Episode #23: Seamus Deane on the Right to Have Rights

Hannah Arendt coined the phrase ‘the right to have rights’ in her 1958 book The Human Condition. In this lecture, literary critic Seamus Deane links Arendt’s phrase with the Irish immigration system, in particular the ‘Direct Provision’ centres.

Since the first half of the the twentieth century, the condition of being stateless, of being a displaced person, has been experienced by untold millions who have had to listen to the claim that ‘human rights’ are universal and fundamental – but not for them.

Seamus Deane photographed in front of cherry blossoms.

Literary critic and novelist Seamus Deane.

In Ireland, it is not only people without citizenship who are denied rights. Those people in homes and orphanages, schools and ghettos of various kinds – religious, economic, gender, medical – have been denied their rights as vigorously here as what we may call the ‘disabled’ of all countries have been.

Now, as we see migrants, victims of ‘just wars’ yet again, flee from the ruins of their homes, one would hope that we could recognize and act upon the crimes of the past in which we have been both agents and victims.

This episode is presented in association with the Dublin Review of Books. We heartily recommend the drb to supporters of Field Day. In the words of Seamus Deane: “The drb sustains a level of commentary on Irish and international matters that no other journal in Ireland and few elsewhere can reach.”

This lecture took place on 14 January 2018 in University Church, Stephen’s Green, Dublin.  We are grateful to the Newman Centre for Faith and Reason, who kindly provided the venue and welcomed the audience.

A video of the entire evening of events, including the lecture, poetry readings and music, is on our videos page and on our Youtube channel. Videos of the other lectures in the ‘Right to Have Rights’ series are also available there.

An article based on the content of this lecture, appeared here in Village Magazine in April 2018.

Seamus Deane has featured in two other Field Day Podcast episodes to date. You can go back and listen to him on the conservative politics of Edmund Burke, and on the Marxist literary critic Georg Lukács.

Seamus Deane is a founding member of Field Day. He is emeritus Professor of Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame, author of many books in Irish literary criticism, and he was the General Editor of the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (1991, 2002). His novel, Reading in the Dark (1996), was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.