Political Philosophy and Political Action: Imperatives of Resistance 1786600080

Political philosophers have long taken inspiration from political movements when crafting their theories, which they hop

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Political Philosophy and Political Action: Imperatives of Resistance

  • Commentary
  • Not scholarship, just another "call to arms" tract aimed at the already indoctrinated, dumbed-down youngster. Rubbish.

Table of contents :
Contents......Page 6
Introduction......Page 8
Resistance Movements and Political Identity......Page 20
Between Nature and Society......Page 70
Resistance Not Revolution......Page 104
Pragmatism, Participation, and the Construction of Public Problems......Page 136
Subjectivity, Identification, and the Incoherence of Resistance in Rancière......Page 166
Conclusion......Page 192
Bibliography......Page 196
Index......Page 214
About the Author......Page 220

Citation preview

Political Philosophy and Political Action

Political Philosophy and Political Action Imperatives of Resistance

Adam Burgos

London • New York

Published by Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd. Unit A, Whitacre Mews, 26-34 Stannary Street, London SE11 4AB www.rowmaninternational.com Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd. is an affiliate of Rowman & Littlefield 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706, USA With additional offices in Boulder, New York, Toronto (Canada), and Plymouth (UK) www.rowman.com Copyright © 2017 by Adam Burgos All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN: HB 978-1-78660-008-0 PB 978-1-78660-009-7 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Available ISBN 978-1-78660-008-0 (cloth : alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-78660-009-7 (pbk. : alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-78660-010-3 (electronic) ∞ ™ The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992. Printed in the United States of America



1 Resistance Movements and Political Identity


2 Between Nature and Society: Resistance in Rousseau’s Social Contract


3 Resistance Not Revolution: Species-Being and Social Emancipation in Marx


4 Pragmatism, Participation, and the Construction of Public Problems


5 Subjectivity, Identification, and the Incoherence of Resistance in Rancière


Conclusion185 Bibliography189 Index207 About the Author




This book is about several different themes, as well as their relationships to one another. It is also a book about dichotomies more generally, and how we can conceive of them philosophically with an eye to undertaking and analysing political action. The book’s title points out one of these dichotomies, political philosophy and political action highlighting the classic distinction between theory and practice. Another way of framing that broad dichotomy is to shift it to the general and the specific, with the implication that theory is more abstract or general than practice is because practice, insofar as it is something that is actively occurring somewhere and at some time, necessitates a concrete specificity that theorizing lacks. In other words, thinking about something is not the same as doing it. At the very least, a theory is supposed to be broader than a single application of that theory, so even in this minimal sense it exists at a more general and abstract level than practice and action. The precise way that I have tried to investigate these dichotomies is through the lens of a particular kind of politics. Namely, I wanted to investigate the relationship between acts of resistance as they manifest themselves in political struggles on the one hand, and political philosophy that constructs theories about democratic societies and institutions and their ability to undergird equality on the other hand. Bringing these two perspectives together, I attempt to place resistance within political philosophy insofar as it is a tool for bringing about equality. One difficulty in carrying out such a task is the difficulty that is inherent in the idea of theorizing about the resistance at all. In Howard Caygill’s recent penetrating study of the concept of resistance, he begins by making note of the very difficulties inherent within that concept itself that resist being turned into a theory. For one, he writes, resistance seems to be ‘rooted in practice 1

2 Introduction

and articulated in tactical statements and justifications addressing specific historical contexts’. Moreover, this kind of specificity and concrete particularity regarding resistance has actual benefits for the aims of resistance itself, Caygill tells us, ‘since defining a concept of resistance risks making it predictable, open to control and thus lowering its resistance’.1 A theory of resistance, therefore, would seem to undermine the very point of resistance, meaning that those interested in it might think they ought to stay away from resistance in any theoretical sense if they wanted to preserve something essential to it. Caygill approaches this problem by examining the concept of resistance from within, through three different strategies. First, he looks at the discourses of resistance as it has been framed historically in order to articulate the conditions of possibility for thinking through resistance as a concept. Second, he looks at some of the historical instances of resistance in order to find some consistency within their practices. Finally, he explores the relationships between resistance and other related concepts such as repression, reform, and revolution.2 This allows him to map out the concept of resistance negatively by ultimately moving around it in every direction. My strategy in this book is different than Caygill’s but shares with his approach the idea that a straightforward theory of resistance is self-defeating. What I have set out to do is to show how political philosophies that seeks to ground democracy, equality, and freedom can be seen to have a notion of resistance within them even if it goes unacknowledged. That is, ideals corresponding to societal self-determination can imply the ability of those within society to attempt to rearticulate society in the name of those same ideals; those attempts manifest themselves as acts of political resistance, which straddle the existing formal sanctioned institutional mechanisms for change.3 One way to further outline this task is through the subtitle of the book. ‘Imperatives of Resistance’ can be taken in two different but related ways. First, it can be interpreted as a normative claim, in which case it would state that there is a general imperative to resist. This is a claim about the human condition that is outside the scope of the book. It can be narrowed, however, to claim that there is an imperative to resist within societies whose institutional structure claims to be guided by the common interests of the people. This includes, certainly, avowedly democratic societies but goes beyond them as well. It is this second, more narrow, sense that I am exploring here, and from which we can subsequently answer the question of what it is that is being resisted in these circumstances. I define resistance broadly as group opposition, either formal or informal, against some element of the status quo that is dominating, oppressive, or exclusionary. These last three terms certainly require their own definitions, which I will not get into here. I will say, though, that how exactly they do get articulated depends on particular circumstances. In chapter 1, I will discuss



three resistance movements through which we can see three different ways that they are taken up. The first way of interpreting the subtitle, then, is as the normative claim that there is a general imperative to resist exclusion, oppression, and domination as they exist within the societal status quo in societies claiming to be guided by the common interest. The second interpretation of the subtitle ‘Imperatives of Resistance’ sees the phrase as a prompt that the whole of this book seeks to at least begin to address. That is, it prompts us to answer the question, ‘What are the imperatives of resistance?’ This question asks what the purposes of resistance are, and what resistance wants to carry out and achieve. These ends are understood within the framework of understanding resistance through the lens of societies that make claims about the common interest. Given the difficulties involved in any political philosophy of resistance, along with my own broad and preliminary definition of the concept, I both investigate contemporary resistance movements and critically interpret major figures in political philosophy in order to outline how and why political philosophy ought to consider resistance more fully. To that end, I first investigate the broad category of resistance through a consideration of three contemporary resistance movements. I first investigate and analyses Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab Spring, looking at the structure and language of their discourses, particularly in terms of the emerging identities and political subjects that they engender. Each is a disparate and organic movement beyond the control of any specific individual or group; aided by modern technology, especially social media, they are able to articulate themselves in novel ways, while also running into obstacles and setbacks unique to the contemporary world. I map out the structure of these movements, highlighting how each poses a radical challenge to the status quo in terms of physical spaces, including mass marches, protests, sit-ins, and disruptions. More importantly for our purposes, though, are the ways that they challenge semantic spaces and identities, including demanding new ways of speaking about race, class, and democracy. Such challenges effectively reframe the parameters of the dominant discourse and transform public space and its potential for meaning, which I call semantic shift. Such an alteration of public spaces and discourses steadfastly asserts the existence and importance of new or as-yet-unrecognized social identities, and attempts to provide a rearticulation of ‘the people’ within society. The first chapter concludes with the notion of democratic legitimacy, which I place against the background of the paradox of founding. If the paradox renders the concept of legitimacy unstable, democratic legitimacy uses this instability to place resistance within an understanding of a legitimate social formation, in that resistance responds to the paradox of founding by offering new foundations that respond to the

4 Introduction

gaps left in legitimacy by the paradox. A democratically legitimate social formation would then be one that understands and fosters the necessity of continually being open to having its blind spots be pointed out by resistance movements, as well as how to productively respond to them. The first chapter is not presented schematically, nor is it structured in holistic fashion. It is instead a series of reflections on three social movements, which is given orientation by the idea that we can improve our understanding of democracy if we analyse their discourses and how those discourses function. If these reflections at times seem fragmented or uneven, that is because resistance movements in the real world exist as such. This was the root of Caygill’s comments quoted above, focusing on the very singularity of acts of resistance. The structure of the chapter, then, is dictated by the subject matter as well as the nature and goals of this book. The goal of this chapter is to provide a snapshot of some of the elements of these movements that correspond to the overall argument of the book, so the focus is on discourse and its relationship to a specific re-articulation of a given people. This means that the chapter does not serve as an overarching look at all facets of these movements. It also does not focus on a time period that is broad enough to cover both exhaustive backgrounds and the presentday developments. The purpose of the chapter is to provide context to arguments in political philosophy about democracy and equality. Its conclusions stand in the background of the subsequent four chapters of philosophical interpretation, and together they illustrate the importance of the connection between political philosophy and political action. The variance and specificities of resistance movements provide a very real challenge to the universal aims of political philosophy, which we could call the challenge of the particular. That is, the unrest within particular contextual details and specificities of resistance movements, as they arise within the contingencies of history, have shown time and time again that they are capable of puncturing the calm veneer of theory’s organizational drives. Chapter 1 showcases three different manifestations of this challenge, while chapters 2 through 5 carry out internal critiques of four different political philosophies in order to respond to that challenge. Crucially, the aim is not to fix theory once and for all, thereby solving the challenge and disposing of it. Rather, the aim is to work within the theoretical apparatus of political philosophy in such a way that makes it better able to respond to the challenge as it arises. Such a dynamic relationship between theory and practice raises several issues for political philosophy, such as the relationship between the inside of the current system and the outside, and whether such a division can be upheld. If such a division is no longer tenable, is the idealized distinction still useful for theorizing and strategizing political movements? If so, how? A related question is whether an accumulation of changes to laws and current institutions



produces something radically new over time; in other words, is radical change possible from within? Furthermore, how is success defined once the movements are underway? Are there different levels of success to be had? Lastly, given the continually developing and contested nature of the movements themselves, is such formalization of their goals even desirable in the first place? I consider these questions by constructing an overarching, but necessarily incomplete and ever-changing, picture of popular insurrection on a global scale. The text focuses on the ways that these movements force themselves to be heard, and succeed in altering not only the dominant discourse around the issues that they champion, but also the very identities of the groups involved and their positions in the social world. Political philosophy has often been content with the idea that, with the proper theory of legitimacy and the State, it can foreclose the possibilities of resistance as either unnecessary or illegitimate. Such a theory would provide the basis for evaluating resistance to established power, meaning that if certain theoretical conditions were obtained, then resistance could not be justified regardless of its content or the specificities of its grievances. In this book I engage with the history of political philosophy’s ideals of equality and democracy, within the framework of contemporary resistance movements. Through this juxtaposition I demonstrate the continued relevance of the history of political theory for real politics, while simultaneously emphasizing the potential shortcomings of such theorizing. I show how political theory must always remain not only grounded in general political principles, but also and moreover, must retain a connection to the material realities of insurrectionist politics as they are practised every day. These aims and concerns bring up two additional dichotomies from within political philosophy that are relevant and that will be relevant throughout. First, is that between reform and revolution, which has long been a topic of debate, especially among Marxists. I address this dichotomy most directly in chapter 3, in my reading of emancipation found in Marx’s early writings. More generally though, the argument of the entire book revolves around this dichotomy just as much as it does the dichotomy between theory and practice. Just as I articulate the necessity of a mutually interrogative relationship between political philosophy and the discourses and actions of political movements, I also position resistance as in-between reform and revolution. This need not be an ontological claim about a radical break needed for a certain set of actions to be given the name, ‘revolution’. It is also not a denial that things called revolutions have occurred in history, and will potentially continue to occur. It is instead a claim that considers the realities of the contemporary world and seeks to create a wide berth for potentially transformative actions to take place in society, and in all types of ways and paces. I understand revolution,

6 Introduction

then, to be the kind of event that in a short period of time succeeds in wiping away the existing structures of society, including its norms and its various articulations of meaning and purpose.4 Even great transformations of many of the norms and subject positions within a society do not fit this description if they are enacted in the name of ideals that are already present but insufficiently actualized. Women’s suffrage and the abolition of Jim Crow in the United States are transformations in this sense, since they were enacted in order to better live up to the language of equality on which the country was ostensibly based; the ideal itself was not being rejected in the name of another.5 Another way to put it would be to say that the United States became a better version of itself, rather than something entirely new. The French Revolution, for example, was a rejection and erasure of one societal organizing principle, revolving around a monarch and strictly delineated unequal social roles, in favour of a new one that ostensibly viewed people equally according to the rule of law. The focus is on these primary organizing principles and the relationship between their abstract articulation and their concrete manifestations. In light of this understanding of revolution, resistance sits more firmly within society, between reform, which implies small-scale changes to existing institutions and structures, and revolution as just described. In much of what follows I situate resistance as taking up the mantle of the common interest of each and all within a society in opposition to the way that it is currently articulated by those in power and by existing institutional structures. Resistance can have revolution as its goal, or it may have the kind of transformation just described as its primary end. I do want to insist that resistance is something that is continually necessary within society as a form of vigilance against existing and potential oppressions, dominations, and exclusions. In that sense, resistance can also be the continued maintenance of a society’s ideals as well. This point leads into the second dichotomy, which is between participation and representation, the former being more robust and far-reaching. In chapter 1 we will see some of the ways that political actors describe the advantages of a more directly democratic approach rather than a representational model. Resistance as just described is a mode of participation that is inherently open to all members of society because it is not a form of participation made possible by any institutions. It is by definition a back channel, even if it sometimes works within the limits of an existing system.6 Full participation on the part of all members of a society is only possible by considering resistance, since resistance does not rely on the overcoming of any form of exclusion. Recognizing that exclusions occur even under the best of circumstances and in light of the best intentions, one can see that resistance conceptually fills the gaps formed by those exclusions and understand it as another form of civic participation.



