Archive for the ‘News and Politics’ Category

On Carl Schmitt’s “The Concept of the Political”

January 7, 2010

On Carl Schmitt’s “The Concept of the Political”

Schmitt’s essay leads the reader through a definitional process of establishing the relationship between the state, domestic politics, and international relations while analyzing the liberal project.  My intention is to review the major points and speculate the applicability of his views to present state governance.

The political represents those actions which the state undertakes vis-à-vis its friend or enemy.  The inner, domestic sphere is where politics occur; i.e., between various groups and organizations.  Politics equals society, which may prescribe, but not necessarily so, the political- “the state encompasses and relativizes all [domestic] antithesis” (30).  The state’s friend-enemy distinction determines political action.  Schmitt explains that the public enemy is not an abstraction, but a reality that juxtaposes one state against another (28).  Therefore, “the political is the most intense and extreme antagonism…” (29).

The polemical discourse, as Schmitt designates it, within a state; that is, domestic politics, can become political as a coalition exerts a significant counterforce to the state.  Indeed, Schmitt admits that the political germinates such polemical activities and in “everyday language, even where the awareness of the extreme case [war] has been lost” (30).  Polemical adversaries with the state can reach the friend-enemy distinction, which can precipitate civil war in extremis.  This can lead to the state’s demise or a substitution of a new political model (39).  Schmitt recognizes this juncture when “politics = party politics” (32).  To summarize, civil war is not political and engenders private enemies.  Inter-state war is political between public enemies.  These notions derive their substance “precisely because they refer to the real possibility…” of war (33).  Furthermore, the political is the ‘mode of behavior which is determined while distinguishing correctly the real friend and real enemy’ (37).

Pluralistic societies, Schmitt argues on behalf of Cole and Laski, reject the state’s monopoly power by claiming it must be responsive to the needs of multitudinous social entities and associations including individual claims (41).  Liberalism “has not radically denied the state…but has attempted only to tie the political to the ethical and to subjugate it to economics” (61).  Antithetical associations (religious, economic, social, etc) may challenge the political nature of the state, but they must consequently define the political (44).  Perhaps one could regard contemporary America’s domestic antithetical activities, which, acting with a vigilant eye toward state power, become the targets of media control, propaganda, and repression as the state defends its control of the political.  This may also encourage the state to identify a domestic enemy- “every state provides, therefore, some kind of formula for the declaration of an internal enemy” (46).  Why?  Schmitt answers that “if a part of the population declares that it no longer recognizes enemies, then, depending on the circumstance, it joins their side and aids them” (51).

Schmitt denounces economic wars as “sinister and crazy” (48).  Moreover, he characterizes a war of ideals as unjust; fighting a real enemy in the face of an existential threat is justification for war (49).  This idea permeates his criticism of the League of Nations, which he believes enables war (56).  The League of Nations employs the notion of humanity as a “useful ideological instrument of imperialist expansion, and in its ethical-humanitarian form it is a specific vehicle of economic imperialism” (54).  The ‘new wars’ represent sanctions, state coalitions, punitive expeditions, treaty protection, and international police to ensure peace and prevent war (56,79) as they remove jus belli from designated states (57).

Schmitt invokes Hegel to identify another facet of liberal theory- “…what is at first only an economically motivated class antagonism turns into a class struggle of hostile groups” (62).  The devolution of politics to such a level prohibits individualistic liberalism from creating the political in a decisive manner; it merely criticizes (70).  Liberal politics struggles against state power while rearticulating that power internally as an “ethical-humanitarian” or “economic-technical” paradigm (70).  Liberal society, replacing the state, forges a social program to repel others and to construe economic and consumer activity as a departure point of declaring friends and enemies (72).  As mentioned earlier, Schmitt declares, “at the intellectual pole, government and power turn into propaganda and mass manipulation, and at the economic pole, control” (72).

The significance of Schmitt’s essay does not lie in his reaction to contemporaneous historical events, but in its relevance to the world today.  The League of Nations has been rearticulated as the United Nations, its Western ethnocentrism identifies the collective friend-enemy relationship to a certain extent toward other “member states”.  The human rights culture, invoking humanity, asserts its will via UN institutional organs.  It declares friends and enemies, strives for adjudication where policy is tardy and advocates preemptive action to protect humanity.  Schmitt states: “If pacifist hostility toward war were so strong as to drive pacifists into a war against non-pacifists, in a war against war, that would prove that pacifism truly possesses political energy because it is sufficiently strong to group men according to friend and enemy” (36).  In addition, Western liberal democracies (especially the USA) reflect a domestic arena of antithetical politics competing for economic sectors while being subjected to the state’s control apparatus in order for it to act politically.  We may test Schmitt’s sagacity in lieu of these phenomena, but that is beyond the scope of this paper.

The Human Rights Army

January 7, 2010

The Human Rights Army

The subject of this essay concerns the historical development of a militarized human rights movement.  It is general in scope and limited to a few considerations.  I attempt to link truth-telling in post-traumatic societies to propaganda efforts preceding international military intervention where the civilian populace is being terrorized.  While doing so, I address briefly the difficulties of establishing collective or individual guilt as a method of social reconstruction in the “aftermath of evil.” I contend that the international community substantiates its legitimization of humanitarian military action if the emphasis is placed on individual guilt.  After all, it is the moral duty of every democratic nation to prevent evil.

Aryeh Neier argues that human rights advocates are increasingly emphasizing justice as their method of reconciliation.  In Latin America, where state-sponsored actors concealed their identities as they spirited away civilians toward an unknown tomb, establishing the truth was paramount to achieving a public sigh of relief.  Not only could the dead be put to rest and eulogized, but the living could find solace in revelation as bureaucratic mechanisms established a truthful record.  Such records could be used to pursue criminal indictments of senior officials as accountability gained support and state acknowledgment manifested itself in public apology.  A combination of truth-telling and limited punishment was considered satisfactory to reconcile victims and perpetrators.

