- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Law and Politics Book Review[A] remarkable book. . . . Honig's careful work enriches our understanding of democratic politics.
— William Corlett
"This book intervenes in contemporary debates about the threat posed to democratic life by political emergencies. Must emergency necessarily enhance and centralize top-down forms of sovereignty? Those who oppose executive branch enhancement often turn instead to law, insisting on the sovereignty of the rule of law or demanding that law rather than force be used to resolve conflicts with enemies. But are these the only options? Or are there more democratic ways to respond to invocations of emergency politics? Looking at how emergencies in the past and present have shaped the development of democracy, Bonnie Honig argues that democratic politics are always a struggle to weigh the value of necessities - food, security, and housing - against the achievement of a richer life across the full range of human aspirations. Emphasizing the connections between mere life and more life, emergence and emergency, Honig argues that emergencies call us to attend anew to a neglected paradox of democratic politics: that we need good citizens with aspirational ideals to make good politics while we need good politics to infuse citizens with idealism." Honig takes a broad approach to emergency, considering immigration politics, new rights claims, contemporary food politics and the infrastructure of consumption, and the limits of law during the Red Scare of the early twentieth century. Taking its bearings from Moses Mendelssohn, Franz Rosenzweig, and other Jewish thinkers, this is a major contribution to modern thought about the challenges and risks of democratic orientation and action in response to emergency.
"[A] remarkable book. . . . Honig's careful work enriches our understanding of democratic politics."—William Corlett, Law and Politics Book Review
"Creatively engaging with many debates in democratic theory, [Honig] is at her best reinterpreting unconventional texts like biblical parables or the legal history of the Red Scare."—Choice
"Emergency Politics nicely combines theory with insightful analyses of historical and contemporary events. . . . This is a timely and important book that should be read by anyone interested in the current state of democratic theory and practice. It is a cogent argument for an agonistic conception of democracy, based on insightful theoretical and empirical analyses."—Lasse Thomassen, Journal of Politics
THE PEOPLE, THE MULTITUDE, AND THE PARADOX OF POLITICS
Everyone had opposed the Shah and wanted to remove him, but everyone had imagined the future differently. Some thought that the country would become the sort of democracy they knew from their stays in France and Switzerland. But these were exactly the people who lost first in the battle once the Shah was gone. They were intelligent people, even wise, but weak. They found themselves at once in a paradoxical situation: A democracy cannot be imposed by force, the majority must favor it, yet the majority wanted what Khomeini wanted-an Islamic republic. When the liberals were gone, the proponents of the republic remained, but they began fighting among themselves as well. In this struggle the conservative hardliners gradually gained the upper hand over the enlightened and open ones. I knew people from both camps, and whenever I thought about the people I sympathized with, pessimism swept over me. -Ryszard Kapuscinski
Of course, it is appropriate to examine theories that insistently present themselves as exemplars of coherence to see whether they live up to the standard they impose on others and themselves. But what about those that seek to expose paradoxicality in daily life? These must be appraised, first of all, by the way they respond to the paradoxes they identify. -William Connolly
The paradox that induces pessimism in Ryszard Kapuscinski is the paradox of founding. At a democratic regime's beginning, especially when that beginning emerges out of violent war or dictatorship, there may be agreement on what is opposed (a brutal dictator or the state of nature), but rarely is there agreement or clarity on what the new regime should look like. In postrevolutionary Iran, the liberals' vision of the future lost out first, then the republicans'. These losses were not foreordained. The revolution might have gone on another way. But it did not. Kapuscinski says this is because "the majority wanted what Khomeini wanted-an Islamic republic." That may be; but there is no way to tell whether in wanting an Islamic republic, the majority all wanted the same thing or whether, in so wanting, they wanted the same thing Khomeini wanted. Still, that-or something like it-is what happened.
This chapter does not engage the particular events of the Iranian revolution. But it does take as its occasion the comment of Kapuscinski in which the "paradoxical situation" of founding produces in the observer and in many participants as well a certain pessimism. Addressing the paradox of beginnings on a theoretical register, my aim is to explore what positive possibilities such a paradox might harbor, and what sort of orientations and perspective might open those possibilities to view. Under what sort of circumstances and from what angles of vision might such a paradox produce in those in its grip a sense of optimism and possibility? How might the paradox of beginnings be turned to democratic advantage?