Nancy Fraser has argued for what she calls ‘parity of participation’ in her theory of social justice. She describes this principle as one that ‘permits all (adult) members of society to interact with one another as peers’.7 This goal and its description certainly resonate with my project. The view of resistance that I am outlining here and elaborating upon in each of the subsequent chapters essentially sits just outside of how Fraser wants to address parity of participation. She defines the parity of participation through the lens of equal respect and autonomy for each and all within society, and goes about constructing a theory of social justice that would deliver that outcome. I do not adjudicate the success or not of how she goes about performing this task. My emphasis on resistance highlights the fact that it is at least reasonable to think that, even when we have done well to construct a theory that produces such egalitarian outcomes, the vagaries of the real world will conspire to produce gaps in it even in the best of times. Indeed, as one critique of Fraser remarks, ‘It is extremely difficult – and may be impossible – to ascertain what participatory parity will require in particular circumstances’.8 Resistance understood as a form of civic participation, then, steps into these particular circumstances where sanctioned participation is found wanting, asserting itself as a kind of unauthorized participation that speaks directly to the nature and meaning of authorization within that specific context. This position does not undermine Fraser’s project at all, nor does it imply that projects in that vein ought to be abandoned. Quite the opposite, they are as important as ever, and resistance understood as filling the unforeseen gaps that appear within them serves as their complement. After the first chapter on the contemporary world, I shift to the discussions within political philosophy. Chapter 2, focusing on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, reveals and emphasizes the positive possibilities for resistance from within ostensibly egalitarian communities. Taking up his theory of the social contract, I show how the notion of common interest grounds both the attempts of institutions to robustly institute equality within a community and the resistance to those attempts that deems them inadequate. The attempts of different parts of a community to achieve equal status entail a redefinition of the entire community through a re-articulation of the common interest of the community as a whole. Consequently, despite appearances to the contrary, Rousseau’s political philosophy offers a conception of political resistance. I ground my interpretation of Rousseau in his conception of the natural world as beyond our conceptual reach, which I then connect to the way that he constructs the social contract. I argue that Rousseau’s General Will is not the elimination of all individuality that many think it is, but is rather his attempt to make sense of the ‘paradox of founding’. That is, he is grappling with the fact that the stable justification for civil society demanded by the state of nature is not actually

8 Introduction

available. Without it, political authority sits precariously upon the articulation of, and agreement on, the common interest of a community. Chapter 3 shifts from a discussion of the possibility of resistance within an egalitarian community to the limits of what that resistance could look like. In delineating the boundaries of resistance, I offer a reading of Karl Marx’s dichotomy between political emancipation and human emancipation. Marx’s idea of political emancipation remains wholly within the logic of the bourgeois State and therefore offers no emancipation at all; human emancipation affects a shift away from the State and towards Communist society and true human freedom. Rejecting this dichotomy, I argue for social emancipation, conceived of as the middle ground between political emancipation and human emancipation. I ground my articulation of social emancipation in Marx’s idea of speciesbeing, his conception of human existence that is defined through the dialectic between nature and society. In doing so, I show how the Eurocentric and teleological elements of Marx’s philosophy can be overcome from within. Social emancipation is constituted through the activities of resistance to oppression and domination in all its forms within society, and through these activities the human freedom that Marx sought is manifest. This freedom can only be continually actualized through action directed towards the plurality of forms of oppression and domination as they come into existence, meaning that Marx’s privileging of class is also overcome. In chapter 4 I look to John Dewey, outlining how egalitarian communities can organize themselves. I argue that individuals can exist equally within a properly democratic community only by participating in the construction and reconstruction of what Dewey calls public problems. Dewey situates public problems within participatory democracy broadly construed as a way of life. I argue that they are constructed and reconstructed in the name of equality. The ability to participate in their construction is the gateway to a publicly shared life, which is the bedrock of equal standing within democratic communities. Dewey’s full articulation of publics, public problems, and how they are caused and discovered is insufficient, because it lacks a critical edge. That is, Dewey fails to recognize that the question of who gets to participate in the construction of public problems is never a given. The issue of who makes up the community of those who may legitimately participate in the solving of public problems is itself a public problem, albeit one unrecognized by Dewey. This higher-order public problem is always implicated in solving the kinds of public problems that he does recognize. I argue that the makeup of the community of public problem solvers is best articulated in the language of resistance on the part of those segments of a community who are excluded from, or devalued as, members of that community. Political resistance is therefore the manner in which the excluded attempt to offer a new answer to the question – the public problem – of how



the community as a whole is constituted. The solving of the public problem of the community’s makeup must be done at least partially beyond the merely deliberative means that Dewey offers, since the excluded must have the possibility of productively asserting themselves within the public sphere. Chapter 5 discloses how subjectivity relates to mechanisms of resistance and political action within society. In each of the previous three chapters I outline modes of effective political resistance. Here I evaluate the conception of resistance explicit within Rancière’s political thought to examine the mechanisms by which resistance constitutes new and equal political subjects. I argue for a novel interpretation of Rancière’s philosophy of equality and resistance as he articulates it through the process of subjectification. Rancière grounds this process in how political actors dis-identify with the status quo through their resistance. I spell out the silent half of the dichotomy of identification, arguing that through their action there is a simultaneous reidentification with a more equal society that does not yet exist, but that could come into existence if their political action is successful, reordering the perceived limits of the possible. These four figures are connected through the ways that they relate to the cluster of issues and concerns just outlined. I am not suggesting that these four philosophers are allied in one specific or exhaustive way that precludes other thinkers. It is certainly true that there are many other theorists who could be analysed alongside these four and with similar aims, including Machiavelli and Hegel, Young and Fraser, and Fanon and Arendt. Each would integrate different insights and interpretations of resistance into the discussion. The four whom I write about here do not rule out or exclude other similar investigations, and would even certainly be improved by them. As the text displays a structured progression of thinking through the limits of the conception of resistance, as each of the four figure-based chapters build on the insights found in the preceding chapters. There are also several similarities that tie their writings together thematically that are important for this project. Each of Rousseau, Marx, Dewey, and Rancière insist that we must begin where we are in our philosophical work. In doing so they each acknowledge, in different ways and with different consequences, that how we theorize about social and political matters is inextricably connected with the social and political realities from within which we carry out that work. This means that they also begin with an acknowledgement of the tensions already found within society. They each therefore view society itself as an object of inquiry in a way that is overlooked when political philosophy is more narrowly understood as being the task of institutional design and nothing more. Relatedly, each sees education as an important part of their broader social philosophy. Rousseau, Dewey, and Rancière have all written entire treatises

10 Introduction

specifically about education and its important place within a larger theory of society more generally. While Marx did not address the topic in similar fashion, he does regularly include ideas about education in his writings.9 Education and human development more generally are highly determinative of how society is formed, re-formed, and maintained. It impacts our values and attitudes from an early age, affecting our ideas about what society is and how it ought to look. Similar to the ways in which these philosophers view the problematic of political philosophy much more broadly than some in contemporary philosophy do, Rousseau, Marx, Dewey, and Rancière view education as much broader than something that happens in a certain place at a certain set of times, and in order to furnish specific pieces of information to those who do not have it. Instead, education is a broadly conceived manner of articulating the connection between individuals and society as a whole, as well as being able to demonstrate the values that go along with that relationship, which go far beyond the content of books. I note this commonality because, even though education is not a theme addressed in the subsequent chapters of this book, each of the four chapters based on these figures does endeavour to bring out tensions within certain institutional formulations that are paralleled by a tension that also arises between the individual and the community to which she belongs. Resistance of a different, personal, sort could perhaps then be articulated to parallel the group-based resistance that I put forth throughout here. In outlining this notion of resistance in different ways throughout the text I hope to have offered ways that each of the philosophers surveyed can provide new resources for thinking about how to develop political philosophy with regard to contemporary social movements. Furthermore, the reconstruction of elements of Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and the Arab Spring makes clear how ideals and principles can be read off of political action, while also emphasizing the fact that those ideals and principles are not primarily conceptual but are found first and foremost in the messy and vexed ways that they are practised. That is where we discover them most readily, and where we are challenged to rethink our own conceptions of how the world ought to be ordered. The analyses in this book attempt to consider all of that in providing a picture of the relationship between institutions, group identity, and our theoretical constructs of both. notes 1. Caygill, On Resistance, 6. 2. Ibid., 8–9. The language of ‘conditions of possibility’ is not accidental on Caygill’s part. He explicitly describes his investigation as a ‘critique’ in the Kantian sense.



3. This does not mean that all political philosophies can be interpreted as having resistance within them. I offer four particular instances where this is the case, and draw some lessons from them; further investigation would have to be carried out on a case-by-case basis. 4. This understanding still leaves room for an understanding of a particular revolution as continually ongoing, as Fidel Castro described the Cuban Revolution, for example. In my framework here, this would mean that the new society that had been founded through revolutionary acts need to be continually maintained, so in that sense the spirit of the revolution requires constant maintenance. This understanding of continual revolution is not unique to Cuba, and can just as well be applied to, for example, the American Revolution, and any other for that matter. None of this is inconsistent with my emphasis on the term ‘revolution’ connoting the wholesale redefinition of society in a short period of time. I thank Will Schmenner for this point. 5. It goes without saying that there is no normative distinction between revolution and transformation as I am describing them here. The ideals at play within instances of each would be what determined our normative judgement of those transformations or revolutions. Neither is universally positive or negative. 6. We will see examples of this kind of resistance when discussing the Black Lives Matter movement in chapter 1. 7. Fraser, ‘Social Justice in the Age of Identity Politics: Redistribution, Recognition, and Participation’, 36. 8. Armstrong and Thompson, ‘Parity of Participation and the Politics of Status’, 110. 9. See the discussions in Capital, on the factory acts and productive labour, in chapters 15 and 16. There is also a long history of Marxist writing on education and development more generally.

Chapter 1

Resistance Movements and Political Identity

This chapter builds on the overview of themes important to an overall discussion and analysis of the relationship between resistance movements and political philosophy that is found in the ‘Introduction’ by giving a concrete and specific context to the more general themes already discussed by exploring three contemporary movements: the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter. Together the ‘Introduction’ and this chapter serve as a broad contextual framework from within which to read the subsequent four chapters on Rousseau, Marx, Dewey, and Rancière. It is important to make clear at the outset that neither this chapter nor this book as a whole is meant to provide an exhaustive and thoroughgoing account or analysis of all the facets of these three movements. The purpose of the present chapter is to highlight features of these movements that ask questions of political philosophy, posing challenges to how it conceives of itself and constructs its theories. This is, ultimately, a book of political philosophy, one that constructs an argument about democratic egalitarian political arrangements from successive lessons gleaned from a series of thinkers. The substance of that argument, however, directs it outside of theoretical concerns to real instances of popular attempts at political change. In other words, theory is directed to look towards instances in which a people attempts to wrest control of its political destiny from those in power in order to reshape them. At issue throughout is the meaning of the connection between theory and practice, and how that relationship can help us shape political philosophy as a theoretical exercise. The picture offered of each of these movements, then, will be necessarily incomplete. My primary focus will be on their discourses of resistance, with a more specific emphasis on shifting the semantic public spaces of society and the way that these shifts offer visions of a reformulation of a democratic 13


Chapter 1

polity. While certainly only a partial view of all of the facets of these movements, the chapter provides three different lenses through which to evaluate the arguments made in the subsequent chapters in terms of the broad theme of the transformation of society through political action. My interpretations of Rousseau, Marx, Dewey, and Rancière in these subsequent chapters each have a twofold structure: on the one hand, as internal interventions into those authors’ texts and the debates surrounding them, and on the other hand, as potential external dialogues with the issues raised by the three movements that will be highlighted in this chapter. It is also important to recognize not only the ways that these movements are dissimilar among one another, but the ways that they are internally contested as well; the meanings, motives, goals, and strategies are plural within as well as without. This is in fact one of the challenges presented to theorizing resistance within political philosophy generally: it can appear that once we begin to narrow down a theoretical conception of resistance so that it can make meaningful distinctions about events in the world, we won’t be able to stop until different conceptions of resistance only pick out singular events, undermining the very notion that we have a theory in the first place.1 Highlighting the messiness within these discourses and the disparate ways that new communities get articulated through them illustrates how real politics reveals the failure of theory to easily correspond with practices. In other words, from the point of view of theory such movements can easily appear to be ‘incoherent’ because they don’t correspond to some element of a theory’s schema. Rather than a conclusion, I am treating this point as a premise, using it to better understand how real political practices can pose questions and challenges to political philosophy’s theorizing that cannot be ignored. Though there are certainly similarities and differences across vectors of analysis, each is a disparate and organic movement beyond the control of specific individuals or groups, resulting in dissonance within the movements as well as between them. Furthermore, resistance movements are often confined to certain social classes or professions, which illustrate the fact that not only do different movements not necessarily share the same goals and values, even when they have common enemies, but even within these movements there may not be much agreement about what constitutes the movement in the first place. The disparate nature of contemporary resistance movements is at the heart of what I am calling their challenge to political theory, in that even non-ideal theory often fails to capture all of the details and nuances – and contradictions – within social movements. Consequently, political philosophy should be open to listening to these details, nuances, and contradictions even if there can’t be the hope of ironing them all out theoretically. The upshot is that political philosophy should consistently be in dialogue with the discourses of