Conversely, situations exist where the absence of information is unproblematic in the presence of a horrible, incontestable truth.  Neier evinces that events during the early 1990’s in Bosnia and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda exemplify his assertion that human rights advocates modified their reconciliation model with justice as its telos.  As Hutus were exhorted by radio announcers to murder Tutsis and Christian Serbs directed an ethnic cleansing campaign against their Muslim neighbors, truth-telling became superfluous.  Criminal justice was heralded as the critical mode of establishing accountability, of punishing the perpetrators in order to signal the unacceptability of terror qua administrative policy.  This underscores the belief that punishment would serve as a deterrent against future genocidal campaigns.  Of course, this ignores the potential opposite, that a leader’s fear of incarceration would drive him to cling to power.  Fearing capture, such a leader might expedite genocide with increased speed and ferocity.  Established by the UN in November of 1994, the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) seeks criminal justice.  Approximately 100 days of public horror need not be distracted by truth and reconciliation commissions (TRC).  Once legal justice has quelled the thirst for revenge, a TRC could be established to encourage a conciliatory spirit.  Which strategy should be used to mete out justice in order to prevent future human rights abuses?  One strategy of the international community is to exonerate the collective and inculpate the individual.

Suppose a homogeneous group victimizes another utilizing the most pernicious means.  Reviving a rhetorical component of the unifying ideology representing this group, permits it to mobilize a death machine.  This machine could be the Christian European annihilation of Jewish Europeans or the politicized Hutu contra the Tutsi.  Post-WW II literature tends to focus on the German (more specifically the Nazi) participants in the Holocaust, which simultaneously exonerates the rest of Europe’s contribution to the Nazi mobilization of the Final Solution.  Collective guilt is rejected in favor of individual guilt, the perpetrator is particularized.  In so far as this is accomplished, the Christian Europeans and the German people are absolved of guilt in the criminal sense while some individuals are inculpated and sentenced to death or imprisonment.  In some cases, others are intrinsic to the transitional government and allowed to hold office and rebuild the war torn countries.  The goal is to describe the bureaucratic genocidal event as a singularity, not a manifestation of cyclical violence (for example, the Christian versus the Jew or Hutu versus Tutsi).  If the Christians were never guilty and the Germans could be “cured”, as they are considered to be, then a similar technique could be used in the Balkans or Africa, which are viewed generally as locations of cycling genocide.  Ignoring deeper causal factors, the international community chronicles the 1990’s tumult as resulting from individual megalomaniacal leaders.  The us-and-them category created along ethnic or religious lines by villains vanishes as good and bad persons are distinguished.  Neighbors are assumed to be capable of living in peace thereafter.  This suspends the unifying ideological component.  It does not eradicate it, which means it remains a nascent vehicle for future genocide.  For instance, if WW II were interpreted as another Christian pogrom against the Jews, then the Final Solution could be reinstated at anytime.   It is Christian theology that must undergo a transformation in order for the non-Christians to be safe.

The Rwandan case individualizes a group activity in the sense of the weapon (machete, gun, or rock) being wielded by a person to kill another.  How does the human rights advocate seek justice in this context?  Hundreds of thousands of Hutus are purported to have committed murder.  In excess of 100,000 Hutu génocidaires are imprisoned awaiting trial; the remainder hides in refugee camps or live among their victims.  Perhaps another method of reconciliation must be formulated, for punishing a few of the many may not be acceptable or sufficient in the village where survivors draw water alongside the killers.  It is Gourevitch, who chronicles the efforts underway in Rwanda to punish the few, forgive the many, put the past in the past, and unite as Rwandans to secure a stable future.  In this manner, the Rwandan leadership is attempting to depoliticize collective guilt of the perpetrators and victims.  They are effacing the politicized ethnic distinction (deracialization), thereby giving birth to the “new” Rwandan.  Only time will tell whether this policy will be successful.  For now, it is the subject of philosophical investigation.  Let us consider another case, one in which there is no truth-telling, no punishment, but a state inveiglement to forget the past.

Kenneth Roth devotes an essay to the history of state terror in Haiti and the coeval lack of criminal prosecution, which, he argues, set dangerous precedents that undermined the process of reconciliation.  Haitians had no collective memory of a law abiding society.  Successor regimes committed human rights abuses without judicial repercussions.  At each transition phase Haitians were encouraged to forget the past.  Therefore, in the absence of systematic accountability, citizens expressed their rage periodically inciting extralegal violence.  The formula of revenge equals justice resided in the civilian esprit de corps.  Roth concludes that forgetting the past as an instrument of democratization in Haiti merely reinforced and fostered a spirit of impunity intrinsic to political and retributive violence.  Thus, Roth’s state reconstruction paradigm requires truth-telling (not amnestied, but indictable) and justice as reconciliation.  It is punishing the guilty in a public process, whereby no unreconciled victims can “haunt” the progress toward a safe civil society, that is striving toward a moral social order devoted to the rule of law.  The reconstituted Haitian would be healed by recalling the past as one of injustice tempered by judicial punishment, not of unpunished spiraling human rights transgressions.  This would occur for Roth in the presence of an energized UN military force accompanied by legal advisors facilitating the criminal proceedings in a transitional regime.  Overtime, then, Haitians would not be living in the past, nor would they be induced to remember to forget the past.  On the contrary, in the wake of criminal indictments and state apologia for past systems of violence, they would gradually forget the past as social shifts direct their attention toward employment, education, and progress.

The three cases above should bolster Neier’s contention that more attention is being directed toward punishing individuals and absolving the collective. Such is the effort to effectuate a transition to peaceful coexistence and governance after systematic atrocities have occurred.  An integral component of long term peaceful development would necessitate the eradication of existing ideologies which promulgate genocide and crimes against humanity.  I will sketch below an evolving paradigm dedicated toward that goal- it is widely referred to as the human rights movement.  I refer to it here as the human rights army.

The Human Rights Army

The aforementioned themes of truth-telling, collective versus individual guilt, and reconciliation as truth, justice, or a mixture of both should be useful in examining the operations of a transnational movement attempting to codify a final statement regarding the laws of humanity.  Human rights activists, humanitarian aid workers, and liberal democratic states comprise a multinational coalition with vast resources.  These resources include the media, court systems, the United Nations, and military associations.  Persons engaged in advocating human rights ideals represent citizens from many regime types (industrialized, developing, and authoritarian).  These activists form the moral vanguard of the human rights army.  The army- currently represented by NATO, UN peacekeeping troops, or ad hoc multilateral military forces- envisions the defeat of evil.

