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A discourse on rights: Slovakia's quest for statehood and the heritage of the enlightenment

Učník, Lubica (2001) A discourse on rights: Slovakia's quest for statehood and the heritage of the enlightenment. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis addresses the complexity of the political situation in Europe after 1989, with special reference to Czecho-Slovakia. In doing so, the thesis discusses the relationship between nationalism and liberalism, not as exclusive of one another but developed from the one and the same impulse. Tracing the theoretical genealogy of such ideas as reason, natural and historical rights, individual, nation, and the state, I will show that to understand our present differently, we need to come to terms with the conceptual framework of the Enlightenment.

My overall claim is that the foundation of our knowledge is embedded in the modern concept of the individual. Furthermore, I argue that there are two different models of individualism. One, which is predicated on the mechanistic universe of causation and defined by the idea of negative liberty; the other which theorises the individual as always already relational and hence social. These two conceptions of the individual are tied to different concepts of rights.

I suggest that the idea of nation is likewise contained in the notion of the individual. Once again, there are two possible approaches. One, an extended version of atomistic individualism is the prototype for the nation state of Lord Acton and John Stuart Mill, where rational nations, like rational individuals, co-exist in one state. The other approach, elaborated by Grotius and, in its modern version by Kant, is concerned with the relational coexistence of nations.

Important for my argument is the concept of historical right elaborated by theorists of the German Historical School of Law, emphasizing the mutual relationship between state and individual. The historical right was proposed to counteract the excesses of natural right which privileged the rights of the individual against the claims of the state.

After the First World War, the idea of natural right, as advanced by the Treaty of Versailles, promised a sense of legality to all nations living in Central Eastern Europe. Now two concepts-natural right and historical right - provided a basis for the claim of each nation to its own state.

I use the example of the split of Czecho-Slovakia to explain and substantiate my argument.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Supervisor(s): Ruthrof, Horst
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