Resistance Movements and Political Identity


these movements, evaluating their claims and actions and interpreting their relationship to its theoretical schemas. And yet, despite clear differences between resistance movements across the globe, we do group them according to abstract and general principles that, when done attentively, still allow for their differences to shine through. One thing that may indeed tie these movements together, albeit loosely, is the fact that there are certain social and political realities that generally engender resistance, such as social, political, and economic inequality; physical violence; and forms of humiliation. It was in fact an instance of this last kind whose consequences sparked the Arab Spring in Tunisia. We must also consider the fact that from the outside what might look like a vast number of people who seem like good candidates for revolt might not in fact do so for good reasons; there may be a tipping point beyond which the risk/reward calculus ceases to say, ‘stay complacent, you have too much to lose and not enough to gain’. The case of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia certainly looks like one in which that line was finally crossed. In order to consider the sorts of very localized and specific, and historical and contextual mitigating factors that go into the ways that movements develop and reach critical mass, democratic societies must develop institutions that seek to foster a sensibility of democratic equality, and inclusive civic pride and engagement that supports populations that care about the direction and definition of the common good. The chapter will begin a brief summary of contemporary theories of social movements in order to frame the chapter as a whole. It will then proceed in two broad sections that are thematically connected through their focus on how the discourses of these movements get articulated and the meanings of that articulation. One branch of that discussion focuses on the notion of ‘semantic spaces’, a term that I use to refer to the public and common space of discourse within which social movements and the structures with which they engage in dispute exist. This is not merely the public sphere of society as opposed to the private sphere, but the overarching common space of potential dialogue and disagreement, a space that is the precondition for the demarcation between public and private in the first place. When the structure of semantic space shifts, the norms of discourse shift and new possibilities are opened up for transforming society; new ways of talking and acting, and of being understood as intelligible, are inaugurated. In other words, semantic shift occurs when the language and discursive norms that saturate and condition political discourse shift such that this discourse now admits and is able to understand new terms as givens. The other branch argues for interpreting these discourses as calls for and illustrations of a re-articulation of ‘the people’ through action. This kind of re-articulation is one consequence of a certain kind of semantic shift just


Chapter 1

outlined. When the shift is one that enables new social groups and identities to be intelligible within the social given, then the collective that we call ‘the people’ of that society – those who are seen and can act as full equal members, as opposed to being so constituted in name only – is transformed such that it now includes these new identities. They have become legitimate from the perspective of the status quo insofar as they can be openly discussed in ways that make sense. In other words, they now are a part of the background against which discussions and actions regarding the social world take place. Outlining these two connected ideas will entail emphasizing the semantic shifts that have taken place as the discourses of these movements have evolved, piecing together what I see as the re-articulations of ‘the people’ that the movements articulate through their discourses. In doing so I will highlight the importance of social media for the evolution of these discourses, as well as the dissonances between the movements and those internal to each on its own. I will also emphasize the global nature and reach of these movements through these discussions, highlighting their influence and effectiveness in new contexts, thereby drawing out the plurality of the democratic imperative. The overview of these three very distinct yet thematically connected social movements that will emerge over the course of the chapter provides multiple concrete contexts against which the subsequent chapters on political theory can be read. As noted, the goal in this chapter is not to provide exhaustive accounts or analyses of these movements, but instead to outline two general ways that they can be interpreted against the background of how these movements articulate themselves: in terms of semantic shift and rearticulating ‘the people’. Section I: Theories of Social Movements Four different theories have structured the academic literature on social movements.2 The first three focus primarily on political outcomes, such as changes in legislation or the creation of new sectors of government, while the fourth focuses on attempts to change attitudes towards different identities within society; my analysis of social movements in this chapter fits best within the latter. Each of these theories are ways of understanding social movements in terms of what they are, how they function, and what they hope to achieve, with new developments in the theories attempting to give a fuller picture of how this occurs. The first theory understands social movements in terms of general grievances or collective social strains. Once these are recognized and identified, people can mobilize around them, which in turn allows for the creation of new political outcomes.3 The second theory, the resource mobilization framework,

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points out that there are additional factors specifically surrounding resources that further illuminate exactly how mobilization around these grievances occurs. Issues such as organization, budget, and connections, for example, can have a significant impact on how successful mobilization around a particular grievance is.4 The third theory, the political opportunity theory, accepts the idea of a general grievance as the central node of mobilization as well as the importance of resources. It then adds to them the importance of a social movement’s awareness of changing structures in the political sphere so that the movement is best able to strategically identify the right time to act. Remaining cognizant of election cycles and predicting their subsequent shifts, or predicting the outcomes of certain lobbying efforts on related issues that could buoy the cause, for example, are ways that movements can take this additional strategic element on board. Such a shift makes it possible for a movement to gain increased visibility with the public, potentially raising awareness or pressure on politicians to take the movement seriously.5 These three theories are not in direct conflict with one another, as each accepts the presuppositions of the previous and seeks to add additional considerations that deepen their analysis. All three also have the same goals in mind, which are the various political outcomes procedurally possible within society. The core idea of a general grievance that mobilizes a collective into a movement remains, with each addition aiming to improve the chances of achieving political outcomes. The fourth theory of social movements focuses on what are called new social movements, and is the first of the theories to break from the presuppositions that undergird the first three.6 Scholars understand new social movements as focusing on changing attitudes towards identities within the social world rather than only focusing on movements as attempting to secure political outcomes. A distinction is thereby drawn between institutional outcomes, which are the focus of the first three movements, and social or cultural outcomes, which are the primary goals of the new social movements, even if institutional political outcomes are still part of the movement – they simply remain secondary. These movements work primarily outside the institutional political framework, and so view policy change as subsequent to the change in attitudes more broadly throughout society. The broader claim being made by these movements is that the efficacy of changes within the institutional political and legal realms relies on attitudes of support among the wider polity; affect a shift in attitude and then the political and legal shifts will be more secure and longer lasting.7 Another way that the understanding of new social movements differs from the initial collective grievance model is that the newer model emphasizes that there are many different ways to navigate social change. Instead of asserting that mobilization around a single core issue is the primary way that movements can have success, in addition to conceiving of that success solely in


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terms of political outcomes, this more recent understanding of social movements affirms a diffusion of strategies. Movements should seek to become a part of everyday discourse in order to create broader awareness of the issues they care about; public actions and slogans should be able to take hold and capture the attitudes of people who hadn’t been aware of the movement but are potential supporters. How exactly this happens is always going to be unique to specific movements and who they are trying to reach. As a result of cultural rather than political outcomes being the primary focus of changes for new social movements, there arises a different manner of evaluating the success or failure of different movements, measured in terms of broader shifts in attitudes across the polity. This focus brings with it challenges for evaluation, as it is much more difficult to measure cultural attitudes across a diverse population than to see whether or not a specific piece of legislation has passed. Accordingly, new methods of measurement have therefore been developed to assess these different sorts of outcomes as well. Measuring mass media coverage of movements is one way to see how overall public discourse is changing with regard to their narratives: What issues occupy the attention of the news media, and how are those issues framed? Another is to track cultural production: what new cultural products have been produced alongside and in response to a movement or a movement’s issues? One could look at, for example, the rate of production of labour novels during the US labour movement in order to measure one way that the discourse surrounding labour had become part of mainstream cultural production and consumption. Another way to measure the impact of social movements on cultural attitudes is through the development of new subcultures or identities that form around them. Do the movements inspire or influence new forms of expression? What identities can be discerned from that expression? Each of these forms of evaluation stems from understanding social movements primarily in terms of being able to alter attitudes rather than being able to change institutional policy. The attitudes themselves are what enable political changes, but they are primary insofar as they are the foundation for political changes. In other words, once attitudes are changed and a culture has accepted the importance of a given issue, institutional structures can then be changed in order to, first, reflect the attitude shift that has already taken place, and second, foster those new attitudes to moving forward to ensure lasting change. The three movements that I will look at in this chapter are more aptly described as new social movements for a number of reasons, most notably that they are dispersed in several ways. They are not targeted at singular or specific political outcomes driven by a particular grievance, for example, nor do they have clearly defined leadership roles or structure. It is certainly true that they are each driven by grievances, but instead of pushing for specific

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individual changes to a given system, they argue in their own different ways for radical changes to that system itself. While these three movements are a better fit within the framework of new social movements than the previous theories of social movements, I do not put forward an argument for how or why they ought to be considered paradigmatic new social movements, or claim that they are perfect fits. Indeed, Victoria Carty has argued that the Arab Spring, for example, has necessitated an expansion of our understanding of how new social movements function and develop.8 Additionally, it is not as though the paradigm of new social movements is uncritically accepted among sociologists studying them.9 Even among theorists who do accept its underlying ideas there is further debate about how to fully outline them. For example, Steven M. Buechler draws a distinction between political and cultural iterations of new social movements.10 I do not take a stand on these issues one way or the other here with regard to any of the three movements. The purpose of this brief overview is to provide a background for reflection as well as the extra-philosophical context within which a consideration of social movements takes place. However one interprets this particular issue ought not to affect the overall claims of either this chapter’s analysis or that of the book on the whole. Section II: Discourse and Semantic Shift In order to look at how these movements affected a shift in general discourse and reoriented its presuppositions to some degree, it is necessary to look at the structure, language, and evolution of these discourses. In other words, what are the languages and articulations of resistance that we see in these movements? How have these movements expressed themselves? What are the events that have formed the basis for that expression? Homing in on the expressions, both linguistic and otherwise, of how different movements strategically articulate their grievances, demands, and pleas can help us piece together and envision an overall picture of the structure of the movements, even as we see the many dissonances we find within that structure. In attempting to begin at the beginnings, when these movements first arose, it is important to clarify that on some level the marking of a beginning is arbitrary, since the conditions and causes of these movements are not new. What these ‘beginnings’ do mark is a specifiable event that coalesced around those conditions, sparking a new conversation about them and bringing them out into the open.11 The very processes of resistance found within each of these movements depend in large part upon the social and political milieu – and therefore the history – out of which they emerged; these details of social history are


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irreducible across the three movements, and must each be considered on their own terms when analysing and evaluating them. There is also the irreducibly modern technological aspect to the movements, at once uniting them while also providing a condition of possibility for making the movements even more internally disparate. This heightened technological diffusion of the way that contemporary resistance movements give voice to their concerns is paralleled by the way that the news media cycle has seemingly become completely saturated with pundits and talking heads. As a result we see a nearly constant feedback loop between the use of social media on the part of movements themselves, who have been to some degree freed from the obligation to court the mainstream media for coverage on their behalf, and traditional media outlets looking to comment in any way they can even when they add nothing substantive to any discussion. Due to considerations of space, for my part here, I will restrict my analysis to how the movements themselves articulate their actions, goals, and motivations, leaving aside the complex ways that they must navigate the way that the mainstream media receives them.12 One immediate way that these discourses confront is through their slogans: ‘They Can’t Represent Us!’ was a slogan heard ringing through the streets of Russia during the democracy movement of 2012, alongside ‘They Can’t Even Imagine Us!’ In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, it was Kefaya! (‘Enough!’); in Athens’s Syntagma Square, banners declared, in Spanish, ¡Ya Basta! (‘Enough is Enough!’); in Spain, the banner ¡Democracia Real Ya! was a unifying call. Each country had its own variation on this theme – ‘We’ve Had Enough! We Are Fed Up!’ in Turkey; Eles Não Nos Representam! in Brazil; ‘Screw the Troika, the People Must Rule’! in Portugal. Perhaps the one English readers will know best is ‘We Are the 99 Percent!’ – the Occupy movement’s slogan throughout the United States.13

Marina Sitrin and Dario Azzellini list these and many others throughout their illuminating sociological overview of global resistance movements, They Can’t Represent Us! Reinventing Democracy from Greece to Occupy.14 In this section I will focus my discussion on not only the slogans taken up by the three movements under discussion but also the broader language and themes that undergird them. Highlighting both the parallels and dissonances within their discursive strategies, as well as unpacking and analysing the power and meanings of their language will set the stage for investigating how these discourses function with regard to the future and real systemic change. In addition to short sub-sections focusing on the movements individually, I will also thematically discuss the role of technology and social media, as well as the place of leadership within these movements’ discourses. Taken together, this section will thus provide a holistic, if incomplete, overview of