Although the human rights army’s origin are more complex than indicated here, one facet of the story is embedded within the confusion of a post-WW II military tribunal world.  Cohen argues that the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals punished defendants based upon inconsistent theories of collective and individual guilt.  Yet it may not be necessary to resolve the tension between these two approaches because the context may determine the more expedient political stance.  For example, it may be more expedient in the case of Kosovo to individualize guilt and arrest the significant perpetrators- the goal being to halt the cycle of retribution between Christian Serb and Muslim Albanian.  However, the Taliban may remain a short-term collective entity in order to justify their eradication by the human rights army.  Upon conclusion of the war, the human rights army could identify the good Taliban; i.e., Afghan, who could become a governing council member in a post-bin Laden-inspired-Taliban Afghanistan.

It is plausible that Western guilt drives the urge to declare all human rights abusers the enemy.  This guilt derives from European shame of perpetrating genocide and American shame of joining the ‘fight against evil’ too late, with respect to WW II.  Compounding this shame and guilt is the failure of the Europeans and North Americans to prevent the atrocities in Bosnia or Rwanda.  Shame and guilt are factors generating the current proactivity of the human rights movement.  In addition, Soviet domination eliminated identity politics behind the Iron Curtain by establishing a new identity, the Communist.  The Communist Party prevented ethnic warfare by relegating the dialectic of violence to the formation of capitalist history, which is to say that it is the past.  Therefore, the post-Cold War vacuum ushered in a murderous force that can only be contained by another identity- the human rights ideology supported by military intervention and economic sanctions.  In any case, there is a new foe for the West.

Carl Schmitt’s lesson informs us that liberal society supplants the state as it strives to seize control of the state’s monopoly of force- “the state turns into society: on the ethical-intellectual side into an ideological humanitarian conception of humanity, and on the other into an economic-technical system of production and traffic.”  However, the state does not just relinquish political; i.e., military power, it manipulates the public into supporting military activity in the name of human rights.  The state’s foe, minus the communist threat, has been transformed into the human rights abuser.  The state acts on behalf of its public to politicize, in Schmittian terms, the human rights movement, which is to establish a human rights army replete with propaganda machine, economic imperatives, judicial review, and military consequences.

The moral vanguard of the human rights army uses propaganda within the truth-telling narrative.  Roughly speaking, non-governmental organizations (NGO) report abuses, identify the perpetrators, enlist the UN, and advocate military intervention.  For example, the 1995 Dayton Accords did not result (as some had hoped) in Slobodan Milosevic’s apprehension and imprisonment for his role in the Bosnian conflict.  It was not until the Kosovo Liberation Army’s (KLA) assassination of Serb families, businessmen, and politicians provoked a significant military response by Yugoslavian government forces.  Late 1990’s KLA terrorist activities went largely unreported in the in Western media.  Neither was it reported that the Albanian government had been arming the KLA in the hope of annexing Kosovo, a legitimate enterprise for Albania considering the fraudulent division of Albania by the Great Powers.  This changed ultimately in 1999 when Milosevic entered the human rights army radar.  Milosevic was accused of implementing ethnic cleansing measures on a defenseless ethnic Albanian minority (the majority in the Kosovo region).  According to Western media reports, the KLA “freedom fighters” acted in self-defense in order to prevent their extermination.  In the aftermath of Bosnia and the failed enterprise of the “peacekeepers”, NATO led a humanitarian military attack in order to save the Albanians from the Serbs.  The UN delayed establishing their typical humanitarian infrastructure in order to allow NATO military forces to establish a refugee camp system, thereby establishing their humanitarian credentials and legitimacy.  Many reacted with approval regarding this act of compassion, although it was not without its detractors.

Within a few months after the June cease-fire accords, the UN publishes various reports on the Kosovo genocide- approximately 2,000 bodies are exhumed from various mass graves.  This could have been announced to prove that NATO forces had prevented the annihilation of the Albanians, but it was not.  One possible answer why it did not receive significant media coverage could be that the earlier media portrayals of genocide and ethnic cleansing had been exaggerated in order to justify and establish international consensus for the human rights army’s invasion of a sovereign state reeling from civil conflict.  Lest we forget, there is now a $30 M American military base in Kosovo, perhaps to ensure that the newly democratized Soviets would not consider a future return to their Cold War buffer zone.  Shortly after liberation from the Serb threat, the KLA commenced their ethnic cleansing of Gypsies and Serbs.  NATO’s KFOR (Kosovo Forces) was now entrusted with protecting churches and non-Albanian minorities in Kosovo.  Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright addressed the Albanian crowd in Pristina, Kosovo by condemning the Albanian ethnic cleansing campaign while qualifying her condemnation with the statement: ‘…but let us not forget what they were just doing here.’  In addition, KLA leaders refused to accept UN governing authority.  Their rhetoric suggested that the foreigners had no right to govern the region, that it was an Albanian matter.  Therefore, KLA directorship began to establish parallel systems of governance.  Ironically, UN forces in Mitrovica are being attacked as Muslim Albanians seek to ethnically cleanse their Christian Serb neighbors.  Another astonishing phenomenon is that international aid workers have been killed by Albanians, who were convinced Serbian was being spoken (in actuality the persons where speaking other Eastern European languages).  A year later the KLA insurgency commences in Macedonia, absent the commensurate response from the humanitarian army.

The Kosovo events remind us of Schmitt’s friend and enemy distinction when he says that it is “…to be understood in [its] concrete and existential sense, not as metaphors or symbols, not mixed and weakened by economic, moral, and other conceptions…”  He was mistaken, for the human rights movement rejects Schmitt’s statement, morality has been energized politically (not the first time in history).  The human rights army can be used to refute Schmitt’s observation that “liberalism…has attempted to transform the [economic] enemy…into a competitor and…the [intellectual enemy]…into a debating adversary.”  The state can disguise its treatment of economic and intellectual enemies via the human rights coalition, in the name of human rights.  Hence, the state does not relinquish its war-making power, nor does it abandon its role in determining friends and foes.  The human rights army is on the march.


