Ben Golder, Human rights without humanism.
Why does Foucault—an avowed anti-humanist—turn to “rights” in his later works?, Stanford University Press blog, 27 October 2015
As human rights rise in popularity throughout the 1960s and 1970s so too does the work of thinkers (many of them French philosophers or theorists of language—structuralist, post-structuralist, postmodern) dedicated to deconstructing or critically historicizing the idea of “humanity.” How do we account for the exponential popularity of human rights as a political and legal medium in the same period as the increasing prominence of these post-humanist styles of thought that seemingly pull the humanist rug out from under the feet of the human rights movement?
And yet on closer reflection matters become even more curious, because as it turns out some of these very same anti-humanist thinkers themselves turn out to be human rights advocates. In 1948, the year of the Universal Declaration’s drafting, the French philosopher Michel Foucault was finishing a philosophy degree at the Sorbonne. Unrecognizably, he sported a full head of hair. He had yet to develop the iconoclastic anti-humanism of texts like The Order of Things, whose metaphoric concluding passages welcomed the imminent dissipation of “man” and Discipline and Punish, whose historical argument refuted the idea that the modern West had become more humane and civilized in its forms of punishment.