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the content and function of the discourses of these three social movements, setting up an analysis in the subsequent section of the relation of these discourses to visions of future peoples. Section II.i: The Arab Spring The events and discourse specific to what has come to be called the Arab Spring began on December 17, 2010, when 26-year-old Tunisian fruit and vegetable vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire outside of his local municipal office in the town of Sidi Bouzid. This act of protest came as a response to being humiliated at the hands of the local police force, which had previously confiscated his cart for lacking the proper permit to run a stall. He would later die from his injuries, and protests in his support would begin to spread not only across the country, reaching the capital, but across the region as well. Historian Khaled Fahmy was present in Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011, where the chant went, ‘The people. Demand [Want]. The downfall of the regime’.15 This slogan is representative of the current language of the Arab uprisings, which evince a shift from what had for decades been characterized by the embrace of the charismatic ‘leader-saviour’, from the rise of Nasser in Egypt, Qaddafi in Libya, and Ben Ali in Tunisia. Recent events, however, have not been grounded in any call for a redemptive leader to take the place of the deposed, but instead have seen protesters demanding that leaders step aside, ‘once and for all’.16 These are leaderless movements only insofar as they lack singular individuals whose charisma and personality rally the populace. In place of these leaders it is instead the populace itself that leads, in direct rebuke to the formerly perceived necessity of the presence of a strong leader to affect change. This is the language of democracy. Democracy, it is important to note, takes many forms, and certainly exists in myriad ways external to the sort of liberal democracy that those in the West tend to exclusively identify with the notion of the rule of the people.17 The Occupiers discussed below will by and large explicitly espouse direct democracy rather than the representative democracy that tends to characterize the liberal variety, for example. The language of democracy has certainly been the dominant frame for understanding global politics since the end of the Cold War, most clearly articulated of course by Francis Fukuyama.18 In the context of the Arab Spring, the language of democracy arises in a unique way, one that is important to account for. In arguing that we must understand and interpret the events of the Arab Spring on their own terms rather than in the vocabularies of democracy and revolution that we have inherited from other events around the globe, Hamid Dabashi rhetorically asks, ‘Do these revolutions perhaps posit and purpose a new language for


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reading them that accords to them the primacy of authoring their own meaning?’19 Such a demand runs into the way that the discourse of the uprisings is articulated. What does democracy mean, here? What are its possibilities and limitations, given this particular context? These questions must be faced head on, leading Dabashi to subsequently state, ‘Even the sacrosanct idea of “democracy” now needs to be rethought, and if need be reinvented…as a term or even an ideal, “democracy” should not be fetishized’.20 In other words, we will have already failed in our efforts to understand these actions, and the actors will have already failed in their efforts to reinaugurate society, if either we or they lazily superimpose anachronistic or anatopic notions of democracy onto the region and its many different peoples. Democracy depends too much on localized bodies of knowledge and experience to be left entirely to generalized rules that underdetermine the specifics of time and place. Furthermore, Joseph Massad has made the case not only for the necessity of democracy to be defined locally, but also for vigilance against equivocating between democracy and neo-liberal economic policy.21 Massad notes, ‘There is an increasing understanding among US policy makers that the US should ride the democratic wave in the region in those countries where it cannot crush it, and that in doing so, it should create political conditions that would maintain the continued imperial pillage of their economies at the same rate as before and not threaten them’.22 Echoing Massad, Gilbert Achcar dryly observes, ‘The proportion of partisans of “conspiracy theory” – the tendency to detect political plots everywhere – is naturally higher than average in two groups in particular: anti-imperialists and Middle Easterners’.23 And yet, there is good reason for such scepticism. There is a long history not of shadowy conspiracy theories but actual conspiracies on the part of Western nations to exert as much control over the region as possible, a history that should not be forgotten when attempting to understand the contemporary uprisings and their place within the global conversation about democracy.24 Indeed, reports were quick to surface of ways that Western powers would seek to take advantage to further entrench their power and influence in the region. The US and British sales of arms to Libya in the months before Gaddafi’s forces violently crushed pro-democracy protesters is just one example.25 We can see the paradox of conflating democracy and neoliberalism in the fact that the West has justified their regional alliances with decidedly undemocratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia over the years with an argument about respecting local culture, implying that Islamic culture is incompatible with democracy.26 And yet, when the question is asked, how can they be made compatible, the answer has to do with neo-liberal economic development than with actually empowering the populations themselves.27 It is surely no accident that the former would continue to entrench Western influence in the region while the latter may imperil it.

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With regard to the place of democracy internal to the social and political discourses of the Middle East, Jean-Pierre Filiu comments, ‘The extraordinary resilience of the Arab regimes over the past three decades stems partly from their ability to portray themselves as the only alternative to chaos’.28 As protests spread in Tunisia and Egypt, Ben Ali and Mubarak took a ‘gamble on chaos’, effectively hoping that the movements would turn destructive and undermine themselves. Importantly, this ‘“open-ended” revolt’ did not involve the arrival of a new national hero to lead the masses.29 The commitment to non-violence on the part of the protesters, however, made clear that whatever chaos was being fomented was coming from the side of the governments, whose rule had already begun to disintegrate.30 These actions and reactions effectively tested and made explicit the false dichotomy between authoritarianism and chaos, clarifying that the people were in fact able to have a say in directing the future of their countries. Filiu argues that in its place, a new dichotomy has arisen, this time between democracy and chaos: the will of the people against the last gasps of the autocrats making every attempt to destabilize the shifts taking place in the region.31 The phrase ‘the people want’ has been used not only to demand regime change, but to give voice to this mindset of breaking with the past and previous ways of making political changes. The split between the power and the people that was so powerfully challenged when the uprisings began has its roots in the fact that revenue from oil and gas account for such a large portion of state revenue that there is no need to defer to the demands or will of the people.32 Such a scenario begins to give an account of the specificity of the Arab context for a discussion of democracy, which is reinforced by the historical, contingent, and Eurocentric roots of the cliché that democracy requires a robust middle class. But while the advent of the middle class in Europe was a result of distinctions made between the aristocracy and the lower classes, and occurred along the lines of taxation and suffrage, we cannot find the same pattern everywhere where democracy may be put into practice; while such a pattern may be a sufficient democratic condition, it is by no means necessary. The disconnect, therefore, in some Arab countries between democracy and the sort of bourgeois capitalism that came to pass in European contexts signals the need for a different approach to democracy in the region that does not try to force it to fit development patters from elsewhere.33 Despite being on the receiving end of some warranted criticisms for his influential work The Clash Of Civilizations and the Remaking Of World Order, Samuel Huntington nonetheless did well to underline the danger of renewed authoritarianism in the Middle East in the face of the triumphalism of Fukuyama’s earlier text. Huntington underlined the potentially contradictory directions in which Arab nations would likely be pulled, democratization


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on the one hand and Westernization on the other.34 The latter of course was the idealistic dream of post–Cold War wonks like Fukuyama, whose idealism clouded the realities on the ground.35 In order to now take account of the discourses of democracy throughout the Arab states entails the decoupling of ‘democracy’ and ‘the West’ so that the actual voices, pluralistic as they might be, can be heard and allowed to be autonomous in directing the fortunes and futures of their nations. Democracy’s autoimmune capacity is not new, nor does it imply that democracy must be abandoned.36 It does mean, however, that the localized nature of democracy’s forces plays a highly determinate role in how the power of the people is able to move forward and develop. Even though, then, demands for democracy are not entirely what separate the current crop of Arab uprisings from their many predecessors, there remains a way that these democratic demands are unique. Jean-Pierre Filiu highlights the importance of non-violence for the eventual toppling of the autocratic regimes of the Arab Spring.37 This is not, however, the first time that non-violence has been a tactic in Arab resistance movements. Rashid Khalidi notes that despite several contenders for what makes these Arab revolts distinct from the many preceding ones, ‘What distinguishes the revolutions of 2011 from their predecessors is that they mark the end of the old phase of national liberation from colonial rule, and are largely inwarddirected at the problems of Arab societies’.38 Khalidi notes that underlying this theme of turning inward is a focus on dignity, not only at the individual level but also at the level of the nation. He interprets the latter as being representative of the inward turn of new liberation movements, which no longer focus on expelling foreign occupation. It was in the context of those former situations that Frantz Fanon, in The Wretched of the Earth, underscored the necessity of violence as a tool to accomplish the disorganization of the status quo in the context of colonialism.39 This inward turn and its connection to self-determination and dignity are also a part of our discussion of the language and ideals of democracy in relation to the West. As noted above, the autocrats being challenged by their people throughout the Arab Spring have ties with Western powers, and embracing the challenge of governing themselves in the name of popular support serves as a democratic rebuke to Western attempts to undermine selfrule in the region. These considerations have led Dabashi to interpret the historical moment of the Arab Spring and the leaders it has deposed as the beginning of a new narrative that puts the Arab nations at the centre of their own stories. What he calls ‘the end of postcolonialism’ marks the close of the colonial period in total, since ‘the postcolonial did not overcome the colonial; it exacerbated it by negation’.40 The move beyond colonial and postcolonial discourse liberates the Arab world and situates it not merely in relation to the West and its

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former subjugators, but in its ‘cosmopolitan worldliness’.41 Aligning the Arab revolutions with a principle of cosmopolitanism undercuts the sectarianism used as an authoritarian weapon by postcolonial strongmen. It also highlights the importance of the transnational character of the Arab Spring as a whole.42 In the following section on Occupy Wall Street I will highlight several ways that the Occupy movement has spread, both internal to the United States and abroad. With regard to Arab Spring, the Occupy movement itself has claimed it as an inspiration for its initial actions on Wall Street.43 On additional example of the expansion of discourse occurred in Honduras, where extensive protest actions contained signs proclaiming, ‘The corrupt have ripped apart my country’, and ‘Enough is enough’ (the group itself is called Indignados, ‘the outraged’). Every Friday for three straight months protesters have demanded justice in the face of government corruption that had emptied the coffers of the national health industry. For their part, organizers explicitly proclaimed that their actions constitute a ‘Central American spring’, with similar calls for the resignation of the president and massive institutional change to stave off corruption.44 Section II.ii: Occupy Wall Street There are two particular strands of the discourse that came out of the Occupy movement that I want to highlight, in addition to looking at the slogan that has come to define it, ‘We are the 99%.’ They are, first, that democracy – the rule of the people – does not actually exist in the United States. This sentiment echoes a recent and highly publicized study that concludes that ‘the people’ in any broadly understood sense of the term do in fact lack political agency in the United States, which is instead by and large controlled by a cadre of economic elites.45 The second is the overall mistrust of the ability of representational democracy to actually see to the needs and interests of the people they are purported to serve. The solution to both of these issues is the belief that more direct forms of democracy that occur in localized and face-to-face contexts are how we can construct democracy from the ground up. Running through the discourse of Occupy Wall Street is the idea that democracy does not exist in the United States, and that the notion that it does endures as a myth or a decoy that hinders real action towards achieving democracy in the country. One way that the recognition of this lack of democracy manifests itself is in a general mistrust of political representation, and the concomitant feeling that the people know what they want and need better than representatives who are not actually required to have their needs in mind.46 And yet, there is also a sense of hope that counters this sense of disappointment, and a belief in the ideals of democracy that have never been lived up to but that can serve as a guide for making real political change.47


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The concept of hope is obviously not confined to the discourse of the Occupy movement, but is present in each of the movements under discussion, playing an important role in each of their discourses as well as grounding my larger argument throughout the book. The feeling is that in contemporary society we don’t actually experience democracy in our daily lives, a sentiment that echoes the general mistrust of those who are supposed to be representing us and keeping our interests in mind.48 Together the lack of faith in representation and the importance of everyday life place the focus for cultivating democracy at the local level, where we can see concrete applications of the ideals of democracy being put into action at the expense of representation. One example comes from an offshoot of the Occupy movement in San Francisco, Occupy Homes Bernal. This group began to stop the auctions of houses that had been foreclosed on, a practice described by one participant as a ‘last-ditch effort’ to help some of those in need – their neighbours. From there they shifted their efforts to offer assistance before foreclosure became an option. She notes, ‘A lot of people were skeptical at first, but there are people who’ve gotten their loans modified through the work that we’ve done – their home would have been auctioned off, they would have been evicted. We feel like we’re doing something for our neighbors, at least’.49 In other words, when those who are supposed to represent your interests do not do so, those who are close by can band together to fill the gaps, cultivating a local community in the process and constructing democracy from the ground up.50 Another example of this sort of localized democratic practice is the direct action that has been organized around debt, which Sitrin and Azzellini contend has been the most concretely successful area that the Occupy movement has affected.51 The Debt Collective is a group organized around resisting and relieving the massive amount of debt distributed throughout the United States.52 One of their initiatives is the Rolling Jubilee, which bills itself as ‘a bailout of the people by the people’, and is an effort to cheaply buy and then cancel the debts of everyday people. As of this writing in early 2016, it has abolished nearly 32 million dollars worth of outstanding debt.53 These two examples illustrate ways that democracy has long been theorized and acted on through a connection to the local.54 Participants take heart and hope from these successes, along with the belief in the possibility of real democracy as they understand it. As one participant put it, the Rolling Jubilee ‘proves that the idea of mutual aid is alive and well in the greater population, and not merely a fringe, leftist ideal’.55 Such specificity and cultivation of relationships in local contexts yields the kind of solidarity that is expressed in the slogan that has come to be representative of the Occupy movement as a whole: ‘We are the 99%.’ The idea of mutual aid and of reaching out to others for assistance and support is