It is not my contention that the human rights movement has pernicious intentions vis-à-vis humanity.  I was merely reflecting how it arrives at using force.  The role of truth-telling in identifying the perpetrators of human rights abuses, where individual guilt is assigned, allows an external savior to intervene.  Once victorious, the model encourages international criminal tribunals.  A TRC may become a historical artifact as criminal courts gain preference.  Or it could become the second stage in a recovering nation strategy.  It is clear that the use of military intervention to promote human rights has gained acceptance to a significant degree- for now at least.  How this is going to alter the balance of power on this planet remains speculative.  The question of how the international community’s actions during the past 20 years will nurture democratization and peaceful coexistence remains the subject of an interesting debate.  I wonder how different the human rights army tactics are from those of Che Guevara in South America or the Jihad warriors in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan.  One could remark that the CIA is not behind the increase in contemporary warfare, it is the NGO community that propels the human rights army.

Michel Foucault: Practices of Self, Ethics, and Freedom

January 7, 2010

Michel Foucault: Practices of Self, Ethics, and Freedom

During this interview, Michel Foucault presents his reading of the Greek and Roman tradition of concern of self and how this concern or practice of self relates to freedom, ethics, liberation, and truth.  To begin with, Foucault is not addressing what constitutes the subject, but how the subject commingles in games of truth with other subjects.  Furthermore, it is the subject’s self-formation during the concern of self that mediates the subject’s actions with the world of subjects, institutions, and organizations.  Allow me to schematize Foucault’s presentation.

A person works on his self in order to define his relationship to himself and with others.  As a practice, it is not one of moral renunciation in the Christian sense according to Foucault, but a practice dedicated to refining the self to coincide with a particular “mode of being” as the desideratum (282).  There is no “human nature” to suppress or overcome, concern for the self is a practice of freedom, not of liberation.  Liberation is not enough for Foucault’s subject to determine what comprises a practice of freedom, for at the point of liberation the new form of existence must be contemplated and organized (in the sense of establishing coherence) in order for the practice of self to operate freely.  This does not mean that Foucault excludes liberation as a political precondition to practices of freedom; it is just not the focus of his analysis.  For example, if the subject is being dominated, where the sphere of Foucaultian “power relations” is minuscule, then a liberation (i.e., eliminating or resisting the conditions of domination) results in a situation where concern of the self and freedom can be practiced: “liberation paves the way for new power relationships, which must be controlled by practices of freedom” (284).

This also provides a segue into the ethical component of practices of freedom where “freedom is the ontological condition of ethics.  But ethics is the considered form that freedom takes when it is informed by reflection” (284).  By reflecting, the subject develops knowledge of self, which determines the subject’s practice of freedom vis-à-vis the community and family.  For example, the Greeks and Romans equated self-awareness with “moral reflection” where “care [and] concerns of the self were required for right conduct” (285).  This conduct, as a form and not a substance, is characterized by the existing society.  The social ‘truths’ of proper etiquette, what represents harmony and discord are part of knowledge and as such are precepts regarding the ethical practice of freedom or defining the social ethos.  It is ethos, according to Foucault, that clarifies the relations between concern for self and others, because the activity of caring for yourself involves caring for others.  For example, the good mother cares for her self, how she is perceived by others, and provides her children with proper clothing, sustenance, and love (if prescribed by ethos)- “the care of the self is ethically prior [to care for others] in that the relationship with oneself is ontologically prior” (287).

Now, what is to prevent a subject from seizing power and controlling others?  There is nothing to ‘prevent’ this per se, but a subject’s care of self precludes the usurpation of power for the reasons outlined above.  It is the subject not practicing care of self who potentially becomes the instigator in reducing the sphere of freedom by utilizing coercive or repressive techniques.  Thus, the care of self is a path toward ‘regulating power over oneself and consequently regulating one’s power over others’ (288).  The ethical person exercises control over himself; that is, masters his desires, should any be antithetical to ethos, which otherwise safeguards other subjects from the fulfillment of such desires.

The subject, therefore, is not a substance, but a form.  In a complex society composed of numerous others, the subject constitutes itself according to its multiple roles.  Hence, the relationship between subjects varies according to the regulating ethos.  Foucault avers that each different relation precipitates a distinct subject in oneself; that is to say, my care of self as a student has different requirements or guidelines than my care of self as a teacher.  In both instances, my relationship to myself is different.  This multiplicity of selves in the subject (no wonder I am always so confused) is not only found in the framework of ethos, but also in “relations of power” between subjects that are engaged in various activities- be they familial, economic, amorous, or athletic.  These power relations are considered by Foucault to be dynamic, lacking rigidity.  This idea of power explains why a subordinate in a hierarchy may exercise power over a superior in spite of the legitimacy of the power hierarchy, or how a subject practicing concern of self can administrate in a benevolent manner as opposed to the tyrannical administrator.  Let us recall that the aforementioned activities take place in a realm of freedom, where the concern of self mediates power relations.  Who or what determines which administrator is preferable?  As each subject progresses in self reflection, power relationships may change, perhaps effacing power (in the standard sense) altogether.

How is this significant?  Forgive the cliché questions, but does this analysis justify the patriotism of Eichmann?  I am referring to his statement in court that his deadly activities were his patriotic duty to the National Socialist state?  If the state’s ethos of genocide was part of his conscious reflection and concern for self, was he an ethical subject?  Or, is this unfair because of a notion of humanity that may be a notion of substance rather than form?  Is this analysis potentially dangerous (in terms of Macintyre’s emotivism discussed in After Virtue)?  And what of the extermination camp (Vernichtungslager) officer who ensures the annihilation of beings during his workday and returns home to make love to his wife and play with his giggling children?  Is this officer also practicing concern of the self?  Foucault states “practices [of self] are nevertheless not something invented by the individual himself.  They are models that he finds in his culture and are proposed, suggested, imposed upon him by his culture, his society, and his social group” (291).  Is this officer the “mad subject” or a patriot?

