Early Modern Rights Talk and the Fictions of the Body Politic
In liberal political thought, rights are often treated as legal fictions that secure individual freedoms. But rights also need bodies. This is why recent scholarship talks about the performative aspect of rights. Rights need physical agents to make them real. This talk will discuss some ways that seventeenth-century political and literary writers navigated rights and the body politic. I focus on three central rights, one concerning security (the right to freedom from harm), another concerning toleration (the right to religious dissent), and the third concerning sexuality (the right to pursue erotic interest), in order to examine the often conflicting understandings of the body politic that each assumes. I also explore some implications from seventeenth-century philosophy for our current understanding of bodies and rights. Graham Hammill is Professor of English at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. He is the author of Sexuality and Form (Chicago 2000), The Mosaic Constitution: Political Theology and Imagination from Machiavelli to Milton (Chicago 2012), and co-editor of Political Theology and Early Modernity (Chicago 2012). He has published numerous articles on early modern literature, political thought, and the history of sexuality.