Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bon Mots: Arendt on the Rights of Stateless People

From The Origins of Totalitarianism (Harcourt/HBJ, 1979, p. 295-6), Hannah Arendt tracks the coincidence of statelessness and rightlessness:

The calamity of the rightless is not that they are deprived of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or of equality before the law and freedom of opinion-- formulas which were designed to solve problems within given communities-- but that they no longer belong to any community whatsoever. Their plight is not that they are not equal before the law, but that no law exists for them; not that they are oppressed but that nobody wants to even oppress them. Only in the last stage of a rather lengthy process is their right to live threatened; only if they remain perfectly "superfluous," if nobody can be found to "claim" them, may their lives be in danger. Even the Nazis started their extermination of Jews first by depriving them of all legal status (the status of second-class citizenship) and cutting them off from the world of the living and by herding them into ghettos and concentration camps; and before they set the gas chambers into motion they had carefully tested the ground and found out to their satisfaction that no country would claim these people. The point is that a condition of complete rightlessness was created before the right to live was challenged.

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