In accordance with the subject heading for today, beyond victimhood, let us briefly consider the victim.  Was there such a level of domination in the camp so that no freedom existed, where no possible resistance to power could occur?  Foucault tells us “a power can be exercised over the other [with total power] only insofar as the other still has the option of killing himself…or of killing the other person” (292).  Since it is widely considered impossible for the walking dead to have been capable of resistance or insurrection for instrumental, psychological, and physiological reasons, then suicide (abstracting from the preceding triad) was the only degree of freedom.  Does this mean that there was no victim?  Can victimhood cease to be a phenomenon through practice of self?  As a form, victimhood could be redefined.

Foucault’s problematic centers around relations of power and how they are connected to games of truth (296).  The questions above fall also into this category of truth games.  The game of truth, according to Foucault, is “as set of procedures that lead to a certain result, which on the basis of its principles and rules of procedure, may be considered valid or invalid, winning or losing” (297).  Just as there are multiple selves in a subject, there are multiple games of truth that exist between individuals, groups, and institutions.  A subject may find himself engaged in several games of truth on any given day.  Foucault indicates that a positive aspect of this case- where no single game of truth dominates and excludes all others- can be found in the progressive development of the West (297).  Since a game of truth forum exists, the possibility to modify the principles or the entire game permits development, whereas the domination of one game of truth stunts such development.  Again, truth represents a form, but can also represent a substance in relation to some particular context.

Games of truth, Foucault agrees, are increasingly independent of structures of power given contemporary communication technologies (298).  This predicament (so it seems to be by Foucault) can be tempered by ethos.  Why and for whom is this situation a problem?  Would it not benefit a state when the populace is engaged in playing many games of truth, distracted from scrutinizing state activities?  The domestic sphere of exchange is where such games can be played without being “utopian” in that they are not coercive.  Is that sphere merely “pop discourse” and the threat of a coercive game of truth resides in the state?  If the subject maintains his concern for self, would the pop games of truth vanish or recede so that the ethical could be resuscitated and the practice of freedom elevated to the political sphere so that the state no longer imposes its game of truth on a non-attentive polity?  Since power is a game of strategy for Foucault, does not the information age serve as the ultimate state strategy to disentangle itself from citizen control?  (I am thinking of Schmitt here)

The concern of self answers these questions, I believe, revealing Foucault’s “new ethics” (299).  He states that the concern for self, which eliminates the temptation to dominate, is “the hinge point of ethical concerns and the political struggle for respect of rights, of critical thought against abusive techniques of government and research in ethics that seeks to ground individual freedom” (299).  It is not exclusively the practice of self as guarantor of freedom, but its role in “governmentality” (300).  Governmentality- defined as a matrix of relations between multiple selves, games of truth, and strategies of power- represents freedom and the practice of freedom that is ethical.  Conversely, the subject can only be a juridical subject when connected to a political institution as a source of analysis.  Thus, Foucault frees the subject from his legal restraints.

Emmanuel Lévinas’s “Useless Suffering” and Schmittian Politics

January 7, 2010

Emmanuel Lévinas’s “Useless Suffering” and Schmittian Politics

Emmanuel Lévinas informs us that suffering comprises a “psychological content” in consciousness while stating that it is a content “in-spite-of-consciousness” (91).  Consciousness is the locus of meaningful content and as such the feeling of suffering enters it via another mechanism.  Suffering is a result of unsolicited sensations extending beyond the conscious sphere of meaning.  It shares this sphere in-spite-of-consciousness because consciousness allows the unsolicited sensations a vehicle with which to become a sensation of suffering.  Lévinas designates this procedure as a modality, where suffering has a form without a reality.  Why is suffering modal?  It is so because suffering is not actively integrated into consciousness.  On the contrary, it is a passive process whereby one submits to suffering.  Hence Lévinas proposes the following formula: suffering is passivity, which is a submission to the rejected content of consciousness.  It is not a manifestation of a consciousness drawing in meaningful sensory data (which possesses implicit analytical or critical power) because suffering results from something unbearable.  The unbearable, therefore, lacks meaning.  Lévinas’s description hinges on the view of ‘sensibility being a vulnerability that excludes an active reception of that which is perceived’- perception being a work of consciousness.  The reader is cautioned not to view passivity as the source of suffering, but to regard evil as the active agent causing one to suffer.  Passivity does not eliminate one’s freedom and precipitate suffering.  It does not undermine the activity of consciousness as meaning-giving, nor does it reduce one to an object, “a mere thing” (92).  Evil is what reduces the human to passivity and, potentially, thingishness: “the humanity of those who suffer is overwhelmed by the evil that renders it…” (92).  Hence, Lévinas characterizes suffering as useless and absurd.  The human consciousness is consumed by the suffering inflicted by another, which is without true meaning.

What can arrest this phenomenology of suffering?  Is this where the object of suffering must struggle to the death with the subject in order to regain freedom or one’s humanity?  What path toward liberation could Lévinas’s being-in-submission commence if the being’s consciousness were engulfed by pain?  The answer is found during the first utterance of pain.  As the other communicates anguish, it evokes in me my drive to mitigate the other’s suffering.  I can only do so if I create meaning in the other’s suffering.  This meaning is generated as I recognize the other’s suffering by suffering myself: “the just suffering in me for the unjustifiable suffering of the other opens suffering to the ethical perspective of the inter-human” (94).  At such a moment, ethics preside over human interaction.  When I disregard my alterity as a basis for struggle and I recognize the suffering of the other, I establish an ethical relationship between me and the other on various levels.  Firstly, my suffering is meaningful, whereas the being-in-submission lost in painful suffering lacks meaning.  Secondly, as I interact with others sharing the same experience, my meaningful suffering would have the agency to reconstitute the social nexus in an ethical interhuman context.  This, according to Lévinas, would bring the sufferer-of-others-suffering closer to God because disavowing the suffering of the other would debase humanity.  And it is this debasement that is heralded by the notion of theodicy.

