Christoph Menke

Critique of Rights

(German title: Kritik der Rechte)
ca. 450 pages
Christoph Menke
Foto: Christoph Menke
© Jürgen Bauer

Christoph Menke is Professor of Practical Philosophy at the Geothe Universität Frankfurt am Main, as well as in the cluster of excellence »The Development of Normative Systems« (»Die Herausbildung normativer Ordnungen«).

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English world rights (Polity), Greece (Nissos)

»Individual entitlement produces social ungovernability.«


The notion that we have rights is the great normative idea of modernity, specifically in its post-Enlightenment iteration. The declaration of subjective rights marked the birth of bourgeois society, with liberalism as its dominant theory. Yet it also proclaimed »the rights of egoistic man separated from his fellow men and from the community« as Karl Marx observed—thus forcing the depoliticisation of politics. This, Christoph Menke argues, is why we need a critique of rights.

Such a critique must not, however, simply question the justification and the substance of rights, as liberalism does, but rather must probe much deeper and examine the way that desires and actions are shaped by the very idea of rights. Menke presents such a formal analysis, building on the work of Marx, Weber, Luhmann, and Foucault. He demonstrates how the modern rights-model breaks with the classical model, and elaborates the decisive contradiction: rights are the medium through which normativity becomes radically self-reflexive, and at the same time they constitute the mechanism that gives rise to the paradigms of sovereignty within bourgeois society that oscillate between exploitation and normalisation. The aim of this groundbreaking study is to push this contradiction to the point where it becomes possible and necessary to imagine a different model of rights.


»Menke is able to read classical texts of legal theory from Savigny to Kelsen and Dworkin in a new and productive way and shift the fronts of the discussion: he frees the examination from the dominant moral reformism that is majorly responsible for the boredom that most debates on legal philosophy exude nowadays. […] [Christoph Menke’s sharp Critique of Rights] is the book that picks up the manifold ends of critical legal theory [that emerged] since Marx and ties them together coherently.« Christoph Möllers, Süddeutsche Zeitung

»A highly complex [and] intellectually challenging way of developing new and different rights, exhilarating to lovers of dialectics in its pointed emphasis.« Literaturspiegel

»When studying his book carefully, one profits greatly and understands much about the world we live in. With civil laws, Menke has made a field, that has been lying fallow for far too long, accessible again for leftist theory. And Menke makes an important contribution to the ability of thinking about political alternatives beyond the liberal mainstream. And that is a great feat.« WDR3

Other publications

Die Kraft der Kunst/The Power of Art (2013)

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Spanish world rights (Metales Pesados), Korea (W. Media), Turkey (Hece)

Kraft/Force (2005)

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English world rights (Fordham UP), Spanish world rights (Comares), Chinese simplex (East China Normal UP), Italy (Armando Armando), Korea (Greenbee), Japan (Jimbun Shoin)

Die Gegenwart der Tragödie/Tragic Play (2005)

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English world rights (Columbia UP); previously published in the respective language / territory; rights available again:Spanish world rights (Machado)

Spiegelungen der Gleichheit/Reflections of Equality (2004)

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English world rights (Stanford UP)

Die Souveränität der Kunst/The Sovereignty of Art (1991)

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Japan (Ochanomizu); previously published in the respective language / territory; rights available again: Spanish world rights (Visor Distribuciones)