Law and Critique

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 25–45 | Cite as

In the Aftermath of Critique We Are Not in Epistemic Free Fall: Human Rights, the Subaltern Subject, and Non-liberal Search for Freedom and Happiness

  • Ratna Kapur


The article challenges the claim that human rights, which have constituted one of the central tools by which to establish the truth claims of modernity, can produce freedom and meaningful happiness through the acquisition of more rights and more equality. Third World, postcolonial and feminist legal scholars have challenged the accuracy of this claim, amongst others. The critiques expose the discursive operations of human rights as a governance project primarily concerned with ordering the lives of non-European peoples, rather than a liberating force; and that the pre-given rational subject of human rights is contingent and one of the prime effects of power. I examine the problems with the liberal humanism of human rights by examining not only how it is linked to a specific understanding of the `good life’, freedom and happiness, but also how it closes off other emancipatory possibilities. The acquisition of human rights as objects that an individual has by virtue of being human, represent the terminal limits of human rights, rather than the moment when the human subject becomes empowered and liberated. I draw on queer affect theory to make a critique of happiness, to which I argue human rights are linked, and how the failed or unhappy subaltern subject exposes its normative composition. I discuss the resulting depth of the despair produced from the realisation that this political project cannot realise its promise of freedom and meaningful happiness, compelling a `turn away’ from human rights as an emancipatory project and a `turn towards’ other non-liberal philosophical traditions, in the search for alternative understandings of and space for freedom and happiness. I explore these possibilities specifically within the philosophical tradition of non-dualism (Advaita).


Advaita Dualism Freedom and happiness Postcolonial feminism Postcolonial theory Queer theory 



I am grateful to Brenda Cossman, Kanchana Natrajan, Latika Vashisht, and Smriti Vohra, for their comments as well as my interlocutors at the Global Conference on Law, Ethics and Reason, 2012, New Delhi and the international conference on Desiring Just Economies/Just Economies of Desire, Berlin, 2010. Thanks to Radhika Gupta, Apurva Tripathi, and Adil Khan for their very able and invaluable research assistance. I am also grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their extremely helpful comments and insights.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Jindal Global Law SchoolSonepat (NCR, Delhi)India
  2. 2.Faculty, Geneva School of Diplomacy and International RelationsGenevaSwitzerland
  3. 3.New DelhiIndia

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