If you were considering that the category of useless suffering could be rearticulated as useful suffering for another, you would encounter Lévinas’s description of Original Sin justifying the suffering in others without an identification with their suffering.  Pain and suffering becomes meaningful as it is linked to a journey toward a future reward of communion with God.  One could also consider the situation of the employee who submits to the employer with the hope of being promoted in the future.  Thus, a system of useful suffering is paramount to future prosperity (in pecuniary, ethical, and spiritual terms).  Social beings (or employees) are conditioned to accept this suffering and utilize it to manage their interrelationships and the prolongation of the collective in this form.  Lévinas explains that the ‘social acceptability of useful suffering via a rational administration of pain and suffering’ appears to facilitate what was described earlier as suffering in-spite-of-consciousness (95).  During the Western drive for material and spiritual progress with a concomitant level of justifiable suffering (or the sacrifice of a social stratum) – that is supported by a theology qua civil religion enticing numerous others to accept the inevitability of suffering for a divine future or transcendent reality- social actors attribute ‘a meaning and order in a suffering that is essentially gratuitous, absurd, and apparently arbitrary’ (96).

Theodicy, therefore, raises many important questions for Lévinas.  Does this belief absolve social immorality?  Is God innocent of the useless suffering that theodicy resignifies as useful and meaningful?  And what of the clergy, who are the advocates of suffering for the future?  Although he does not answer these questions in this essay, Lévinas delineates a historical period that marks the end of theodicean complicity.  Theodicy ceased to be the determinate social paradigm as soon as a ‘politicized and de-ethicalized reason’ gone murderously amok produced a collective death toll in the tens of millions (97).  The useless suffering of the twentieth-century was on such a scale so as to definitively eliminate the acceptance of the other’s pain.  Is the human rights movement a rejection of useless suffering in favor of suffering the pain of the other- a rejection of theodicy?  Is the movement striving to inscribe meaning in the ideology of ‘never again’?  If so, then human rights advocates must agree with Lévinas that “…the justification of the other’s pain is certainly the source of all immorality” (90).

Affirming the preceding remark, as I suffer in the suffering of the other, instills a sense of ‘human intimacy’ in the social matrix.  Lévinas warns us that this intimacy- my relation to the other- cannot be codified, spoken as a social platform, or instrumentalized without being subverted (99).  As we exit the Hegelian history of struggling to the death, we exclaim together: I am in the other, my pain has meaning, and I will soothe the suffering other.  “This new modality in the faith of today, and even in our moral certitudes; a modality most essential to the modernity that is dawning” (100).  Voilà, the Lévinassian interhuman order.  It resides “entre nous”, without a manifesto proclaiming how to implement it in a political reality.  The interhuman order cannot be drawn up as a social contract, nor is it a logical social manifestation of a principle of ethics.  On the contrary, writes Lévinas, the interhuman perspective is how people “help one another…before the astonishing alterity of the other has been banalized…” (101) by such a contract that he derisively calls “an interpersonal commerce of customs” (100).

Concluding Remarks and Questions

Charles Taylor: The Ecology of Recognition- Save the Cultures! Down with Civic Virtue!

January 7, 2010

Charles Taylor: The Ecology of Recognition- Save the Cultures! Down with Civic Virtue!

The contemporary demand for recognition stems from charges of misrecognition.  In a society dominated by a single political or social culture, differences not only tend to be excluded, but the dominant culture views the other in a judgmental manner.  This is projected on the other, who internalizes the unfavorable judgment, which maintains the marginality and exclusion of the other in politics.  It is this repressive mechanism that drives the proponents of equal cultures to dismantle the notion of national identity as a useful means to incorporate difference in a unifying political process.  This process is presumed to function so that the particulars of identity remain private and the general is shared as a common trait of the democratic citizen.  Therefore, recognition is vital to freedom and human dignity; diversity must be championed in order for politics to be equal for all.

This attack on democratic cohesion, if you will, stems from how we have come to view ourselves.  According to Taylor, it is Kantian identity to a certain extent that lauds the pursuit of individuality where we pursue a unique identity while determining what is good for us.  More recently, it is Lionel Trilling’s “authenticity” that is part of the common Western psyche via Rousseau and Herder (PR,30).  To be authentic means that the individual develops his own moral being while resisting the coercive ideals of the majority- the exhortation “to thine own self be true…” reverberates throughout our culture.  Foucault’s practice of self could be useful here, but authenticity rejects the interaction of the self and the social ethos to foster the ethical.  This ethos is the enemy of identity.

However, Taylor admits that a person cannot determine his identity alone, without social communication.  It is this “dialogical” character of life, where one’s interaction with parents, teachers, friends, and the state contribute to one’s identity (PR,32).  An “identity-composing dialogue” (L,13) occurs between Mead’s “significant others” and other autonomous identities (PR,32).  While doing so, one must beware of misrecognition; that is, do not rely on the other’s gaze to construct your identity, for it may be the root of your oppression:

“thus my discovering my own identity doesn’t mean that I work it out in isolation, but that I negotiate it through dialogue…with others.  That is why the development of an ideal of inwardly generated identity gives a new importance to my recognition.  My own identity crucially depends on my dialogical relations with others (PR,34)”

How does Taylor see this play out in politics?  He makes two crucial distinctions embedded in the politics of recognition.  The first is what is called the “politics of universalism” or the “politics of equal dignity” (PR,37).  Under this rubric all citizens are considered to possess equal dignity, that there is equal respect among persons.  This is the universal ideal that is exemplified by the American civil rights movement and public policies in the socioeconomic sphere to redress what is considered to be past injustice (PR, 38).  The aim is to eliminate discrimination in any form so that all can be equal.  Critics of this vision argue that their distributive measures employ discriminating techniques (similar to what they abhor in the other) and that one group is favored at the expense of another.  With this point, punishment of the perceived beneficiaries by the perceived victims is regarded with suspicion when comprising a scheme to pursue equality, dignity, and justice for all.  On the other hand, the “politics of difference” aligns itself with particularity in the public sphere because of the perception of a hegemonic culture attempting to dominate or eradicate a minority culture within society.  Therefore, the politics of difference begets laws to protect and ensure the future of a distinct culture.  Moreover, it is authenticity that drives this political stance: one must remain loyal to one’s identity and opposed to social pressure to become otherwise.  Assimilation is rejected outright on the grounds that the dominant group projects a negative identity onto the subject, who in turn introjects this identity to remain subservient and inferior.

