (even if this way refers to two different models). the various forms of "theocracy" have no relation at all to the ancient Greek politics as an "exercise of truth". The freedom for this political system is understood as a right: the right of the individual’s innumerable liberties. In the place of metaphysics we have an ultimate priority of human nature13: the logic of the nature.e. into a psychological illusions. as its dynamic realization is an aim in itself. Theocracy is the use of metaphysics (as a supreme authority) in order to impose normative principles of behavior or aims of power by force upon the collectivity. his political party. 13 The denial of Metaphysics encouraged the absolute affirmation of Nature (Physics). violence. the question about existence. the social event cannot become subject to ideological rules or aims. Metaphysics without ontology serve individual psychology (the priority of individual feelings. The citizen may decide on his ideas. However. Relations that realize the communion of life are in both cases the unique objective of collectiveness. the natural pleasure and happiness that a man can accomplish in the limited time of his life.The new concept of politics in modernity is the substitution of the aim of truth by the aim of utility. about the cause and purpose of being). sentimental "certainties". But any use of metaphysics for secular aims transforms metaphysics into ideology. . which is characterized by a polemical rejection of what European people knew as metaphysics from their dark ages past12. his favourite newspaper. Politics release from ontology and gather its Law and principles from the Enlightment’s philosophy. Metaphysics are subject to ideology when they evacuate their ontological content (i. which was arbitrarily handled by religious institutions. the intellectual capability (facultas rationis) that the humans naturally have. nor with the ecclesiastical realization of the image of the Trinitarian Communion. However. And metaphysics borrow these psychological "certainties" and "convictions" from ideologies. The idea was that normative principles and rules of Justice should not be deduced out of the hypothetical "Law of God". "convictions" which protect the ego). the means of 12 People in the West actually rejected that form of metaphysics that had transformed to an ideology and drove to some kind of “theocracy”. In the cases of ancient Greek democracy and of the (Eastern) Christian Church.

Following the Rules Laid Down: A Critique of Interpretivism and Neutral Principles. if he either wants it or if it would be good for him to have it. In this sense. Even the artistic creation.” (MARK TUSHNET. without the responsibilities and risks of the immediacy of relations of community15. the authenticity 14 “We might say. Cambridge.) 1977. 268). people exist as isolated islands of individuality who choose to enter into relations can metaphorically be characterized as foreign affairs. The responsibility of citizen is reduced to the passive right of political vote. 1983. 4. that someone has a right to liberty if it is in his interest to have liberty. 781). The operation system of a shopping mall. “the right of religious liberty”. Then we have the constitution of a perfectly organized coexistence of unsocial individuals. he possibly seeks to overcome the impersonal neutralization and the irresponsibility of his uncritical impulses by making some peculiar or distinctive choices. for example.his financial and business activity. but he tastes the pleasure of satisfying his desires. . The citizen has an impressive option of freedoms. but also a very limited capability and responsibility to actualize communal relationships. generally. each guided by his or her idiosyncratic values and goals. p. There is no concern for the man as an existential being: the interpretation. he is totally free and easy and also self-serviced. But. Maybe the most representative picture of political liberalism could be a contemporary “shopping mall”. as a right of individual’s innumerable options. he is alone and responsible only for his own choices and preferences. concept and aims of his existential uniqueness. 15 “Liberalism’s psychology posits a world of autonomous individuals. as well as the institutions of the Political Liberalism give us a representative picture of what freedom is.4: Institutional Rights. the managers responsible for the operation of the shopping mall already know this yearning and negate it through the psychological strategy of the advertisement spots.P.” (R. to vanilla ice cream. I would be prepared to concede that citizens have a right to liberty. none of which can be adjudged more or less legitimate than those held by others. The client there may choose among a huge diversity of things. 96 Harvard Law Review. “the right of knowledge”. that is. sealed in his isolation. the unions or clubs he is interested in or protect his interests14.Dworkin. In such a world. at least. alas. He is an impersonal consumer. Mass (Harvard U. the religious faith. Taking Rights seriously. the scientific research. is understood under the perspective of rights: as “the right of expression”. unconcerned for the social event. But in this sense I would also have to concede that they have a right. p. but this is also sabotaged by the usage of marketing and advertisement in politics.

that is a disability of logical composition18. However none of this analysis ever reached the basis of the problem. have failed as principles.. of life— is the “space” in which the first signifier. But we have to be brave enough to face the dead ends of the Suggestively only: PIERRE BIRNBAUM. YANNARAS. It is obvious that we cannot go back and just imitate a cultural paradigm of the past. N. “gives birth” to the subject. the bearer of desire.Y. Press. the end of “civil state”.. Massachusetts. — JOSEPH BARTHELEMY. then the system of political liberalism is not adequate for the ensuring of human freedom. What we call a subject is an erotic fact. Press) 1991 — ALEXANDRAS SHTROMAS (editor). Paris (Seuil) 1975. La Fin du politique. Neither we can ignore today the triumph of individual’s rights and liberties. H. —MAURICE DUVERGER. if freedom is primarily the nonalienation of person. methods and ways of hierarchy of needs. RDP. the questioning of the basic logic which is the ultimate priority of individuals’ rights. The word which constitutes the subject. It is also demonstrated and analyzed the most dangerous consequence of the alienation of politics in the modernity “paradigm”: an anthropologic corruption. 1928. Systems in crisis : new imperatives of high politics. that is. is manifested. 18 “The drive towards life passes through the Other. the possibility to be he himself without subordination to necessities that negate his existential otherness. The presence of the Other —the potentiality of relation. The detection of the historical “end” is based on the empiric conviction that these natives of modernity do no function any more. the end of trust to the “social contract”. The appearance of the signifier. a gradual slip towards a new type of human temper and psychism with primary disabilities to communicate and refer to others17. the end of ideologies16. La démocratie sans le peuple. the word of desire. — CHARLES DORAN. La crise de la démocratie représentative.” (C. for an understanding of this degeneration of psychism of the man of modernity. End of isms? Reflections on the fate of ideological politics after Communism’s collapse. 16 . “The subject is born when the signifier appears in the field of the Other” (Lacan)— the power of responding to the desire. Les particules elementaires. Variation on the Song of Songs. 17 It is worth reading the fiction of MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ.C. If the concept of freedom is not exhausted in the right of individual’s choice. Paris (Seuil) 1967. 2005). By the end of the 20th century a massive bibliography proclaims and denounces the historical end of the modernity achievements: the end or bankruptcy of politics. which is the presupposition and starting-point of the relation.or alienation of his existence before the phenomenology of his behaviour and beyond any legal claim of individual rights. (Cambridge Univ. Flammarion 1998. and because it is an erotic fact it is also a (logical) rational existent. Oxford (Blackwell) 1994.

the question about the cause and purpose of being) is imprinted on the comprehension of social event. i. [Translated and edited by Anastasia Byrou] . Such variations actually constitute the diversity of civilizations (“paradigms”) in the human History.e.utilitarian realism of politics in modernity and post-modern era. of love and death (any ontological concept of the daily life of people. of world and History. on the composition of Law. on the articulation and operation of institutions. Any common interpretation of existence and life. We have one model of society and Law system when we accept man as a biological unit of an undifferentiated total and a radically different one when we give priority to the existential otherness of every single human being. Especially when it is obvious that the positive triumphs are undermined by their same keystone and foundation: the fortification of priority of individual’s autonomy.

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