The Paradox of Politics
For the democratic theorist, William Connolly, paradoxes are salient clues to political life's secrets; they are challenges to be negotiated, not puzzles to be solved or overcome. One paradox to which Connolly returns again and again is the paradox of politics. Here is Connolly's parsing of the paradox, which he finds well expressed in Rousseau's Social Contract, bk. II, chap. 7: "For a general will to be brought into being, effect (social spirit) would have to become cause, and cause (good laws) would have to become effect. The problem is how to establish either condition without the previous attainment of the other upon which it depends." Rousseau raises the issue in the context of founding the ideal social contract, but Connolly insists that the problem attaches to politics more generally. If the paradox is real, then wherever good law is said to have come from the free and good willing of citizens, it will likely turn out that something else is (also) the case. Thus, where Rousseau posits "pure general will (which must be common and singular)," readers sensitive to the paradox of politics will, if they look hard enough, find "the concealment of impurities." For example:
Rousseau's artful efforts to legitimize the subordination of women can be seen, first, to express the necessity of subordination (of either men or women) within the family so that the will of a unified family can contribute a single [undifferentiated] will to the public quest for a general will, and, second, to conceal the violence lodged within the practices of male authority in the family by treating subordination as suitable for women as such.
Connolly concludes: "So Rousseau both exposes the paradox in the founding of the general will and conceals it in his presentations of that will once it has been founded."
That concealment is achieved, in part, by way of the device of temporalization, Connolly argues: "Rousseau understood the founding of a general will to be paradoxical. He located the paradox in time (perhaps to imagine another time when it could be resolved)." By confining the chicken-and-egg problem to the founding period, Rousseau seeks to prevent it and the unwilled violence that resolves it (personified by the lawgiver) from spilling over into politics more generally. In so doing, Rousseau leads his readers to infer that they must just somehow get through the founding, whether by way of a lawgiver's impositional guidance or if necessary by way of a more explicit violence that can produce by force that which will later come by way of education and culture. Hence his approval of the idea that people can be "forced to be free" (though, as Johnston points out, education and culture can be coercive as well). If they can find that much-needed bridge over what Hannah Arendt calls the founding period's "gap" in time, the people might somehow limit to the founding period the violence that attends the paradox of politics. They might then avoid the violence that otherwise recurs daily in established regimes, in the name of law (which claims to be nonviolent by representing itself as purely self-grounding), or popular sovereignty (which claims to be nonviolent by representing itself as the true and total will of the people who are not yet formed).
As it turns out, however, the so-called paradox of founding-the vicious circle of chicken-and-egg-is not overcome by time nor is it just concealed, as Connolly argues, by way of unacknowledged, foundational violence in Rousseau. It is also replayed ad infinitum in Rousseau's own text, as the paradox of politics. As I argue here, close attention to bk. II, chap. 7 of the Social Contract indicates that each of Rousseau's several efforts to solve the paradox succeeds merely in moving it to another register where once again it defies resolution and inaugurates anew a contestatory politics. The repeated reappearance of the paradox of politics in Rousseau's text supports the idea that the problem of how to generate or recognize a general will recurs daily in democratic regimes.
Rousseau does at first present the paradox of politics as a paradox of founding in bk. II, chap. 7:
In order for a nascent people to appreciate sound political maxims and follow the fundamental rules of statecraft, the effect would have to become the cause; the social spirit, which should be the product of the way in which the country was founded would have to preside over the founding itself; and, before the creation of the laws, men would have to be what they should become by means of those same laws.
In order for there to be a people well formed enough for good lawmaking, there must be good law, for how else will the people be well formed? The problem is: Where would that good law come from absent an already well-formed, virtuous people?
But the seeming quandary of chicken-and-egg (which comes first, good people or good law?) takes off and attaches to democratic politics more generally once we see that established regimes are hardly rendered immune by their longevity to the paradoxical difficulty that Rousseau names. Every day, after all, new citizens are born, others immigrate into established regimes, still others mature into adulthood. Every day, established citizens mistake, depart from, or simply differ about their visions of democracy's future and the commitments of democratic citizenship. Every day the traces of the traumas of the founding generation are discernible in the actions of their heirs. Every day, democracies resocialize, recapture, or reinterpellate citizens into their political institutions and culture in ways those citizens do not freely will, nor could they. Every day, in sum, new citizens are received by established regimes, and every day established citizens are reinterpellated into the laws, norms, and expectations of their regimes such that the paradox of politics is replayed rather than overcome in time.
Indeed, the first thing to go, when we face the chicken-and-egg paradox of politics, is our confidence in linear time, its normativity and its form of causality. What is linear time's normativity? Belief in a linear time sequence is invariably attended by belief that that sequence is either regressive (a Fall narrative) or progressive. In both regressive and progressive time, the time sequence itself is seen to be structured by causal forces that establish meaningful, orderly connections between what comes before and what comes after (Decline or Rise), such that one thing leads to another rather than forming, as plural temporalities and tempos do, a random assemblage or jumble of events. All these elements-linearity, its normativity, causality-are thrown off balance by the paradox of politics in which what is presupposed as coming before (virtue, the people, the law) invariably comes after (if at all), and what comes after invariably replays the paradox of politics that time was supposed to surmount.