In “A Tension in Modern Democracy” Taylor characterizes democratic citizen virtue, unfairly I believe, as Jacobin, where “inner exclusion” prevails as citizen virtue excludes difference among citizens (TD,85).  This impels the immigrant or minority group to reject assimilation into civic culture- after all, there is really no such thing as an American, right?  Such groups “demand that the reigning formula be modified to accommodate [their interests], rather than the other way around” (TD,85).  Multiculturalism nurtures the immigrant’s desire to retain his identity in the new society by providing access to services designed to support this without having to integrate.  At this point, Taylor argues that Mexicans really want to become Anglophone Americans, but at their own pace and without losing equal socioeconomic status (TD,86).  If the politics of difference is dedicated to preserving different cultures in opposition to civic virtue, then why should Mexicans want to assimilate?  Would this not be inauthentic?  And, since the politics of equality is designed to suppress individual identity, culture, etc., then what would motivate an immigrant to assimilate?  There seems to be a contradiction in this scenario.  Furthermore, immigrants no longer, according to Taylor, maintain a “sense of…gratitude toward the new country of refuge and opportunity” but reject it (TD,86).  Two social phenomena arise of out of this: first, immigrants strive to change the host country culture rather than assimilate, and second, they maintain an allegiance to their homeland (they act as a diaspora).

It is Sandel’s “procedural republic” that Taylor claims manifests out of the politics of recognition in that it is “more and more in terms of individual rights, and democratic and legal procedures, and less and less in terms of civic virtue” (TD,87).  As the modern politics of recognition is the source of struggle to redefine liberal democracies, citizens must question how they wish to participate.  Does one retain individual identity while adhering to a civic identity that unites all in a political enterprise?  Or does one prefer individual identity, reject civic identity all together and form a state based upon other principles (maybe a separate but equal multicultural society)?  Taylor admits that procedural liberalism has its merits in protecting human rights, although it may be a source of increased social disharmony because divergent groups no longer communicate together in order to emulate the beauty of ‘Herder’s orchestra’ (TD,90).  Instead the political sphere is a cacophony of competitive voices demanding individual or group cultural longevity or hegemony and the right to define the society.  Moreover, during the battle for ethnocentric laws, some could be declared unconstitutional, which would only reinforce misrecognition (TD,92).

So what alternative model does Taylor propose to the politics of recognition forum as depicted above?  He invokes a Herder-Durkheim-Humboldt communion.  The subject develops a self-identity that is not in opposition to the other, but in opposition to an object-as-idea.  Thus, the subject is reflected in the other’s mirror in a partial and complementary manner.  This process can be authentic and ethical in the Levinassian sense of recognizing the other on a conscious level.  The subject strives to recognize the other, not to determine its freedom-in-struggle, but to enrich a “bond not in spite of, but because of difference” (TD,89).  Doing so reinforces Taylor’s reading of Humboldt by claiming that “it is the crucial moral interest that each one of us has in the authentic development of the other” (TD,89).  Again, it is a fusion of difference that propels humanity forward in terms of material and spiritual achievement (TD,89).  Taylor continues this line of reasoning with “Gadamerian hermeneutics” where the subject cannot truly recognize the other without modifying its self.  It is the subject’s adherence to a self that is independent of difference-acknowledgment that prevents recognition.  Hence a subject’s identity melds with the other in a dialog.  This dialectic enables humanity to progress and evolve.

Does this not describe the development of liberal democracies in a post-nationalistic context?  Can one argue that, despite the historical transgressions and injustices, the American republic has done just that?  Was the American project a significant one in that many cultures could leave the “-isms” of their homeland behind in order to forge a new nation absent of that history? Was the point not to commence a new history based upon the formulation of civic virtue while recognizing difference without dwelling on historical baggage?  If true, what is the future of America undergoing the emphatic deconstruction of this project in favor of the politics of difference espoused by multiculturalism?  In any case, Taylor approves of the actions undertaken in Quebec, Canada to which Andy Lamey responds by problematizing Taylor’s theoretical analysis vis-à-vis his Quebec case study.

Lamey’s reading of “The Politics of Recognition” reveals contradictions between words and deeds.  It is the discrepancy between the two that troubles Lamey.  Briefly, the 1970’s Bill 101 prohibits francophone parents and immigrants (regardless of their language) from enrolling their children in Anglophone schools, forbids commercial signs solely in English, and requires businesses exceeding 50 employees to operate in French (PR,52-58).  Such a bill codifies the identity of a group and guarantees its existence in perpetuity by requiring immigrants to conform to the group identity.  And, it forbids the group subjects from forging their selves in the Gadamerian example.  Lamey points out that Taylor endorses the use of techniques that he derides in similar situations.  In fact, Bill 101 is even more notorious in the praise of its explicit coercion and domination of non-francophone Quebeckers.  The Quebecker self must consequently be stunted, for how can Bill 101 allow it to recognize the other’s divergent self and recast itself with the difference in mind as it establishes a moral kinship with the other?  This is the technique of division and identification not of unifying opposites.  Furthermore, Lamey criticizes Taylor for accepting the Quebecker determination of the good life, again illustrating the dominant culture’s intention to monopolize identity discourse.  Taylor also supports the notion that certain rights can be considered universal (habeas corpus, for example) but that others could be rejected on the grounds of which constitute the good life for that cultural paradigm (PR,60).  In this way, cultural relativism is acceptable only up until it interferes with universal principles.  This is strange, since Taylor argues against such universality.  One is not really sure who is supposed to determine the universal principles, or perhaps Taylor is really akin to a Marxist revolutionary seeking to overthrow a dominant group.

