“Men Are Born Free and Equal in Rights”: Historical Examples of Interpellation and Misinterpellation
In chapter 2, I look at three events that characterize misinterpellation: the Haitian revolution; the response to Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points speech; and the origin of the Arab Spring. In each case, I look at a call that was put out and answered by people whom the call never intended to include. Thus the Haitian slaves answered the call of the French revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen even though it was never intended for them. The leaders of the anticolonial movements similarly responded to a call for self-determination put out by Wilson but he was manifestly not thinking about them. Finally, Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation was inspired in part by his realization that the universal rights promised by the French revolution—and filtered through the experience of modern and authoritarian Tunisia—were not meant for him. In each case, the response was not to slink away but to boldly demand rights that were not meant for them. This does not suggest that these rights were universal after all (and hence could accommodate these other subjects) but rather that the universal itself was a failure and only radical responses were possible. At the end of the chapter I look at Machiavelli’s consideration of the Roman Republic’s civil religion and the way it authorized (and sometimes deauthorized) Roman actions as a way to measure and assess the examples of misinterpellation that I look at in the rest of the chapter.