- oD 50.50
Liberalism, race and gender
Gholam Khiabany, editor of the
liberalism, gender and race strand
The much celebrated 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a foundational Enlightenment document, did indeed define the individual and collective rights of all the estates of the realm as universal. The ‘rights’ were qualified as ‘natural, unalienable and sacred’, and the first article proudly announced that ‘Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.’ Yet the declaration neither revoked slavery nor recognised the equal rights of women. Why were the calls and petitions for recognising equal rights not applied to all people? Was this a simple accident or omission? How compatible is the universalism of liberal ideology with the system of hierarchies that is preserved and maintained in contemporary capitalist societies? To what extent are racism and sexism anomalies or part of the very system that has been shaped and defined by the very paradox of its own universality?
Favourable accounts of liberalism often fail to mention the ‘exclusion clauses’ which play a significant role in its history. Liberty, in its broader sense, needs to be linked to the question of equality and the conditions which make it possible for freedom and equality to be absent or present are the same. For Etienne Balibar, this means that ‘the diverse forms of social and political “power” that correspond to either inequalities or constraints on the freedom of man the citizen necessarily converge. There are no examples of restrictions or suppressions neither of freedoms without social inequalities, nor of inequalities without restrictions or suppressions of freedoms.’ In this strand we invite reflections on these and other questions that engage with the limits, contradictions and exclusive clauses in liberal thought and practice as applied to issues of race and gender.