Fall of the Old Republic
August 16, 2022
Part one of a three-part memorial for human rights.
As divisive and unpopular as they may be, the Star Wars prequels succeed in dramatically recounting the transition of a Republic of equal citizens into an Empire of power and oppression. It is an epic narrative George Lucas expressly intended as a warning to the United States of America and the United Nations. The 'Old Republic' in Star Wars is thus allegorical for the political realm of equality that sprang out of the bloody wake of World War II. From 1948 until 2011, humanity was protected by a set of promises that were were 'inalienable', meaning 'incapable of being surrendered'. Yet today, human rights are taken to be conditional, and as such, they are no longer rights at all. The era of our own 'Old Republic' of human rights has now definitively ended.
Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Mary Wollstonecraft developed the idea of 'the Rights of Man' and of a rightful condition (Recht in German) that alone could make government legitimate by securing the equality of its citizens. It was the leadership and wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt in the wake of the second World War that would bring this philosophy to fruition via the drafting and ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This, together with other documents emerging from the aftermath of the atrocities of World War II, such as the Nuremberg Code the following year, brought about something unprecedented. Kant's vision of a "republicanism of all states together and separately" was made possible by an international commitment to the rightful condition. The 'Old Republic' of human rights had been forged.
Humanity in this era was to be equal, entitled to freedom of speech and thought, to privacy and dignity, and, via the Nuremberg Code, to bodily integrity and the power to decline medical treatment or experimentation. The Old Republic of human rights was constituted upon these foundations, and the very idea of 'democracy' was taken during this period to be intimately bound up with the preservation of rights. It was not enough that a country allowed elections: a democracy in the terms of the Old Republic entailed a nation that had vowed to preserve the rightful condition for everyone. It would have been unthinkable during this time that a person would be denied a fair trial and the presumption of innocence, as codified in Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It would have been equally unthinkable that a majority of citizens would vote to declare that citizens would have to submit to medical experiments without their express consent, as forbidden by the first principle of the Nuremberg Code.
The fall of the Old Republic began with the erosion of the rightful condition in the country that had worked hardest to bring them about: the United States of America. Within the early years of the 21st century, the presidency of George Bush Jr rode roughshod over our human rights promises. The infamous prison at Guantánamo Bay grossly violated Article 5 of the Universal Declaration, which had vowed that "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". But these violations had at least not been committed against citizens of Bush's own nation... the spirit of human rights had been mauled, but the rightful condition of citizens had been just barely maintained.
It was only in 2011, under President Barrack Obama, that the United States gave up its commitment to the rights of its own citizens. On September 30th 2011, the terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki was assassinated by a drone missile strike, along with publisher and activist Samir Khan, both of who were citizens of the United States. In the wake of these unlawful killings, US citizens were no longer entitled to the judicial protections of Article 11, nor indeed Article 3's promises of "the right to life, liberty and security of person." The US government was now entitled to declare terrorists and terrorist sympathisers exceptions to the rightful condition, utterly voiding the terms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Thus ended the Old Republic.
At first, I had believed that those committed to liberty would not let these atrocities stand. But the loyalist media had successfully sold the idea that the extermination of those accused of terrorism could be understood as 'war', and nobody objected except for a few brave ex-soldiers who could see the manifest injustice of drone assassinations, and the stain on the honour of the US military they constituted. Yet I kept hoping that we could get back to the Old Republic, that these breaches of rightful condition were not enough to prevent us from returning to human rights some day...
But then 2020 and 2021 demonstrated that it wasn't just the United States - nobody upheld the rightful condition any more. Governments throughout the world passed emergency legislation forcing all citizens to comply with a grand medical experiment to determine whether or not a respiratory virus could be stopped by imprisoning people in their homes. (It couldn't.) Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Nuremberg Code were broken wide open. Then, as a grisly encore, it was demanded that citizens be stripped of further rights if they did not consent to injection with new medical treatments, whose claimed efficacy was based upon evidence no-one was permitted to review - even when it was revealed that this research had incorporated outright fraud.
We now live in a time when the possible exceptions to the rightful condition are fearfully multiplying. It is not only terrorists, terrorist sympathisers, or anyone else a government wishes to label as 'terrorists' who can be denied rights. Those who will not consent to giving up their bodily autonomy are equally to be excluded. Nations who had previously sworn to uphold human rights continue to persecute the unvaccinated, even while the data on the treatments being mandated veers ever further from the dubious claims of their manufacturers (a vaccine that is truly 95% effective does not require a booster in less than a year). Freedom of conscience and informed consent have been rendered meaningless, and the rightful condition lies in tatters.