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intertwined with the solidarity that arose from the framing of the crisis around the idea of the 99%. This framing caused a shift in the perception of economic difficulties, shifting the focus – and the blame – from those individuals who found themselves dealing with economic hardships to the structures and systems that set them up to do so: ‘This empowering shift has resulted in increased sense of dignity in many realms of society. No longer is it an individual’s fault if her job has been cut and she loses her home – there is another explanation’.56 This sentiment spread from Zuccotti Park not only to related movements in the United States, but around the world as well.57 The proliferation and spread of the movements themselves is also an important part of the idea of semantic shift.58 In looking to some of the ways that these discourses have been taken up in other contexts we can glimpse the differences in how the dispersion of a movement’s discourse enacts different kinds of shifts depending on context. In September 2014 in Hong Kong an estimated 100,000 people occupied the financial district in a protest about universal suffrage. At issue was the decision of the Chinese government in Beijing to vet candidates for the election of leadership positions in Hong Kong.59 The position of the police force was that the protests were illegal and that by definition they were undemocratic insofar as they attempted to enact change from outside of the rule of law.60 This stance highlights an important thread that runs throughout not only this chapter but also the book as a whole, which is the tension between the inside and the outside of institutional formations. The subsequent chapters will engage with it from a theoretical perspective, but here we can note that the claim that protests are by definition illegal insofar as they sit outside the rule of law begs the question, since that which is under protest is the very way that the rule of law is defined. Furthermore, in the events of the Arab Spring we can see examples of the line being crossed such that protests reached such a critical mass that they did succeed in altering institutions from the outside, in that leaders such as Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak stepped down in the face of public action and outcry. Returning to the context of the United States I want to note two different actions that occurred in Oakland, California. The first is the 2011 general strike that was organized by Occupy Oakland, which Todd Chretien describes as follows: The call for a general strike arose from the specific situation of the police attacks in Oakland – officers from the city’s force and more than a dozen different departments unleashed a savage attack on Occupy protesters, causing critical injuries to one protester, a member of Veterans for Peace, who was struck in the head by a tear gas canister. But the call for a day of action on November 2 is about more than Oakland – it is an important new step for the Occupy Wall Street protest movement around the country.61


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Here we have a direct connection to the Occupy movement from one of its many satellite groups that sprung up across the country in the wake of the initial occupation in New York City. And yet, Chretien’s description of the event highlights the specificities of place and circumstance. It combined marches on several banks with the shutdown of the port and an address from Angela Davis. Oakland has a history of radical activism that the Occupy movement was able to tap into, keeping it vibrant far longer there than in many other places where encampments cropped up.62 Recent pre-Occupy history shows the willingness of Oakland’s residents to take to the streets in a show of popular protest against injustices, including the 2006 march for immigrant rights, the 2009 protests over Oscar Grant’s murder at the hands of the Oakland police department, and the 2010 protests by public school students and teachers over budget cuts.63 Another major Oakland protest action connects to the struggle for Palestinian human rights, drawing connections between movements in the United States to those abroad. Block The Boat was a march and protest that took place on August 16, 2014 in which thousands of activists for Palestinian rights assembled at the Port of Oakland in order to prevent an Israeli cargo ship from unloading.64 Though Block the Boat protest sits outside the direct orbit of the three movements that I am focusing on here, it deserves a mention. While we can talk about these movements as discrete entities, it is also clear that struggles as dispersed as these have several layers that thematically connect with one another. Black Lives Matter activists in the United States have expressed solidarity with the plight of Palestinians as well, which will be further discussed below.65 In addition to highlighting the porous borders between resistance movements, Block the Boat also underscores how the broad theme of democracy and self-determination in the Middle East, noted in the above exploration of the events of the Arab Spring, is a global issue with important actors from outside the region. We saw how Western influence can have negative and undermining effects, but the opposite remains possible as well. Returning to Occupy’s discourse, I have noted the shift in individual attitudes that occurred as the financial crisis wore on and its causes became more apparent, as individuals began to view their economic problems in less atomistic terms and more as an issue of solidarity against the interests of financial capitalism. On the one hand, we have this shift from atomism to solidarity regarding how individuals view economic problems in the United States. On the other hand, we can see a more general shift in public dialogue in the United States, with discussions on the sharply rising levels of inequality since the 1970s slowly coming out of the margins and into mainstream economic discussions in recent years.66 Below I will discuss some of the ways that this has happened, specifically emphasizing recent political campaigns,

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illustrating how much of an impact this expansion of public dialogue can have. For the moment I want to focus on the occupation itself as an act both in isolation and a part of something like a movement. After shifting to a discussion of Black Lives Matter in the next section I will return to the notion of a movement with regard to each of the three discourses, specifically through the lens of the leadership and demands. For now I want to note a distinction that Noam Chomsky makes with regard to Occupy specifically, but which is helpful more generally. Chomsky classifies the occupation of Zuccotti Park as a tactic rather than a strategy, adding that, ‘a tactic has a half-life; it has diminishing returns’.67 The distinction implicitly levels a critique surrounding organization broadly and leadership more specifically. Recall the distinctions set out at the beginning of this chapter about the different categorizations of social movements, with new social movements depending more on attitudes and the society at large rather than specific political outcomes. While it is true that members of Occupy were consistently reticent to state-specific goals, there were still a number of concrete direct actions that came directly out of the movement and managed to have a real impact. These returns were expanded through the implementation of localized direct action that were spawned by the solidarity engendered by the initial occupation, Occupy Homes and The Debt Collective being prime examples. Interviews with participants also show how the idea of strategy above and beyond tactics was recognized as necessary for looking past the initial occupations towards the sustainability of the movement for the future.68 This approach reflects the distinctiveness of the notion of new social movements insofar as it is an outlook that actively takes up the task of creating a new social world and polity from the ground up. Solidarity and collective action reflect the major concerns of the Occupy movement, including the distribution of power, agency, and voice to the population at large instead of allowing it to be concentrated in the hands of elites who do not have the interests of everyone in mind. The idea that the Occupy movement was able to give voice to those who had previously felt silenced runs throughout its self-understanding. A consistent refrain heard in the testimony of Occupiers across the country is that an important element of their action is that it gives them the opportunity to make their voices heard in a way that they felt was unable to happen previously.69 The sentiment is also phrased in terms of the fact that in direct democracy everyone becomes a leader as opposed to the many following the few: ‘Everyone is empowered to make decisions about what affects them’.70 Direct democracy, and with it the dual notions that everyone can be a leader and have their voices heard, reflect what David Graeber sees as the anarchist roots of the movement. He makes this connection explicitly


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in the face of those demanding that the movement institute a clear leadership structure in order to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the broader public.71 The rejection of traditional leadership structures will be discussed further below. It is helpful to note once again, though, how important it is to recognize possible equivocations with regard to the meaning of democracy. Conflating democracy generally with capitalism or neo-liberal economic policies elides forms of democracy that explicitly reject those latter modes of thought. As a result, political action that embraces democracy but not capitalism is rendered incoherent from the point of view of the status quo and serves to delegitimize direct democratic actions. Against this possibility, groups like Occupy can attempt to illustrate direct modes of democracy in order to undermine this supposed incoherence. I will return to this discussion below through the notion of prefigurative politics. Section II.iii: Black Lives Matter I will discuss the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement below; in this section I want to focus on the specifics of the language used to bring the discourse to life, which we can see immediately in the name of the movement itself. So, in considering the discourse of Black Lives Matter as a movement, before we even arrive at all of the different ways that the movement has protested and articulated itself, we begin with the phrase itself. More than Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, much of the discourse about Black Lives Matter as a movement has been constituted by its very name, which says, does, and demands so much on its own. Writing about Trayvon Martin, Lewis R. Gordon highlights a key point underlining the discourse of Black Lives Matter, including the phrase itself and why it is so important. Recalling words written by Du Bois in 1903 but that reflect current realities all too well, Gordon writes, ‘Zimmerman’s testimony seems to have functioned as ipso facto credible’, confirming Du Bois’ century-old observation that the Sanford, Florida police force, ‘was arranged to deal with blacks alone, and tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of the police’.72 In the case of George Zimmerman Du Bois’ words are even literally appropriate, since Zimmerman had previously applied to be a police officer and participated in a Neighborhood Watch group.73 The general point made by Du Bois and Gordon shows us exactly why the emphasis is so necessary, which enables us to push back explicitly on the reactionary push to claim that it is not Black Lives that matter but all lives. That general point is that, as citizens of the United States, we are confronted by two different claims with regard to citizens and the rule of law. This law states that all citizens are equal before the law, each deserving of the same protections and rights. On the one hand, we are confronted by this universal

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claim that is made through the abstract and seemingly neutral voice of the law and the Constitution. On the other hand, we have a specific and particular claim that is not made by the supposedly dispassionate and rational law of the land, but a claim that is shown and illustrated by the consistent actions of the law enforcement apparatus of the United States. This is the condition that Du Bois was confronted with in 1903, just as we are confronted with it every time a Black American is murdered by law enforcement. Black Lives Matter is asserted in the face of this gap between theory and practice, which is also a gap between the universal and the particular. A phrase that underscores the value of Black Lives on the one hand rejects universalization in favour of specificity. These lives and these bodies, in particular, must be emphasized and have their value asserted in the face of a set of institutions that, confirming Du Bois’ observation all these years later, does not see equal value in them. On the other hand, given the context of this sort of protest of particularity, it also makes a normative claim to universality, albeit a more robust or modified one. The only way to actually be able to see this relationship between the particular and the universal that is articulated in the phrase Black Lives Matter is to see how it operates in history and in context, which those who decry the emphasis on Black Lives fail to do.74 President Obama put this historical context in the following way: ‘I think the reason that the organizers used the phrase “Black Lives Matter” was not because they were suggesting nobody else’s lives matter’, he said. ‘What they were suggesting was, there is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address’.75 Put another way, white lives have always mattered in the United States, a status reflected both in the universality of the law and in the myriad ways that the law is practised; white lives have mattered both universally and particularly. Black Lives, in contrast, have ‘mattered’ insofar as they are theoretically included within the universality of the law. But that legal inclusion has not translated into treatment of the same kind, the very disparity noted by Du Bois and echoed by Gordon. The result is that to assert that Black Lives Matter is to emphasize this gap and attempt to remove it. This is why one Black Lives Matter leader denounced the rhetoric of All Lives Matter as a racial slur, noting, ‘White Americans have created the conditions that require a phrase like “Black Lives Matter.”’76 When the cries of Black Lives Matter are met with the alternative that All Lives Matter, this gap between the universal and particular that renders Black Americans second-class citizens not able to depend on the impartiality and protection of the rule of law is reproduced and reasserted. In such a context the claim that All Lives Matter does not actually function as a true universal, but instead invokes universal language in the service of a particular claim: Black Lives


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do not actually matter as much as white lives do. Such a context also grounds my claim that Black Lives Matter invokes a particularity in order to make the normative claim for an improved universality, one that would raise treatment of blacks up to that of whites as well as up to what is already guaranteed to them by law. Since its initial spontaneous formation in the wake of the George Zimmerman acquittal in 2013, Black Lives Matter, like the Occupy movement before it, has spread to many different communities across the United States and has been put to work in many different ways. Here I want to focus on one specific manifestation in order to shed light on how interconnected many issues and movements are. This is illustrated especially clearly with regard to new social movements, since their goals shift from specific and narrow to being dispersed and multifaceted. The national profile of Black Lives Matter increased greatly during and after the murder of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri at the hands of a police officer on August 9, 2014. Fifteen months later on November 9, University of Missouri System president Tim Wolfe resigned his post after having faced months of protests from students charging that he and the university administration ignored or downplayed several recent instances of racism on the flagship Columbia campus, in addition to refusing to acknowledge the university’s racist history – the university used slave labour when it was founded in 1839, and the state capitol was also built by slaves.77 The events in Ferguson, and the massive protests sparked by the injustices there, went unaddressed by the university. A year later, racial tensions simmered as school officials overlooked and downplayed the president of the Missouri Students Association repeatedly getting called a racial slur while walking through campus, a swastika being smeared in faeces on the wall of a new dormitory, and the Legion of Black Collegians being confronted by someone yelling racial slurs at them as they rehearsed a homecoming event.78 Students formed an activist group in response to these events called Concerned Student 1950, that year being when the university first enrolled a black student, and began holding protests and demanding the resignation of university officials.79 Jonathan Butler, a graduate student who went on a hunger strike as part of those protests, told the Washington Post about how lingering resentment on the part of students was a result of consistent inaction on the part of the university when confronted with racist acts, remarking, ‘There was national coverage [of Ferguson], so for the school to not cover that or really address that, and we are only two hours away, I think was a huge mistake on their part and contributed to the current cultural environment that we have’.80 After months of protests, a victory was gained with Wolfe’s resignation, which came along with several new university initiatives designed to address the

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issues highlighted by students, including a diversity officer, additional student support, and training for faculty, staff, and incoming students.81 This series of events that took place in fall 2015 was bookended by two others, the latter of which proved to be the final straw for the president and led to his resignation. What these two events have in common is their focus on economic interests, which reveal how interconnected different kinds of struggles are. More important, though, is the fact that concrete instances of these broader struggles show the different ways that demands get made in particular environments. Campus unrest began with the school’s decision to discontinue paying for health insurance for graduate and teaching assistants. That led to a graduate student walkout, several protests, and the first steps towards the formation of a graduate student union. As these student actions were underway, the campus was also dealing with the racist events and responses to them outlined above, leading to the protests and grievances to merge into a larger and more unified front in protest of the university administration.82 The second economically influenced event was the University of Missouri football team threatening to strike until Jonathan Butler, the graduate student on hunger strike, could eat again. The players effectively stated, then, that they would refuse to play until the university president was fired or resigned. Set to play against BYU on the upcoming weekend, the players’ strike brought heightened national attention to Butler’s actions and the nonresponses of the university.83 One facet of the players’ joining the protests is the fact that as athletes they are well known not only on campus but nationally. Another is that, in deciding to participate, the players showed solidarity with other Missouri students. One player involved talked of bridging the gap between student and athlete in the phrase student–athlete in order to connect with the broader community, noting, ‘Though we don’t experience everything the general student body does and our struggles may look different at times, we are all #Concerned Student1950’.84 Finally, there is the fact that, if they did not play their next game, there would be a significant economic impact for the school.85 The threat of significant economic sanction against one of the most public-facing aspects of the university is what finally caused the president’s resignation and the plan to move forward with recommendations to improve campus life. This threat of lost income was what ultimately ended the standoff between students and the administration, but we must not forget that the administrative actions that first sparked student protest in the fall of 2015 was the decision to rescind healthcare from graduate students in the name of cutting costs. These dual economic concerns overlap with student demands for the university to stand up to racism on campus, illustrating how issues of race and those of economics are not distinct from one another. A recent ACLU report concluded that black families will disproportionally feel the negative


