Art, Psychanalyse, Politique



For more than 60 years a highly unique pact has been struck between UNESCO and the Rights of Man.

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lieu : Paris - Paris, UNESCO

7 au 23 septembre 2009

A few factual reminders:

On December 10th, 1948, in the aftermath of the horrors of the Second World War, the peoples of the United Nations were driven to affirm the Declaration of the Rights of Man, by reaffirming that the recognition of the dignity inherent to all members of the human family and of their equal and inalienable rights constituted the foundation of liberty, justice and peace in the world.

Several hours after this Declaration, written by René Cassin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the General Conference of UNESCO assembled in Beirut adopted by voice vote a resolution charging its General Director with "spurring the spread of information and awareness regarding the Universal Declaration."

Ever since that symbolic date when it accepted this charge, UNESCO has been the guardian of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and this with a constancy that must be saluted. Such laudable action has been made possible by the fact that UNESCO has been guided by the authority of Directors who were chosen for being men of peace and culture, in the service of the December 10th, 1948 pact with the Universal Declaration.

However, for more than a month now the international community has been interrogated by the following paradoxical puzzle: We have learned, through the media, that next October UNESCO will designate its next Director from amongst nine candidates.

There are two things about this which are, at the very least, quite odd: First off, no real information regarding who the various candidates are is being provided, with the exception of the one being presented to us as the favorite, Mr. Farouk Hosni.

Even odder still: The media seem to be informing us that the person to whom UNESCO is preparing to confide the Directorship of an institution that aims to be the Guardian of the Rights of Man, would be none other than a man who has committed a certain number of anti-Semitic actions and made a certain number of anti-Semitic statements which unambiguously manifest his non-adherence to the original 1948 Pact with the Universal Declaration (see the article by Bernard Levy, Claude Lanzmann and Elie Wiezel in Le Monde, 22-May-2009).

Is this planned nomination the fruit of political compromises of which we are not aware, or that of something much more profound, meaning the expression of an unconscious force pressing our society, and through it UNESCO, to plainly and simply forget the true signification of the Rights of Man? Might the notion of the Rights of Man be tending towards such an extreme loss of meaning as to permit, for example, Mr. Hosni to depict himself as an ardent defender of both the Rights of Man and the theses of Roger Garaudy?

In this case the issue is perhaps not so much that of the state of mind of a man perhaps unable to spot the contradiction he is exposing himself to, but rather a new state of mind in general, one involving the loss of the meaning of words. For words do indeed become used up, and if UNESCO, (as guardian of hearth charged with kindling the flame of meaning), ceases to stoke its fire, certain words such as "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," which once had the power to inflame whole peoples, may lose their burning significations and become anaesthetized, as if struck with frigidity.

Is it possible to restore to such words the novel power they once acquired by emerging from the nothing whence they were before giving bloom? Such is the question we are directing at him or her who would assume in several months time the next Directorship of UNESCO: "Are you ready, are you presently disposed, to assume responsibility for the way in which these words have, through numerous conflicts, spanned the millennia and reached us today by sparking world-changing rebellions, first in France, then in Europe, and finally in the colonized countries?"

Are you ready for example to recognize today the signification of the enthusiastic stupor that enabled the Parisian sans-cullottes, who knew nothing but their duties as dictated by the Christian Trinity, to unearth the stunning existence of a Secular Trinity that made them in a certain way heirs to History: Through the word "Liberty" they were inheriting something of the biblical past; through the word "Equality" something of the past of Greece; and through the word "Fraternity" something of primitive Christianity.

But above and beyond this historical heritage they also became, like all persons who have been colonized by royals acting in the name of a supposed Divine Right, inheritors of a History-transcending reality: The heritage of the Enlightenment Philosophers led them to discover an unsuspected Real - that there existed a new, secular Universal giving rise to the apparition of a universal right to be Man.

Do you, the future head of UNESCO, know, that on a certain night of 4-August-1789, the wind of this enthusiasm even bore some aristocrats to discover that the privilege of being part of the universal human species surpasses the attachment to their ancient privileges?

It is crucial, Mr. Future Director, that I ask you this question, because if you do not have this attachment in you, this irrational and even amorous enthusiasm for the abrupt resurfacing of the ever novel idea of "Man," you might fail to resist the despondency and give in to the temptation to relinquish believing in the natural right of Man to be born a Man, to be a Man and to remain a Man until he meets his own end.

