Exile and Rightlessness

Émigré Scholars and the Birth of Human Rights Discourse
Thursday, May 2, 2019
10:00am - 6:00pm
Sulzberger Parlor


The First World War was broadly felt as a breakdown of a shared European tradition and balance of powers. With the gradual erosion of the Westphalian nation-state system, the development of total wars, and the ensuing birth of large minorities unable to become citizens, we entered an era in which enormous masses of people were no longer recognized as right-bearing subjects by any sovereign country. Exile and rightlessness became the defining marks of the modern political and intellectual landscape.

The crisis revealed much deeper underlying issues concerning our understanding of human rights. The rights of man were left in the hands of sovereign nations. This central tension did not essentially change with the fragile League of Nations or with the more recent birth of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Despite of the implementation of other important conventions, mass-migrations, exile and rightlessness have not disappeared, but have rather taken on new forms of appearance under the rhetoric of universal human rights.

These political realities came to define the work of several notable European intellectuals who were forced into exile. In countering the political crises of the twentieth century, these intellectuals formed their own ideas of what future political communities and human rights should look like. Hannah Arendt’s call for a “right to have rights,” Leo Strauss’s political conservatism, the legal theories of Hersch Lauterpacht as well as the philosophical work of The Frankfurt School all offer exceptional examples of the way the experience of exile affected visions concerning human rights and future political communities.

By engaging in a critical debate with these thinkers this conference aims to analyze the different visions concerning human rights that were developed by émigré scholars during the political crisis of the twentieth century. The motivation for the meeting is that the current political predicament – the continuing migration crisis and the rise of nationalist and xenophobic movements everywhere in the West – can only be understood within a broader historical framework that aims to offer counter-narratives to our current political situation.

The conference takes place on May 2nd, 2019 at Columbia University. Further queries may be sent to Ville Suuronen (ville.a.suuronen@gmail.com), researcher at the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence for Law, Identity and the European Narratives (EUROSTORIE) of the University of Helsinki.


09.50-10.00. Welcome and Opening Words by Conference Organizers


10.00-11.45: Panel 1. Understanding Contemporary Forms of Exile and Rightlessness in the Light of History / Chair: Ville Suuronen

Ayten Gündogdu: “The Living Space of Freedom:” Arendt on Law and Power

Magdalena Kmak: Refugee Scholars and Their Scholarship in Past and Present

Julian Honkasalo: Mass Detention in the Age of the Human Warehousing System: An Arendtian Critique of Biopolitics


11.45–12.00: Coffee Break


12.00-13.15: Keynote Lecture / Chair: Ayten Gündogdu

Seyla Benhabib: The Anxiety of Influence Hannah Arendt and Judith Shklar as Émigré Intellectuals


13.15-14.15: Lunch for Speakers


14.15-16.00: Panel 2. Twentieth Century Exile-Scholars on Human Rights / Chair: Kaius Tuori

Jacob Giltaij: Personal and Academic Considerations Surrounding Lauterpachtʼs Concept of Human Rights

Anna Jurkevics: Hannah Arendt on Friedrich von Gentz: Emancipation, Preservation, and the Magnificent Old World

Bill Davies: Walter Much: a European lawyer


16.00-16.15: Coffee Break


16.15-18.00: Panel 3. Critical Perspectives on Human Rights / Chair: Jacob Giltaij

William E. Scheuerman: Judith N. Shklar and the Critique of Legalism.

Kaius Tuori: Leo Strauss and the Transformation of his Concepts of Natural Right and the Political

Ville Suuronen: The Radical-Conservative Critique of Human Rights: The Case of Carl Schmitt


18.00-19.30: Open Reception with a Light buffet at Barnard Premises

May. 2, 2019 - 10:00 AM