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effects of the recession for decades to come.86 This is not mere coincidence, as the causes of the recession itself were grounded in predatory loans that overwhelmingly targeted people of colour.87 The relationship between race and economics reflected through the lens of the University of Missouri football team reflects recent issues concerning big money collegiate athletics, such as the efforts to unionize as university employees by Northwestern University’s football team and a lawsuit brought against the NCAA by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon.88 Race plays an ineliminable role in any discussion of sport, a point made especially salient by the fact that at Missouri, for example, 8% of the 27,654 undergraduates on the Columbia campus were black in 2014, according to enrolment figures.89 The figures are vastly different, however, when considering the roster of the football team, of which 65% is black.90 Furthermore, just as the economy at large has, over the last several decades, been taken over by neoliberalism, so has the world of higher education.91 Given all of that, the threat of a striking football team highlights the complexity of contemporary society, simultaneously bringing to the fore issues of economic exploitation, the increasing trend towards treating higher education as a business, the varied experiences of people of colour and racism that gets ignored in the name of stability and profit, and the power of solidarity to be able to fight back. In the background of the connection between economic interests and racism as they came together in Columbia, Missouri is that fact that historians of capitalism in recent years have argued against the thesis that racial and economic oppression could be conceived as distinct entities. They have concentrated on showing how slavery in the United States, far from being incidental to the economic development of the country, in reality was integral to its advancement. Edward E. Baptist shows how major developments in the capitalist economy, from forms of banking to interstate transport, were the direct result of the existence and demands of the slave trade. In short, without slavery and its attendant violence, capitalism as we know it would never have existed.92 While Baptist focuses more closely on the United States, Sven Beckert takes a more global approach, articulating how the massive wealth generated by the global cotton trade would not have been possible without the extreme violence of slavery.93 I have focused on this one specific expression of the Black Lives Matter movement to illustrate just that, its very specificity. When we talk about Black Lives Matter in a general sense we can only refer to the broad egalitarian conceptual point that, while the universal language of the institutions of the United States speaks of equality, its actions do not in fact treat ‘all lives’ that way; hence, the imperative of forcefully emphasizing that Black Lives Matter. This general and overarching point can only be further articulated in localized

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contexts in which the ways that this oppression is felt takes on a certain kind of character and connects to other struggles in particular ways. The victories won by students at the University of Missouri are just one of the many sites where local battles have been fought in the name of Black Lives. In going through this specific example and showing how the movement as a whole is put into action in context we can see how these contexts determine the details of political action. In this case, proximity to Ferguson and the killing of Michael Brown, the broader state history of Missouri, collegiate athletics, and the neoliberalization of university space all come together to form a singular site of resistance. Section II.iv: Social Media and Technology The use of technology and social media has played an outsized role in disseminating these slogans and the messages that accompany them, as well as in constituting the movements themselves in the first place. In doing so they have played a major role in what I am calling the semantic shift within societal discourse. The disparate nature of social media, however, highlights the issue of dissonances within the movements and internal disagreements leading to competing discourses, as well as the problem of the notion of an ‘official’ discourse of resistance. Sitrin and Azzellini argue that, while it is true that technology and social media is a novel feature of recent resistance movements the world over, this is not their defining feature. They write, ‘The communication tools have helped, but the essence of what is new in today’s movements is the collective construction of new social relationships – creating new spaces and territories’.94 I will focus on this latter point more below, regarding the new articulations of public space and the population that lives within it that results from democratic political actions. The internet and social media certainly provide novel means through which to be politically active and make attempts to influence political discourse. Such attempts in themselves are obviously not new, and have shifted with the ways that technology and the means to do so have shifted. In considering how digital technology has impacted these movements we would do well to heed the words of Howard Caygill, who acknowledges that, on the one hand, ‘The technical network for the movement of information or the internet has become a crucial site for contemporary resistance’, while noting that, on the other hand, this technology ‘had from the outset a Janus face, enhancing as much the capacity to dominate as the capacity to resist’.95 While techno-utopianism paints far too optimistic a picture of the promise of the liberatory power of the internet (witness the vile harassment that any woman encounters on a daily basis, as well as the coordinated anonymous bigotry of


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movements like GamerGate), it remains the case that it does harbour a real democratizing force.96 The challenge is to embrace the positive and liberatory uses of technology while remaining vigilant against the fetishization or valorization of its potential, which remains neutral. Outlets like Twitter and Facebook allow for the uncensored and unfiltered expressions of individuals and communities that have historically been denied a voice to air grievances against the powerful, especially regarding systematic injustices. These outlets do not fix these historic injustices, but they do provide outlets for the expression of those who are on the receiving end of them – expression importantly not mediated by those in power against whom grievances are being made. In doing so they provide at least a sufficient condition for making efforts to solve the problems in new ways. This is true across the spectrum of injustice and marginalization; in the instance of Black Lives Matter it showcases how police brutality against blacks could be consistently reframed and elided by those controlling the discourse. Insofar as the proliferation of forms of communication and popular broadcast has the effect of democratizing public space by giving popular voice to marginalized populations, it also carries with it a strong epistemological element. At the very least, the appearance of counter narratives and counter histories regarding the relationship between police and black communities forces a re-evaluation of the status of truth and knowledge surrounding certain discourses of power, freedom, and equality. It also allows for direct rebuttals and refusals of the official narratives.97 The success of social media in furthering these movements, however, cannot be denied. The different regimes in the Middle East that were roiled by the unrest in the aftermath of the Bouazizi’s suicide understood the role that these new avenues of communication and expression could play, though they dealt with them in different ways: ‘All the Arab regimes had understood over the years that close monitoring of the internet was far more efficient than its brutal prohibition’.98 There have been different levels of internet prohibition and freedom throughout the Arab states, with Egypt’s relative openness at the opposite end of the spectrum from Tunisia’s harsh restrictions: For example, Facebook was banned in Tunisia for ten days during the summer of 2008 in response to articles being circulated that were critical of the regime.99 The Egyptian campaign against the 2005 presidential election gained momentum from active online participants, while a similar movement in Tunisia against the hypocrisy of a world technology conference in Tunis the same year was stifled by security forces.100 In Egypt this momentum was continued in subsequent years as bloggers increased their online activism by exposing several cover-ups, including the murder of prominent cyber activist Khaled Said on June 6, 2010.101

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It was later that year, of course, that the Arab Spring ‘officially’ began in Tunisia, with online activists there putting to use what they had learnt from their counterparts elsewhere in the Arab world in online forums and at a 2008 gathering in Beirut – ensuring that the dissemination of the footage of the riots of December 2010 was essential to the uprisings’ continuation and eventual deposing of so many regimes, as well as making the protests visible to foreign media.102 Overall, writes Jean-Pierre Filiu, social networks and online discourse ‘were crucial in nurturing a community of shared grief and aspirations’. It is important to remember, however, that as important as online activism is to not only the Arab uprisings but also others around the world, it has not taken the place of non-virtual activism – it has enhanced and supplemented it.103 This important connection between online and offline activity must be retained in any analysis of the role of social media. In a widely circulated response to the way that the protests have been characterized in Western media outlets, Rabab El-Mahdi argues, In the case of Egypt, the recent uprising is constructed as a youth, non-violent revolution in which social media (especially facebook and twitter) are champions. The underlying message here is that it these ‘middle-class’ educated youth (read: modern) are not ‘terrorists’, they hold the same values as ‘us’ (the democratic West), and finally use the same tools (facebook and twitter) that ‘we’ invented and use in our daily-lives. They are just like ‘us’ and hence they deserve celebration.104

Focusing on established media as the force behind the articulation and definition of social actors and events is, however, at least somewhat a phenomenon consigned to the past. Calling the very idea of ‘Western media’ a ‘sham’, Habid Dabashi underscores the fact that the people on the ground and involved in these actions now have the ability to represent themselves in blogs and on Twitter and Facebook; the explanatory monopoly of days past is over: ‘We who are resisting power and tyranny have, by virtue of the new media and by virtue of our numbers, more agility to represent than those in power do’.105 These words echo those of the Occupy members calling for more direct democracy. Alongside that similarity we are also confronted by a crucial difference between them in terms of context. Recall from the discussion of the Arab Spring how the autocrats of the region attempted to stave of democratic movements by invoking the bogeyman of chaos that would result from selfgovernance (a move tacitly backed by Western governments). One aspect of that situation, then, that sets the democratic actions of the Arab Spring apart from those of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter is that the latter are


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not bringing to light a discrepancy within the very language of the regime it is challenging. In other words, protesters in the Arab revolutions are not calling out their leaders for not being democratic enough, they are calling them out for rejecting democracy. Yet there are further connections to be drawn between the movements. Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors has explicitly drawn connections between Black Lives Matter and other struggles of oppressed peoples around the world, especially in Palestine.106 During events in Ferguson, solidarity between those on the ground in Missouri and in Palestine was often explicitly evoked by both groups, as the military-like presence of the police in the former began more and more to resemble the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory. Occupy Wall Street also took inspiration from the recent global protests, including the beginning of the Arab Spring the previous year, as well as from earlier generations of protests in the United States, such as those against the Vietnam War.107 The presence and power of social media is again important here. The Black Lives Matter movement itself was born in the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in July 2013 of the murder of Trayvon Martin, when Patrisse Cullors shared a post on Facebook with ‘#blacklivesmatter’ appended.108 The fact that a movement that has played such an important role in the discourses surrounding police violence and race in the United States over the past few years was born with a hashtag on social media is illustrative of the shift in public discourse present in the contemporary world. Additionally, as with Black Lives Matter, the Occupy slogan ‘We are the 99%’ got its start on a Tumblr that revolved around sharing stories and experiences coming out of the recession.109 These reflections on the vexed nature of digital technology’s relationship to resistance movements can also be narrowed to focus on one of the guiding threads of this chapter, semantic shift. Digital technology and the internet have opened up an avenue for groups and movements to share ideas and spread their messages in new and more effective ways. One facet that stands out as different in kind when it comes to something like the internet, however, is the public nature of tools like Facebook, Twitter, or blogging more generally. In a strangely paradoxical way, acts that have no specific intersubjective or face-to-face relationship to them, such as a Facebook post that is sent out into the ether, is for that very reason able to spark something much greater. Saying something to no one in particular can sometimes speak to many different people in different ways. This dynamic, certainly alongside the seemingly always-increasing mania of the 24-hour news cycle, speeds up the rate at which ideas can spread and how far they can go. Movements, then, that did not exist on a given day can all of a sudden be a force to be reckoned with.

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Section II.v: Demands One of the major points of contention that surrounded Occupy Wall Street had to do with demands. On Sunday, September 25, only a handful of days into the initial occupation of Zuccotti Park, Mark Grief wrote, ‘I know people keep complaining that the occupiers don’t have a platform, but any real deliberative convention takes time, and these folks were strangers nine days ago’.110 The immediate rejoinder is that the critique misses the point, myopically unable to see the bigger picture: ‘All these people are complaining that the occupiers don’t have a clear agenda, a criticism that goes back to the Seattle WTO (and maybe beyond). Economic justice is the point. Doesn’t their presence on Wall Street say that?’111 There is also the point that one need not have a constructive alternative at the ready each time one finds something to disagree with – legitimate reasons for disagreement are enough. Even when this is the case, we can still discern goals and ideals through the actions that disagree. What are the causes? What is being rejected? In this chapter I will show how through political action we can perceive re-articulations of the body politic that are effectively being argued for by resistance movements. In subsequent chapters I will interpret political philosophies through a similar lens, offering interpretations that position the theoretical capacity for resistance in direct relation to a given notion of an ideal society. As one member of Occupy notes, ‘It is possible, I think, without being starry-eyed or overeager, to be hopeful. And it is OK to be hesitant. It is OK to want to get something but also not be sure exactly how to get it, or even what it is. If we have not precisely enumerated our demands yet, at least we know that we have them. We would like to get something’.112 And if we did demand from those protesting that they have a fully realized alternative programme at hand? Clearly the worry is that far too much of a theoretical onus is being placed on the oppressed to provide an alternative through their political action that would replace the status quo: What of the value of resistance that seeks only to destroy or subvert the status quo at all costs because of its sheer illegitimacy? Any consideration of resistance must not exclude these instances of political action. Raymond Geuss articulates why we must reject the view that, ‘one may criticize some doctrine or institution only if one has a positive alternative to it to propose’. He writes, ‘To accept it is to allow the existing social formation to dictate the terms on which it can be criticized, and to allow it to impose a theoretically unwarranted burden of positive proof on any potential critic’.113 We must be careful not to place this burden of proof on those who resist or criticize. We can make certain types of inferences that are based on the specific contexts of certain acts of resistance, how they are carried out, and what they are carried out in response to. The imagined possibility for a new