It might seem that acknowledging the vicious circularity of the paradox of politics must be costly to a democracy, or demoralizing: If the people do not exist as a prior-or even as a post hoc-unifying force, then what will authorize or legitimate their exercises of power? But there is, as we shall see, also promise in such an acknowledgment. Besides, denial is costly too, for we can deny or disguise the paradox of politics only by suppressing or naturalizing the exclusion of those (elements of the) people whose residual, remaindered, minoritized existence might call the pure general will into question. From the perspective of the paradox of politics, unchosen, unarticulated, or minoritized alternatives-different forms of life, identities, solidarities, sexes or genders, alternative categories of justice, unfamiliar tempos-re-present themselves to us daily, in one form or another, sometimes inchoate. The paradox of politics provides a lens through which to re-enliven those alternatives. It helps us see the lengths to which we go or are driven to insulate ourselves from the remainders of our settled paths. It keeps alive both the centripetal force whereby a people is formed or maintained as a unity and the centrifugal force whereby its other, the multitude, asserts itself.
Connolly's insight about paradox and linear temporality comes up in relation to Rousseau, but the insight exceeds Rousseau and invites a new line of critical reflection on contemporary deliberative democrats who stage their reflections on democracy and rights by taking up a political paradox and rendering it manageable by embedding it in a linear time sequence. Unlike Rousseau (as Connolly reads him), Jürgen Habermas and Seyla Benhabib do not confine the paradox of politics to a distant past. They locate the paradox in the present and look to a future in which the paradox can be worked out by way of present political practices-which Habermas calls "tapping" and Benhabib calls "iterations"-and futural orientations. While Rousseau, on Connolly's account, thought to escape the paradox of politics by confining it to a distant past, and Habermas and Benhabib seek to escape it by reference to a hoped-for future, both would-be solutions depend upon their location in linear time. We may not know the future the way we know the past (although even the past exceeds our efforts to know it, given its availability in perpetuity for reinterpretation and appropriation), but that matters less than the fact that the linear temporality in which both past and future are lodged is itself what irons out the circularity of paradox and gives us hope that present conflicts can be surmounted in ways that will not generate new remainders. The paradox of politics, central to agonistic democratic theory, is replaced in the deliberative democratic literature by other paradoxes, two of which I focus on here: the paradox of democratic legitimation and the paradox of constitutional democracy. Deliberative democrats worry about these two paradoxes but, as I argue here, these two paradoxes are not a problem for them but a solution: They are soluble in and by time, something that is not true of the paradox of politics which recurs daily.
Reframing Rousseau's Paradox of Politics as the Paradox of Democratic Legitimation
The problem of how to identify or generate the general will is reframed by deliberative democratic theorists as the paradox of democratic legitimation. Here is how the deliberative democratic theorist, Seyla Benhabib, understands the paradox:
Rousseau's distinction between the "will of all" and "the general will," between what specific individuals under concrete circumstances believe to be in their best interest and what they would believe to be in their collective interest if they were properly enlightened, expresses the paradox of democratic legitimacy. Democratic rule, which views the will of the people as sovereign, is based upon the regulative fiction that the exercise of such sovereignty is legitimate, i.e., can be normatively justified, only insofar as such exercise of power also expresses a "general will," that is, a collective good that is said to be equally in the interests of all.
Democracy's regulative fiction affirms the sovereignty of the people but also limits or shapes its actual manifestations by requiring that it aim toward a collective good. The regulative fiction motivates the quest for a "moral standpoint" to guide or assess popular willing. Benhabib begins with Rousseau because she credits to him the worthwhile articulation of the paradox of democratic legitimation, but in the end she prefers Kant because Rousseau does not answer to the need for a moral standpoint.
Rousseau himself makes no mention of regulative fiction, but he does seem to acknowledge the insufficiency of mere majoritarianism to democracy when he considers, in bk. II, chap. 3 of the Social Contract, the possibility that the general will can err. His response? The general will cannot err because if it erred it would not be the general will, it would be the mere will of all. With this distinction between the will of all (what the people will) and the general will (the option that the people should will, whether or not they actually do so), the general will seems to move from being the purely procedural outcome of a political process to being, instead, an extraprocedural outcome by which to judge the products of supposedly pure, but now apparently imperfect, procedures.
The fact that the general will might go one way and the will of all another could have led Rousseau to reject the idea of a general will as such or to lose faith in the people whose willing legitimates the regime. But, Rousseau insists, "the general will is always right and always tends toward the public utility." The people may not see it. Their deliberations may lack "rectitude" not because they are corrupt; the people themselves are "never corrupted," rather they are "often tricked," Rousseau says. The goodness of the people may be beyond dispute, but it becomes increasingly clear to Rousseau that not even their goodness can guarantee their rightness and, with the general will now operating as an external standard by which popular willing can be judged, the people may be found on the side of the will of all, not the general will, even if through no fault of their own. The problem is so serious that Rousseau refers only three chapters later in the Social Contract no longer to "the people" but to the "blind multitude."
Excerpted from EMERGENCY POLITICS by Bonnie Honig Copyright © 2009 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.