The very first articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had promised that we would all be equal in dignity and rights and that no difference in status of any kind would be sufficient to deny this. Neither the colour of our skin, the particulars of our gender, our political or religious beliefs, nor our vaccination status or medical beliefs were supposed to matter when it came to the rightful condition: "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind...". The erosion of this ideal was so gradual that we barely noticed it. Indeed, if we squint at the past, it almost seems as if nothing has changed... criminals look like terrorists if we ignore due process; vaccination mandates seem well-established when we ignore the decade of safety data that used to be required. Meanwhile, we have slowly forgotten that we were all to be held equal in the Old Republic of human rights.
Now, nobody is equal and everyone is subject to exemption from their rights according to the whims of those in power. Forget the absurd justification that 'nobody is safe until everyone is safe', which offers nothing but the empty promise that our rights will return tomorrow, when these never-ending and ever-multiplying emergencies have passed... The truth is that nobody has rights unless everybody has rights, even terrorists and the unvaccinated. And so nobody has any rights any more. The Old Republic has fallen.
I have no doubts at all that you're entirely aware of this - but felt it was worth pointing out, as this has been running through my mind since I read this piece a couple of days ago. The phrases "rightful condition (Recht in German) that alone could make government legitimate by securing the equality of its citizens. It was the leadership and wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt in the wake of the second World War that would bring this philosophy to fruition" and "Humanity in this era was to be equal, entitled to freedom of speech and thought, to privacy and dignity" are suggestive of the idea that true "equality" was enjoyed by citizens of the United States of America in the period between 1948 and 2011, but history very clearly shows that not to be the case (the famous Rosa Parks incident of 1955 is the first example of this being a point of dispute). Again, I think you're quite aware of this, it's just that your wording here could be misinterpreted against it.
I'm curious if you're a proponent of Hegel or Hannah Arendt in these fields? It seems to me that you might be, although I'm reluctant to assume anything about anybody these days. :)
Posted by: Ben Chandler | August 23, 2022 at 06:38 AM
Aye, this is a good point to raise! I appreciate that the life offered to many in the United States of the 20th century fell radically short of the promises of human rights that were made. I have, in fact, been examining the circumstances of the US Civil Rights movement a great deal recently... I find myself fascinated by the way that a solidarity was exercised at this time that now seems impossible today, and seek to understand what was lost and whether it can be regained.
I think it helpful to point out that this disparity occurred within the human rights era and was conditioned by it. Or to put it another way, the civil rights movement came about because it was apparent that the promises of universal rights were not being fulfilled. But this could not happen if it were not first taken as read that those rights were supposed to be available for everyone. I do not believe the 'problems on the ground', as it were, prove that there was no human rights era so much as they demonstrate that the so-called Universal Declaration of Human Rights did not magically secure equality. There were social battles still to be fought. The very fact that it was called 'the civil rights movement' serves to emphasise that this battle was fought within the logic of human rights.
But we ought to be careful about this, of course, because it is still fashionable to invoke 'human rights' even today in order to advance some specific political cause. We have a situation that is basically 'zombie rights', which are not the rights of zombies, but rather an undead version of human rights, neither alive nor dead. Capable of being named, but not capable of having any force.
What seems to be lost now is the very understanding of human rights as founded in equality. So Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr could march for civil rights in order to ask simply that human rights include them as was promised. Today, those who evoke 'human rights' are frequently asking for things that were not part of those promises, which rather suggests that there is no understanding of what they were (or why we have lost them). These 'zombie rights' are just the language of demands divorced from the understanding of rightful condition.
"I'm curious if you're a proponent of Hegel or Hannah Arendt in these fields? It seems to me that you might be, although I'm reluctant to assume anything about anybody these days. :)"
Always wise to limit one's assumptions! :) As you may have seen, I followed in the next piece with Arendt, which probably answers your question. But although I borrow from Arendt from time to time, I am not necessarily a wholehearted supporter of her philosophy, so much as I find her interesting and frequently insightful.
Hegel, on the other hand, I confess to having completely skipped over. He has just never made it into my reading list one way or another, so my only encounters with him are 'second hand'. He just looks like a lot of work, and I still have some Kant that I've not read, so I'm not in any rush to get to Hegel. :)
Many thanks for this thoughtful comment!
Posted by: Chris | August 23, 2022 at 11:05 AM