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social formation and order that can be gleaned from acts of resistance in context need not be a detailed plan. Specific acts of resistance underdetermine the particulars of a new social world, but we can nonetheless read from within them whether they are conservative or egalitarian based upon their details. The reasons for action in these instances offer enough of a guide to show us what such an imagined new and more egalitarian community might look like in broad outline. One can resist and not intend to posit this new social world in any explicit way insofar as one might participate in a collective action that taken as a whole implies new possibilities for the community. There is certainly no privileged class in a position to make these inferences. As someone interested in how we construct normative theories of equality and democracy, I have an interest in trying to incorporate this egalitarian inference at the conceptual and theoretical level of political philosophy. The philosophers with whom I engage in the following chapters offer us a series of lessons that, taken together, create a middle path for understanding resistance that takes the above considerations concerning resistance into account. The lack of specific demands within the Occupy movement is also found in many other movements across the globe that are catalogued by Sitrin and Azzellini.114 This generality is indicative of the fact that rather than particular changes within a given system, the overall existence of the system itself is being resisted and protested. Often called ‘walking and questioning’, an openended process of creation is at the centre of many of these movements, and gatherings are meant to open up direct democratic spaces for the convergence of ideas.115 As Judith Butler noted in her address to the Occupy encampment, ‘But it is true that there are no demands that you can submit to arbitration here because we are not just demanding economic justice and social equality. We are assembling in public, we are coming together as bodies in alliance, in the street and in the square. We’re standing here together making democracy, enacting the phrase, “We the People!”’116 This type of public alliance is carried out in the spirit of the rejection of governance in the interests of the few. That is why Shanna, a member of Occupy Troy in Albany, NY characterizes the Occupiers as having said, ‘“Screw the decision-makers – they’re not doing their job,” so we’re just going to protest, and there was no ask. And I think there didn’t need to be an ask, because it was just about letting people know it’s OK to protest, it’s OK to be angry’.117 An ‘ask’ is another way of referring to a demand, which by definition places those making demands in a position of weakness: ‘a demand is going to them and recognizing their power’.118 Todd May refers to this sort of sentiment as ‘active equality’, which he associates with the anarchist tradition, and so he positions himself alongside Graeber in connecting the Occupy movement with anarchism. Active equality does not rely on the state or any other institution to distribute values or goods that would ensure the equality of

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those to whom they were distributed. Against this passive version of equality, active equality sees citizens themselves demonstrate their equality through action and association.119 As one member of Occupy Wall Street puts it, The question we get asked constantly: ‘What do you want?’ And our answer is that you have nothing that we want. What we want is from one another as people. So we were having a conversation a while ago about the case of ACT UP!, which did direct action but also it did issue very specific demands, which was access to HIV and AIDS medication, which in that particular case does make sense because these companies do have something that they need to survive, and in that very immediacy it makes sense. I think when we are talking about the context of capitalism we can’t demand an end to capitalism, for example.120

Another way of specifying this difference is between ‘a campaign to change practice and a campaign to change power dynamics’; the kinds of large-scale goals without demands based around the latter are the kinds of goals that can ultimately be transformative at the societal level.121 We can clearly see here how these actions are illustrative of the distinction between new social movements and the three preceding theories. The example of ACT UP! is one instance where specific demands do in fact go together with resistance efforts, a time when, even as an entire system is under attack, very concrete and specific demands must be made. Occupy Homes, mentioned earlier, is a second, while another clear example can be seen in the Black Lives Matter movement: ‘Our demand is simple: stop killing us’.122 Whether there are specific demands being made by a movement or not, the overarching performative implication is that a new democratic people, with new political subjectivities, is being outlined through the insistence of certain voices now being heard.123 I will focus below more specifically on the formulation through action of a new social world, but note here that the phenomenon can be clearly seen in these particular actions. There are contradictions that come with attempting to balance these two sorts of goals, one set more concrete and internal to existing economic and political structures, and the second set more general and rooted in changing those structures themselves. The Rolling Jubilee, for example, was not ever going to alter the structure of the debt economy, nor did its organizers believe that it would. What it could do, however, was, on the one hand, make an actual difference in people’s immediate and everyday lives, and on the other hand, emphasize that a conversation about debt and its legitimacy belongs in the national discourse.124 Seen from this angle, actions that work within the system are not solutions to the larger problem, but can still serve as a means towards getting the larger problem recognized and subsequently discussed.


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The idea that specific demands are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for legitimate social movements relates to new social movements’ lack of specific policy proposals, which are the kinds of demands that critics often have in mind. As those kinds of demands recede into the background so does the idea that a movement must have a leader or figurehead at the top of a power structure. The dispersed nature of the movements, and their connection to direct action and reliance on social media, allow for many different ‘unofficial’ branches to organically come about in different places. Looking first to the Arab Spring we can see one way that a movement without a leader can succeed. I remarked above on the notable absence of ‘leaversaviours’ in the Arab Spring movements as connected to the language of democracy and the way that mass mobilization was taking place. In shifting from A Leader to leaders and the idea of ‘the people’ as a leader we end up at the idea that the Arab revolts are ‘open-ended’ and malleable in all sorts of ways. These ‘national heroes’ and the discourses surrounding them consisted in the inevitable stagnation of their movements, as they were completed once power was taken – they were ends in themselves and not forward looking in the way that a more democratic movement must be insofar as it seeks to incorporate the diversity of views within the population.125 But this new way of viewing and understanding these moments of revolt necessitates a shift in our framework to analysing them, since the old categories no longer fit. We can begin to formulate a modified understanding of what it means to talk about movements and their leaders from the success of online activism that allows for a dispersal and proliferation of roles, and many scholars have begun to do so, many with regard to each of the three movements under discussion here.126 The theme of the rise of digital activism points to the potential for movements to succeed without clearly defined leadership roles, and also points to the broader concerns and goals of new social movements as connected to social identities and attitudes towards them as opposed to specific institutional goals directed at singular grievances. The shift away from such a targeted and specific union of grievances and goals brings with it the shift away from individual figureheads to lead the way. Marcia Chatelain voices some of the frustration with the ways that these old categories for identifying social movements stubbornly persist: ‘I hate it when I hear people call Black Lives Matter leaderless. If there are no leaders, then who is getting the word out? Who is getting the young people on buses and cars to appear before state houses and to lie down in train stations? Who is sending out the calls for protests? Who is managing the social media presence? Leaders, that’s who. I think women are leading without suggesting they are the only leaders or that there is only one way to lead. Some of the criticism of Black Lives Matter as ‘leaderless’ is generational. It isn’t a coincidence

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that a movement that brings together the talents of black women – many of them queer – for the purpose of liberation is considered leaderless, since black women have so often been rendered invisible. Across history, any time a movement has had black women at its helm or in its leadership – from Ida B. Wells and the Niagara movement to Ella Baker in the Civil Rights Movement – there have been sexist and racist attempts to undermine them. The most damaging impact of the sanitized and oversimplified version of the civil rights story is that it has convinced many people that single, charismatic male leaders are a prerequisite for social movements. This is simply untrue’.127

This line of thinking is illustrative of the shift that has occurred in the study of social movements more broadly, as discussed at the outset of this chapter. Additionally, however, her remarks also highlight another facet of the historical role of the leader within social resistance movements: the fact that it has been understood as not only singular but also male. Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza writes of ‘the theft of black queer women’s work’.128 Similarly, Treva B. Lindsay argues for a ‘Herstorical’ approach, with the goal of bringing black women and girls, queer, and trans* individuals into the conversation on anti-black violence.129 This involves a shift in perspective regarding what is already – and has been already – happening, rather than a call to alter the practices of protest and resistance. As Marcia Chatelain notes, ‘Women across the generations are participating in this movement, but I think we’ve had a wonderful opportunity to see especially young, queer women play a central role. It’s important to recognize that while they are organizing on behalf of victims of police brutality and cruelty broadly, they have to constantly remind the larger public that women are among those victims too’.130 One way that activists have put this frustration to work is through a campaign called Say Her Name, which highlights how semantic shift can occur within movements themselves in addition to impacting the meaning of discourse in society more broadly. Say Her Name is a response to Black Lives Matter that attempts a shift towards broader inclusivity, seeking to highlight the fact that the common framing of the Black Lives Matter movement – and the injustices that it emphasizes – focuses disproportionately on the plight of black men and boys, while other black subject positions are rendered just as vulnerable by the existing system. The campaign itself references the need to speak the names of the women who had been victims of the carceral state and white supremacy in the United States, many of whom do not make the national news in the same way that male victims have.131 Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice became household names, while Natasha McKenna, Tanisha Anderson, Michelle Cusseaux, Aura Rosser, and Maya Hall have not.132


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Say Her Name therefore functions as a way to dig deeper into the language of ‘Black Lives Matter’, highlighting those lives that tend to be overlooked even within a movement that is dedicated to shining a light on certain ways that a wide swath of population is ignored. We have now seen some of the ways that the discourses of each of these three movements have been structured and imparted meaning to public discursive space. We are now in a position to outline the challenges to public spaces and their potential for meaning that each movement affects, which will occur in the following section. Before we move to that discussion I want to reiterate how these movements pose a semantic challenge to the societal status quo. Semantic challenges forcefully reframe the parameters of the dominant discourse and transform public space and its potential meanings. Ultimately, such an alteration of the public discourse asserts the existence and importance of new or as-yet-unrecognized social identities. It also subsequently allows us to see how society might be refashioned through the work that the movements are doing. This amounts to the task of interpreting how these movements, through their political actions, rearticulate ‘the people’. Section III: Rearticulating the People Semantic shifts pose challenges to the potential meanings of public space and its discourse by challenging how terms, meanings, and identities function within that space of the status quo. The shifts in the semantic terrain that we have looked at in these three movements insist upon the necessity of new ways of speaking about race, class, and democracy. Furthermore, they do so in very specific contexts and against very specific backgrounds. While we can discern general ways that the shifts take place, particularized political actions by particular individuals and groups are indispensable for gaining an understanding about how these movements and their discourses are able to spread. At the general level, we can highlight the primary lens through which a semantic shift has taken place in each of the movements, as I have tried to reconstruct them here. Occupy Wall Street used the frustration borne of the recession of 2008 to highlight how Wall Street and the financial system in the United States were implicated in massive and growing income inequality. The language of the 99% became mainstreamed as a rallying cry against a system that saddled most ordinary citizens with massive amounts of debt. The Arab Spring placed the language of democracy and self-determination, on the one hand, against the legacy of authoritarianism in many of the region’s nations, and on the other hand, against the Western tendency to equate democracy with neo-liberal capitalism. Such a positioning of democracy forcefully raises

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the question of what forms democracy can or should take as it grows out of varied contexts across the globe. Black Lives Matter foregrounded the radical disparity between the avowed ideals of the United States and the long history of its practices. In doing so it also emphasized that the problem is not that those ideals were once lived up to but were subsequently lost. Instead, the reality is that they have never been instantiated in the universal way that their language would seemingly dictate. Hence, the necessity of actually asserting that specifically black lives do in fact matter, the statement of which simultaneously reveals that the universal rhetoric of ‘All Lives Matter’ is merely a way of re-instantiating a long history of racism. Viewing the discourses of political resistance through the lens of the notion of semantic shift is helpful because doing so illustrates one imaginative and hopeful facet of these movements. Despite the fact that many mainstream commentators have been reluctant to take different aspects of the movements seriously, we can still see concrete ways that they have had an impact on their own terms when we look at them through this lens. We are shown, through language and action, how a new social and political world might come into being. We can interpret resistance discourses along these lines without claiming to see what political actors are ‘really’ thinking, and without imputing motives or psychological states to those actors. It is certainly possible given their disparate nature that there exist multiple and/or conflicting articulations. It is also possible, even likely, that these arguments are not made explicit by political actors. In arguing that one is able to read arguments for visions of a future polity off of political action, I do not at all mean that we can discern through action what actors are ‘really’ thinking; my point has nothing to do with psychological or mental states, or ascriptions of intentions to individuals. Instead, my claim that in analysing the discourses and actions of social movements we can discern re-articulations of the people has to do with meaning, actions, and the structure of public space. When I claim that we can see a ‘re-articulation of the People’ coming through the discourse of the movements discussed above, what I mean is that resistant political actions and the language surrounding them at least implicitly carry within them a vision of a new society. This vision need not be highly determined or detailed, though it could be. The point is that discourses project images of possible futures that are challenges to the present, and if we are attentive to how this happens in different singular cases within singular contexts, then we will better be able to think about how we construct our conceptions of just, equal, and free societies and institutions. In an entirely vacuous article written soon after the occupation of Wall Street had begun, a New York Times reporter dismisses the action as a ‘carnival’ and an ‘intellectual vacuum’, claiming that any cause was ‘virtually


