239 – The ultimate human right – the “right to a non-projected future”

Posted on July 15, 2013 by

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I came across Albert O. HIRSCHMAN’s economic development writings when I was trying to enter the trade, long time ago. Then I found him somewhat “obvious” – if insightful. Certainly, he is today the only intellectual in that crowded field I remember with respect. The rest went down the “click-delete” chute as I recognized that development planning was not something for “experts” – the people have to discover bootstrapping by and for themselves. “Experts” would only ride Toyotas round in circles (actually it was Land Rovers then), raising a lot of dust, capturing the development money for themselves, and achieve little if anything.

For a summer reading I’ve got myself the biography of HIRSCHMAN.[1] I’ not sure whether my summer is going to be long enough to allow for my reading a tome of 740 pages cover to cover. The introductory laudatio of the economist is recommended reading, however.

HIRSCHMAN was a contrarian, hence close to my intellectual credo. I say “close” to signal our independent convergence in approach and style. Of course, HIRSCHMAN did it ten times better.

“At the core of his possibilism was the idea that people had a right to what he called a ‘non-projected future.’” (Pg. 11) I could not agree with HIRSCHMAN more. I suspect that, tongue in cheek, we both would share the view that this right is the ULTIMATE human right. How could one generation presume of dictating humanity’s future? It is bad enough for us to live with “tradition” we inherited. It is even worse for the generation soon to be mere tradition to impose its will on the future and make it stick.

So the “right to a non-projected future” should be one of the cherished fundamental human rights, at par with personal autonomy. For, after all, we are autonomous for sure with respect to the past. Why should the dead rule the living? Who is to enforce contracts with the dead?

Enter the “right to a non-projected future” in the Hailed Hall of Human Rights. At which point all hell breaks loose in the heavenly world of Human Rights. The contrarian cat is among the cooing pigeons. Consternation. If Human Rights are transcendental – i.e. self-evident and immutable as they are portayed in current literature on the subject – then they “project” on humanity’s future with a vengeance. Humanity’s path is one toward the fulfillment of this transcendence. Humanity has no choice but to follow the path to eutopia. One can’t be more “projected” than that. Tradition with a capital T, and the “Human Rights experts” are the priests of this new religion.

Humanity is “sovereign” – that’s the basis of all our political thinking. Sovereignty implies the “right of exception.”[2] The “right to a non-projected future” is such an exception – which carries other “human rights” to their logical doom (their bodies are dragged out stage side left.)

In this blog, human rights have been (all too easily) dethroned from their transcendental cathedra. They are no more, nor less, than coagulated experience of an “ethical project” humanity has embarked on since… I’m tempted to argue that this is an inheritance of our “inner fish”[3] (if the hiccup reflex we experience sometimes is traceable to the genetics of the tadpole – why not ethics? Dolphins have a sort of ethics as well as a taste for frolics – what a marvelous combination.) Such a project implies conversation and deliberation – not compliance with transcendentals.

The “right to non-projected future” is the right to history – to the heady mix of choice and chance. Let’s accept and embrace the ensuing uncertainty.


[1]           Jeremy ADELMAN (2013): Worldly philosopher. The odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

[2]          Karl SCHMITT (1922): Politische Theologie. See also : Giorgio AGAMBEN (2003): stato di eccezione Bollati Boringhieri, Torino.

[3]           Nel SHUBIN (2009): Your inner fish. The amazing discovery of our 375-million-year-old ancestor. Penguin Books, London.