Although I agree with Lamey’s critique, I wonder about other questions.  For instance, what if a cultural group seeking preservation is already a victim of misrecognition?  In this case, the multiculturalist may be assisting the enemy he or the group eschews.  Or does the procedure of recognition include historical revision?  Since an immigrant group may be composed of refugees traumatized by the dominant group in their homeland, could they also not be morally damaged in their misrecognition?  Does the host country abet the victim-perpetrator identity that fosters continued enmity between persons or nations?  And what of the role of the “diaspora-American” whose identity is formed by the desire for vengeance?  There are those, like Paul Collier of the World Bank, who advocate restricting the activities of diaspora communities because they are waging regional wars from their comfortable and free host countries.  In such a case, it is no wonder that the immigrant rejects assimilation.  Could this also be viewed as a negative consequence of the Levinas’s self identifying with the suffering other?  The new nation could use military means to rectify the other’s suffering.  After all, to crudely oversimplify, Irish-Americans equip the IRA, Armenian-Americans demand the annexation of Karabagh, and the list continues.  In the end, Taylor must consider the disruptive elements in multiculturalism.  I wonder what his view is regarding the international community’s efforts to do away with ethnic identities in Third World countries as they advocate creating national/civic identities with the purpose of eliminating ethnic strife.  Consider President Paul Kagame’s public remarks regarding his task in Rwanda.

Concluding Remarks:

Projecting Ethnopolitics of the Other by Toponymic Equals

January 7, 2010

Projecting Ethnopolitics of the Other by Toponymic Equals

The primary concern of this case study is to compare the content of the ethnopolitical discourse in the northern Armenian town of Stepanavan to the national ethnopolitical code voiced by the Armenian elite.  Stepanavan is a unique study because the local Armenian inhabitants ascribe the ethnic Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan with traits that distinguish them from their hosts.  Diagnosing the cleavage between the two ethnopolitical narratives becomes essential to apprehend a potential flashpoint at the local level, which may require attention from the state authorities.  The general assumption by foreign observers and national elites that the refugees are ethnically equal to their Armenian neighbors is challenged during an inspection of the economic and social capital associated with both groups and by exploring the politics of recognition.  Evidence is analyzed to sustain the refugees’ claim that they are “misrecognized” as the alien other in order to deprive them of equal access to employment, education, and housing.

The paper then traces the genealogy of Armenian nationalism in an effort to describe the typography of the contemporary “core nation” discourse (absent the typical right-wing association).  Armenia has undergone several incarnations during the past millennia.  It has been a vassal state, a neglected buffer zone, and an imperialistic empire.  More recently, Armenia is consolidating state power in the aftermath of Soviet ethnofederalism and other legacies that influence the reconstruction of its eponymous myths and symbols.  The texture of this narrative includes portraying the refugees as Armenia’s downtrodden brethren, the victims of ethnic persecution in an irredenta.  This national monologue does not guarantee equality for the refugees in Stepanavan.  The author argues that the rift between recognition and misrecognition, as evinced by disparate ethnopolitical codes, avails itself to influence from international organizations representing a third ethnosymbolic paradigm (i.e. minority rights and multiculturalism).

For example, as non-governmental organizations pursue a strategy of resource mobilization in the economic sphere of developing countries, the inhabitants are exposed to the notions of economic rights and activism.  This strategy is embedded in a complex matrix of democratization and liberalization techniques.  The political aspects of such techniques conjoined with competing ethnopolitical codes are assessed at the local and state level.  If resource exclusion were really linked to collective action, what would happen if international NGO’s considered the ethnopolitical code in Stepanavan a minority rights issue?  What would be the political significance of portraying the refugees as a minority group being denied its rights?  How would such a social mobilization, encouraged by resource rich organizations, impact public policy in Stepanavan and at the national level?  These questions are addressed in conjunction with a comparative analysis of other countries encountering similarly divisive issues.

Finally, the author hypothesizes whether one might be able to link the scenario described above to other countries engaged in various stages of ethnic conflict in order to make some predictive assertions regarding the development of strife or resource competition based upon ethnic identity.  After all, this paper agrees with those scholars who argue that identities are malleable and that some have been “constructed” at the cost of human lives.

Selected References

Anderson, Richard D. and M. Steven Fish et al.  Postcommunism and the Theory of Democracy.

Astourian, Stephen H.  “Armenian Migration Crises in the South Caucasus and Their Consequences, 1988-2000.”

——–. “From Ter-Petrosian to Kocharian: Leadership Change in Armenia.”

Bayart, Jean-Francois.  L’illusion Identitaire.

——–. The Criminalization of the State.

Beissinger, Mark R. and Crawford Young eds.  Beyond State Crisis? Postcolonial Africa and Post-Soviet Eurasia in Comparative Perspective.

Bell, Lynda et al.  Negotiating Culture and Human Rights.

Collier, Paul.  “Economic Causes of Civil Conflict and their Implications for Policy.”

Crawford, Beverly and Arend Lijphart eds. Liberalization and Leninist Legacies: Comparative Perspectives on Democratic Transitions.

Dawisha, Karen and Bruce Parrott eds.  Conflict, Cleavage, and Change in Central Asia and the Caucuses: Authoritarianism and Democratization in Post-communist Societies.

Franck, Thomas M.  The Empowered Self: Law and Society in the Age of Individualism.

Ghai, Yash.  Autonomy and Ethnicity.

Huntington, Samuel.  The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

Joseph, Richard ed.  State, Conflict, and Democracy in Africa.

Jowitt, Ken.  New World Disorder: The Leninist Extinction.

Kymlicka, Will.  Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Citizenship.

Laitan, David.  “Language and Nationalism in the Post-Soviet Republics.”

Mamdani, Mahmood ed.  Beyond Rights Talk and Culture Talk.

Platz, Stephanie.  “Society, Nation, State: Ethnographic Perspectives on Armenia.”

Reno, William.  Corruption and State Politics in Sierra Leone.

Shklar, Judith N.  The Faces of Injustice.

Smith, Graham and Vivien Law et al.  Nation-building in the Post-Soviet Borderlands: The Politics of National Identities.

Tilly, Charles.  “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime.”

Thornberry, Patrick.  International Law and the Rights of Minorities.

Walker, Edward W.  “Armenia’s “Constitutional Coup” and the Karabakh Conflict.”

Zartman, William.  Collapsed States: The Disintegration and Restoration of Legitimate Authority.