Tag Archives: social contract

Week Six: Citizenship and Rights

I thoroughly enjoyed this week’s content as I am personally very interested in the nitty-gritty of rights discourse! Where do they come from? Do they even really exist? Are they simply western constructions? What about the tension between culture and rights? Is the international human rights agenda simply a form of neo-imperialism?

Whilst I don’t necessarily agree with all Hobbesian philosophy, I think that the social contract is a great way to conceptualise rights discourse. According to Hobbes, the creation of the social contract demands for a transfer of rights between the sovereign and the subject; in return for protection against the state of nature, the subject relinquishes a significant level of autonomy  to the sovereign. However, who is to be considered a subject is also the prerogative of the sovereign – citizenship (and the rights that come with it) may only be afforded to those selected by the sovereign. In this way, it is very often that the elite comprising a majority of governments exclude non-status quo groups such as slaves, ethnic minorities, and women from various rights such as freedom and franchise.

What really struck me as interesting in the readings was the role of religion in dictating which rights were afforded to who, how they could exercise these rights, and how far these rights extended. Christianity (Catholicism in particular) had a significant hand in the way that women were seen in society, and was used to justify their place – Pelliza de Sagasta references the words of Maria del Pilar Sinués de Marco; “No, no, God made man the natural head of the family. Work! He said to Adam. Love, He said to women in general through Eve. Console man!… Follow him wherever he goes!” Women were to be on a pedestal, “the absolute queens of the hearts of men“, and this is where their ‘strength’ lay; their true ‘natural’ place.

Similarly, colonialism and Christianity have long come hand-in-hand. Latin America is only one instance of the paternalistic tradition of Catholic missionaries, sent by their sovereigns or driven by their own convictions to ‘save’ the souls of the natives from their own ignorance and sin – such was ‘the white man’s burden.’ In this way, religion again dictated the way in which people in a certain society were to be seen – again, ‘other-ed’ by the status quo and as a result, alienated from the rights and freedoms enjoyed by those seen as legal subjects.

A missing piece in my understanding this week is the intersection between religion and slavery. How did Catholic slave-owners and contributors to the slave trade/ those that complied with it justify the practice? I myself am not too knowledgeable about this intersection, and whilst I feel that Nina Rodrigues’ document ‘The Fetishist Animism of the Bahian Blacks‘ may hold some answers, I found that document ridiculously hard to decipher.

Religion is and always has been a large part of Latin American society and culture, and whilst I am by no means suggesting that religion is the root cause of a lot of divisions in this society, I am interested to see how such things may be used to justify the distinctions between different groups. Where is the place of religion and culture in rights discourse? Returning to my earlier question, how can we navigate the occasional tensions that arise between culture and rights?






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Week Five: Caudillos Versus the Nation State

What I found particularly interesting this week was Jon’s discussion of the social contract, and how, in the face of such a fragmented and almost lawless society (especially in the countryside and remote outposts), such a concept that we take for granted in the Western world may be rendered obsolete and unfavourable in comparison to other modes of protection, such as caudillos.

According to Hobbes in Leviathan, the state of man nature is so fearsome and undesirable, that man will accept significant burdens on his freedom in the form of a sovereign in order to escape this state of nature; nature is a “warre… of every man against every man.” It is the very existence of a higher authority that keeps this war at bay. The perversion of this social contract by Rosas and his Mazorcas had ultimately led to a recreation of and reversion to this state of nature. After reading Echeverría’s short story, I could not help but draw similarities between The Slaughterhouse and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, both works drawing upon the central idea in Hobbes’ Leviathan that, in the absence of authority (i.e. in anarchy), savagery, cruelty, and chaos underpin social behaviour. Both authors also use vivid and visceral imagery to depict the depths of mankind in the state of nature, as well as the dangers of mob mentality (through Echeverría’s use of disembodied voices to create cacophony and chaos) and the almost irreversible impacts it can have on order and the rule of law.

These ideas echo a documentary that I watched a few years ago when undertaking a class called The Sociology of Third World Development. The documentary primarily dealt with the issue of ongoing and inextinguishable gang violence in Brazil, and when asked for the rationale for joining such violent organisations, many incarcerated gang members cited disenfranchisement and the feeling of living outside the protection of the law as the most attractive pull-factor of these gangs. (I cannot recall the name at this point in time, but when I do I will post it in the comments! It is a very interesting watch!) Additionally, disenfranchisement has always been (and still is) a significant concern for much of Latin America, and serves as potent kindling for populist movements and the election of populist candidates to positions of power. Perhaps it can be argued that these patterns of political mobilisation are well-established in Latin American consciousness – and just as the population have been conditioned by tradition to push back against feelings of disenfranchisement, so too have leaders learnt to read such trends and exploit them for political power.

But more than this tradition, what is it about Latin America that makes it so hard to govern? Surely it cannot simply be the result of a patchwork of identities. Why is it so that this cycle of disenfranchisement leading to momentum for populist movements seems to persist so vehemently in the region? And why on such a widespread scale?



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