School of Law

The “Right to have Rights”: The Continuing Resonance of Hannah Arendt’s Phrase and Refugees and Migrants in Legal and Political Thought

23 February 2017 | 17:30 - 19:00 | Seminar
Liberty Building, University of Leeds

This is a free event however registration is required in advance. Refreshments will be available.

The Continuing Resonance of Hannah Arendt’s Phrase and Refugees and Migrants in Legal and Political Thought

Professor Seyla Benhabib
Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy
Yale University

We are living through a fateful time. In a short period, hardly spanning more than five years, we have experienced the battle over the Ukraine; the intensification and tragic end of the civil war in Syria; the Greek fiscal crisis; Brexit; and the election of Donald Trump.  Italy’s pro-European technocratic party has lost to a left populist upsurge and France and Germany are awaiting the elections of Spring 2017. Their results may well mean the end of the European Union. What would Hannah Arendt have said?

In this lecture Professor Seyla Benhabib will claim that she would have been astonished that the ‘refugee crisis’ would have led to such an unravelling of the international legal order established after WWII within the European context in particular.  Why has the movement of peoples across national borders become such a highly volatile and symbolic issue?

The ‘right to have rights’ helps us think through this question by taking aim at the tension between universal human rights and sovereignty at the heart of the nation-state system.  The “right to have rights” has multiple meanings: a. the right to place, which since Hobbes has been acknowledged as fundamental to human freedom; b. the right to belonging - either in the sense of ethnic and cultural identity or national citizenship; c. being recognized as having legal personhood in international law; and exercising political agency by ‘claiming rights,’ whether or not they are recognized by authorities. This lecture will deal with the conceptual as well institutional difficulties embodied in each claim such as to throw some light on the political challenges of the present moment,


Seyla Benhabib is the Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Yale University and was Director of the Program in Ethics, Politics and Economics (2002-2008). Professor Benhabib was the President of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in 2006-07, a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin in 2009, at the NYU Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice in Spring 2012, and at the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Academy in Washington DC in Spring 2013. In 2009, she received the Ernst Bloch prize for her contributions to cultural dialogue in a global civilization and in May 2012, the Leopold Lucas Prize of the Evangelical Academy of Tubingen.  She holds honorary degrees from the Humanistic University in Utrecht in 2004, the University of Valencia in November 2010 and from Bogazici University in May 2012. She received a Guggenheim grant during 2010-2011 for her work on sovereignty and international law.  Professor Benhabib was awarded the Meister Eckhart Prize of the Identity Foundation and the University of Cologne in May 2014 for her contributions of contemporary thought.

This event is the first of the School's 'Liberty Lectures'. From global warming, public health crises and international inequality, to financial security and sustainable development, the School of Law wishes to engage in the most pressing issues of our time and contribute to what will be complex and difficult conversations and solutions. In launching this annual series of lectures and events the School welcomes scholars, policy makers and activists who are setting the agenda in how our world debates global challenges.


Location Details

Western Lecture Theatre
Liberty Building 
School of Law
University of Leeds

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