On Rights and Commandments

I’ve been reading The Fragile Absolute and this quote struck me as apropos an earlier post about Western liberalism and Christianity. I don’t know whether Žižek’s formulation is something with which I’d fully agree, but it caught my attention, so here it is:

“As the experience of our post-political liberal-permissive society amply demonstrates, human Rights are ultimately, at their core, simply Rights to violate the Ten Commandments. ‘The right to privacy’ – the right to adultery, in secret, where no one sees me or has the right to probe into my life. ‘The right to pursue happiness and to possess private property’ – the right to steal (to exploit others). ‘Freedom of the press and of expression of opinion’ – the right to lie. ‘The right of free citizens to possess weapons’ – the right to kill. And, ultimately, ‘freedom of religious belief’ – the right to worship false gods. Of course human Rights do not directly condone the violation of the Ten Commandments – the point is simply that they keep open a marginal ‘grey zone’ which should remain out of reach of (religious or secular) power: in this shady zone, I can violate these commandments, and if the power probes into it, catching me with my pants down and trying to prevent my violations, I can cry: ‘Assault on my basic human Rights!’. The point is thus that it is structurally impossible, for Power, to draw a clear line of separation and prevent only the ‘misuse’ of a Right, while not encroaching upon the proper use, that is, the use that does not violate the Commandments.”