-“I Ain’t Got No Home in this World” by Woodie Guthrie
I ain’t got no home. I’m just a roamin’ round, just a wandering worker, I go from town to town. And the police make it hard wherever I may go. And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.
My brothers and my sisters they’re stranded on this road. A hot and dusty road that a million feet have trod. Rich man took my home and drove me from my door. And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.
Was a farmin’ on the shares and always I was poor. My crops I lay into the banker’s store. My wife took down and died upon the cabin floor. And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.
Now as I look around it’s mighty plain to see this world is such a great and funny place to be. Ah, the gamblin’ man is rich and the working man is poor. And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.
Beginnings Are Difficult
How to start something new? This question troubles the academic as well as the activist. At the moment it troubles me both as a question of inquiry and as a meta-question of method.
In my previous work I have argued that human rights should be judged first and foremost by the consequences they bring about. Do human rights enable new forms of politics? Do they enable politics that increase the control we have over our lives, or that reduce the suffering and humiliation we are exposed to? Or do they confine us in a liberal subjectivity that makes wider visions of justice impossible, which push us to reconcile our beautiful revolutionary dreams to the limited horizon that contemporary liberal capitalism imposes?
I have offered a qualified defense of human rights as a democratising ethos, which suggests that human rights can enable everyday people to challenge the terms of legitimate political authority, including the institutional shape of their government and the makeup of their communities. This is done by formally opening up the identity of “rights holder” to anyone, regardless of their social position. This opening, however, is only formal and in that formality human rights have an ambiguous significance. For this reason, I have argued that to think of human rights as a democratising ethos also requires that we attend to the politics of human rights. This means that ensuring that human rights support democracy and equality is a political struggle as well as an ethical vision.