Limits to the Politics of Subjective Rights: Reading Marx After Lefort

  • Christiaan BoonenEmail author


In response to critiques of rights as moralistic and depoliticising, a literature on the political nature and contestability of rights has emerged. In this view, rights are not merely formal, liberal and moralistic imperatives, but can also be invoked by the excluded in a struggle against domination. This article examines the limits to this practice of rights-claiming and its implication in forms of domination. It does this by returning to Marx’s blueprint for the critique of subjective rights. This engagement with Marx will, however, take a particular form. I will read Marx first through the eyes of Claude Lefort and thereafter against Lefort. The latter’s critique of Marx still constitutes the strongest case against the dismissal of subjective rights. Introducing a reading of Lefort into the argument allows us to discover what is dead and what is well alive in the Marxist theory of rights. What is dead, I will argue, is Marx’s early conception of subjective rights as ideology and illusion. However, the more mature Marx developed a theory and critique of the legal form that is able to explain why the politics of rights—despite its undeniable advances—has not been able to overcome certain forms of domination.


Claude Lefort Domination Karl Marx Legal form Subjective rights 



I would like to thank Professor Toon Braeckman for his comments on the first draft of this article. This research is funded by a Ph.D.-fellowship of the Research Foundation-Flanders.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.RIPPLE (Research in Political Philosophy Leuven)KU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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