Extraordinary surprises indeed await when one gauges the extent of the forces arrayed against the recognition of this right: The first such force is linked to the division that drives Man, not to misrecognize the Law, but rather to misrecognize the natural rights of other men - the offender who strikes his neighbor knows he is guilty with respect to the Law; whereas the white racist who strikes his neighbor because he is black does not know he is an offender against it.

What will you do in order to guard over your faith in Natural Right when, like La Boétie, you are forced to confront the existence of Man's passion for voluntary servitude to the tyrant? Indeed La Boétie was probably the first to intuit the power of this inner voice, (the superego), that Freud unearthed at the heart of the human conflict - a conflict in which Man finds himself staked between two injunctions:

The first says to Him: "Where ‘that' was, your kernel as Man, come into human existence!" However the second contradicts the first by saying: "Become not! You are not free to exist, you are not equal to other men, there is no fraternity between you and him."

The absolute enigma at the heart of Man lies in the fact that he may be driven to passionately obey this tyrannical voice which, since Saint Paul and Saint Augustine, has been called the voice of Original Sin. Does obeying this voice signify freedom from guilt? Certainly not, since according to Dogma such guilt is consubstantial with human existence to such an extent that it would not be excessive to posit that the first scapegoat was Man himself, from the moment he laid claim to existing in a free manner without having to confess his fault in doing so.

In this respect have you already asked yourself why the first great revolutionary voice was that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau? Because when he proposed to say that the experience of Evil was physical and not metaphysical, that it did not arise from Original Sin but rather from the malignance of the Social Contract binding the People to their Sovereign, Rousseau opened a radically new field: Not only could Man reinvent a new Social Contract but, at the heart of this new social bond it became possible to no longer speak of the question of Evil in metaphysical fashion. It henceforth became possible, from this secular perspective, to look Evil, at last apparent in its full complexity, squarely in the eye, and to no longer view it through the absolute simplification that the gaze of the Inquisitor found in the scapegoat.

When you shall be the new UNESCO Director and the very same Inquisition that burned scapegoats for being what it dubbed "witches," "Jews," and "heretics" makes itself heard in "Durban," how will you do better?

Will your gaze of Reason enable you to peer far enough in the direction of Universal Humanity to avoid giving in to the simplifying temptation of a metaphysical vision of the world?

And finally, do not forget that your decision to apply for the UNESCO directorship, which is an expression of your capacity to feel indignation against injustice, will also lead you to encounter an insurmountable obstacle which may be encapsulated as follows: Saying "no" to Injustice is not equivalent to saying "yes" to Justice.

Clearly the act of saying "no" to Injustice is laudable, because it fosters the presumption that such a revolt is the act of a subject enamored with Justice. What nonetheless effectively enables us to dare contest this presumed love of Justice?

One thing: History.

For History does indeed teach us in the aftermath, and in the aftermath alone, that a legitimate revolt against social Injustice, no matter how sincere, may actually be revealed as the dissimulation of a radical denial of Justice, as demonstrated in the ultimate destiny of the likes of a Stalin, a Hitler, or a Pol Pot. A denial misrecognized by all, perhaps even by these protagonists themselves.

And yet it is History once again that also reveals to us, in the aftermath, that indignation against Injustice does not veil over a denial of Justice but unveils a thirst for it instead, (and here I am dreaming of Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr.).

Given this, amidst the clamor of cries against Injustice being raised across the globe, does it not befall the future Director of the UNESCO to be the one who would be able to hear within them whether they stem from a call for Justice or a denial of it?

In conclusion, I should like to convey the wish that the vote which shall determine the next UNESCO President be for a Man, or a Woman, who knows the following: Man, before being a Son of this or that country, or this or that religion, is above all the Son of speech. This means that above and beyond the designation he receives from his clan, something undetermined still resides in him, whence it becomes possible for him to mourn the hatred of the scapegoat, and whence it is possible to furnish a meaning to the word "Liberty," and the word "Universal" as well. If Men share a common ancestor in language, they are connected thereby with a bond of Symbolic Fraternity that is about more than shared blood. It is a bond that is also one of Equality; insofar as they each receive equal portions of the gift of the Word.

Such is my "word to the wise" addressed to those Directors of UNESCO who might have the ears with which to hear such a wish.

(Translated by Scott Savaiano)