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impossible to decipher’. She then chastises the ‘lack of cohesion’ of those gathered due to different answers being given to the question of what they want.133 This sort of analysis reveals only how deeply entrenched the status quo is even among those who are meant to vigilantly critique it, with kneejerk conservatism functioning as a full-throated defence of the existing social order. One year later the same publication was literally claiming that Occupy Wall Street would not be remembered in history books, describing it as a ‘fad’. And yet the next lines immediately acknowledge that Occupy has ‘created an important national conversation about economic inequality and upward mobility’, including making the phrase ‘We are the 99%’ not only a ubiquitous part of public discourse but also an important part of Obama’s 2012 campaign strategy.134 It is helpful here to recall the distinctions between new social movements and previous ways of understanding how movements coalesced, which was around a particular shared grievance and with regard to resources and strategy or opportunity. These facts about the way that Occupy injected its concerns into the discourse at large is in fact the general way that new social movements want to proceed, cultural attitudes being the primary target rather than specific legislation. For all the hand-wringing over the lack of specific goals it remains quite clear in light of sober analysis that the way its goals were being expressed was simply at odds with the usually toothless incrementalism favoured by the entrenched political class. The fact remains that the language of the 99% became commonplace and played a large role in the 2012 presidential election. When Mitt Romney played into his role as class warrior for the 1% in his infamous 47% speech, the public outrage built on top of the discursive edifice built by the Occupy protests and the shift in public attention.135 Black Lives Matter protests have marked the landscape of the 2016 presidential primary season alongside the economic concerns that have taken centre stage because of the campaign of Bernie Sanders.136 The notion that discourses of political resistance rearticulate the People necessarily includes ideas of public space and what it means – and can mean. Protests, signs, strikes, artistic production, speeches, debates, sit-ins, and any other mode of political action give alternate meanings to public space in terms of who is seen as at home in it and belonging to it. Democratic citizens have equal claim to public space and the ability to be at home within it as they go through the world on a daily basis. Think of the murders of Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, and John Crawford III, to take only three examples. Three Black Americans, three people murdered by police officers who saw in them a threat that needed to be neutralized, a threat that was thought to exist simply by virtue of existing in public in ways that are meant to be safe. Only a moment’s consideration of a counterfactual in which each of them were white is enough

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to illustrate the inegalitarian manner that public space is constructed in the United States with regard to race. Actions that resist, for example, this particular state of society assert the elided necessity of a sense of being at home in the world, and of feeling safe in public space. Many of the recent high-profile police killings of black men and women revolve around the sheer inability of people of colour to move through society freely and equally. Occupy Wall Street has a different target, but the implication about public space and public life remains the same. Capitalism reaches deep into nearly every facet of our daily lives, potentially affecting each and every decision that we make. One consequence of this fact is that public space is increasingly privatized and commodified, transforming the sufficient condition for participating from the egalitarianism of citizenship to the inegalitarianism of the market. It is, then, no coincidence that the members of Occupy took up residence in Zuccotti Park, a supposedly public park. As Mark Grief remarked, ‘The idea of the occupation, to me, is to remind everyone that Wall Street belongs to the City of New York, the banks’ money belongs to the people who have temporarily parked some of it with them (hoping they’ll do some good with it), and the rules they play by ultimately come from us’.137 A member of Occupy Farms – Berkeley draws an even further distinction, between land that is private, land that is public, and land that is of the people.138 The addition of a space of the people highlights the shortcomings of the current distribution of power. Indeed, the ostensibly public park was not even public at all, at least not in any politically meaningful sense of the term. It was and is owned by Brookfield Properties, and sits adjacent to a Wall Street office building also owned by them. ‘Public’, it would seem, connotes space only conditionally for all, as long as those whose use conforms to its capitalistic owners’ notions of what space ought to be used for, rather than connoting space equally available to all as equal members of the public, of the polity. In explaining his decision to take police action to evict the Occupiers, Mayor Bloomberg remarked, ‘New York City is the city where you can come and express yourself. What was happening in Zuccotti Park was not that.’ The Occupiers were, he added, ‘making [the park] unavailable to anyone else’.139 Furthermore, regarding the court order holding up the eviction of the protesters, Bloomberg also commented that, the ‘court’s ruling vindicates our position that First Amendment rights do not include the right to endanger the public or infringe on the rights of others by taking over a public space with tents and tarps’.140 In his words we can see just what conception of ‘public’ is at play, one that does not reflect a space that is a space of the people in full. As one man who was waiting to re-enter the park after it had reopened noted, ‘You have to walk through a gantlet of officers, it’s all about control’.141


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Political action that seeks to reorder our notions of public space, then, fights to create a conception of public that precludes its being commodified such that public spaces are actually separated from any notion of the public good. For, surely, the decisions taken surrounding Zuccotti Park on behalf of the private real estate company that owns it, along with the city, were taken with the private interests of private capital in mind rather than those of the citizenry at large. The Arab Spring, too, was initiated by a one person’s rejection of the purposefully dense bureaucratic tangle that rendered it impossible to engage in a public marketplace. In this case it was not the interests of capital that were being rejected, but the interests of state authoritarianism. The protests that arose all over the region in the months after Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation represent a large-scale effort to make the spaces of society open for the people rather than solely in the service of those in power. Expanding and building upon the demands being made on behalf of the public good by those involved in the uprisings entails laying claim to the newly emerging public space.142 In the connection between the movements’ discourses and their notions about meaning within the public sphere we can discern ideas about democratically remaking the social and political world. These actions and ideas carry within them reformulated notions of what it means to be a member of the given polity, effectively making an argument for a re-articulation of ‘the people’ on the basis of the grievances given voice through the movements. Democracy is the tool with which these peoples ensure that the spaces of society remain open spaces to everywhere in the face of the drive of privatization.143 The notion of a ‘people’ as I am using the term, including its articulation and re-articulation, is intimately connected to that of founding. Western political theory has been concerned with foundations from its inception. The tendency within this tradition, from Plato and Aristotle onward, has been to make every attempt to conceive of a way to ensure the solidity and stability of society by providing the conceptual tools to understand how a legitimate state could be brought into being. From the elaborate thought experiment of Plato’s Republic to theories of the social contract to contemporary democratic proceduralism – along with much else in between of course – each give criteria that, given their satisfaction, provide a rational and secure foundation for society. All that remains is the policing of the said criteria. The paradox of founding logically highlights one problem with such an approach.144 That is, any first step in founding a political order requires some procedure to ensure the legitimacy of that order. Any such procedure would already have to be a part of the order itself in order itself, though, in order to be a legitimate source of order. This means that any first step of legitimate founding cannot exist since it would have to be based on a previous step.

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The only way to create an initial founding step, then, would be through sheer force, which lacks normative force and so is by definition illegitimate.145 As Frank Michelman puts the point, ‘If someone told you to write a book whose every chapter begins with the terminal sentence of an immediately preceding chapter, your problem wouldn’t be an inability to complete the task, but rather an inability to begin it’.146 Legitimacy is at the core of the paradox of founding.147 As a result, it might seem as though we are at an impasse with regard to political legitimacy, since it seems as though legitimacy itself is merely an illusion in the face of the paradox of founding. It certainly does look like it shows us that the construction of a political order from scratch is cut off from us. We are not, however, actually ever in the position of attempting to found societies from scratch, nor have we ever been. What we are in the position to do, as always, is negotiate the present with regard to the past and future and make every attempt to improve social and political conditions based on our democratic ideals. Serdar Tekin rightly remarks, ‘Even though the paradox of founding is logically irresolvable, it can be politically negotiated in such a way as to relax and untighten its grip’.148 When I talk of rearticulating the people I am also talking of refounding the whole of society. The re-articulation of a people is a way of refounding the people in the face of the paradox of founding. This sort of negation will certainly not do anything to remove the paradox, but instead recognizes that the paradox arises due to our worldly condition, of already existing socially and politically, even if only in some minimal sense, before we begin to reflect on our social and political lives. The importance of resistance comes to the fore, along with the recognition that the purity of origin must be left behind, as it is one way that the essential work of negotiation occurs; it is also true that ‘the people themselves are never “the people”, insofar as they have reached the limit of the pure expression of their unified essence, ‘the people’ as a singular noun remains open to the future’.149 Political action generally, and acts of resistance specifically, look towards this open future and attempt to make it determinate. The different ways that they do so create the outlines for different instantiations of a given people, against the background of its historical and material context. There does not have to be one singular vision of a new people, but several, and these different possibilities do not necessarily preclude one another. Imagination plays an integral part of the political negotiation included in resistance and its attendant re-articulation of the people against the backdrop of the paradox of founding. Imagination, furthermore, is only possible against the background of history and experience.150 Acts of resistance as I am discussing them utilize a faculty of political imagination that is a matter of thinking and believing otherwise, while recognizing the limits and constraints of history and circumstance. In interpreting concrete actions of resistance


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in order to construct the new vision of society that they imply necessitates imagination as well. Furthermore, since we cannot escape the paradox of founding, actions and their interpretations are in a constant conversation with one another, with neither able to take precedence over the other. Despite the existence of both continuities and discrepancies, we can ask ourselves, what articulations of the ‘the people’ do we see at work beneath the surface of these discourses? No matter if there are internally inconsistent visions available. We are not looking to extract some fully fleshed out political theory, but instead looking to see what we can learn, from the perspective of political philosophy, from the vast complexities of real politics. The rejection of representational democracy that we see in the Occupy movement signals one kind of semantic shift. I have noted already how more direct conceptions of democracy are being used to replace the representative variety through various modes of direct local action. Whether action points towards a rejection of representational politics in favour of direct models, as in the larger discourse of Occupy; concentrates efforts within current institutional structures, both locally and nationally, while retaining the broader goal of systematic change, as Black Lives Matter has done; or asserts the truth of democracy and the public power of a people to determine the terms on which society is structured in the face of authoritarianism, as in the Arab Spring, we can see some form of prefigurative politics, in that they each do their utmost to model a better world that they are attempting to will into existence.151 Several of the localized efforts of Black Lives Matter productively illustrate a tension that runs through discussions of resistance, which is also exemplified in the debates surrounding the necessity and articulation of demands. Demands and goals are not the same thing, and the point made above still stands: when you make a demand, you are demanding something from someone who has the power to bestow it. While members of Occupy have explicitly rejected the logic of demands, we can see it as well in many of the actions taken by Black Lives Matter activists. Specifically, they have engaged in certain ways with the institutional status quo in order to force it to change in accordance with their goals. There is a certain nuance present in how different branches of Black Lives Matter try to systematically alter the societal fabric of the United States, a nuance that tells us something about different modes of rearticulating ‘the people’. Crudely put, it involves the dichotomy of inside the system and outside of it. Rejecting the logic of demands rejects the system itself and so makes attempts to get things done externally, without relying on the system at all. This is the tactic endorsed by many Occupy offshoots, as well as by much of the anarchist tradition. Accepting the logic of demands, and with it the institutional structure of getting things done the ‘right’ way is to remain inside the

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system and its possibilities. The middle ground between the two, however, is an incredibly fruitful path for resistance to take. It involves recognizing the importance of institutional structures, and so working with and interacting with them, while also starting from the idea that these institutions are failures and need more than just reform. Black Lives Matters activists confronted many of the candidates during the presidential primaries in the first half of 2016, forcing them to engage with issues of institutional racism and mass incarceration.152 Democratic candidates were even questioned pointedly about the issues at the first Democratic debate of the primary season, the moderator asking, ‘Do black lives matter or do all lives matter?’153 Bernie Sanders was publicly challenged by Black Lives Matters activists at a Netroots Nation town hall meeting, where they pressed him on issues of structural racism.154 In local primary races, Black Lives Matter activists also campaigned hard against the incumbent prosecutors responsible for cases surrounding the police murders of Laquan McDonald in Chicago and Tamir Rice in Cleveland. In Chicago, activists successfully campaigned against Cook County prosecutor Anita Alvarez, while in Cleveland they did the same against Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty; both were voted out of office.155 In Chicago a constellation of activist groups – Black Youth Project 100, Assata’s Daughters, and Black Lives Matter Chicago – joined forces to campaign against Alvarez. Importantly, they did not endorse Alvarez’s opponent, Kim Foxx. In a statement released in the aftermath of the election, Assata’s Daughters wrote, ‘Black youth kicked Anita Alvarez out of office…we won’t stop until we’re free and Kim Foxx should know that as well’.156 In the campaign, a significant part of which was the online hashtag campaign, #ByeAnita, we can see how activists are taking control, as much as they can, rather than making demands. It is true that in some sense they are demanding transparency, accountability, and justice. Yet through their actions they are making sure that those come from the power of the people of Chicago. In not endorsing Kim Foxx they make clear that just because she bested Alvarez on a platform agreeable to local activists, they will hold her just as accountable as they were able to hold Alvarez. In this way they hopefully – time will tell – avoid a Pyrrhic victory of simply putting a new face to old problems. The campaign against Alvarez highlights a point about the dispersion of movements, which we also saw evidenced above when discussing various localized offshoots of the Occupy movement. At this point the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ serves as synecdoche, the name being the goal that is put into practice by different community and activist groups. This is done in all sorts of ways, a few of which were just noted. There is the recognition that there is no single model of how to go about having an impact, since local contexts matter so much, including what specific needs are at specific times and


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in specific places.157 This means that in order to be successful and remain so, activists must consistently adapt tactics and modes of resistance. The overarching abstract goals of equality and justice, and a democratic society, remain, but must always be given specific form and content. The openness and ever-changing paths of these movements highlight a certain sense of dissonance, both internal to the movements themselves and external among them. Positivity and hopeful rhetoric that comes along with the idea of rearticulating and refounding ‘the people’ must be taken alongside the sometimes-great divergences that we find in them between and among groups. The potential dissonances within and without the movements point us towards the idea that even on the best of foundations, the possibility of the legitimacy of a social order that exists beyond contestation remains an illusion. This point adds to the logical structure of the paradox of founding noted above by underlining the fact that, even if there is general agreement that change is necessary, and even if there is further agreement about certain steps that ought to be taken, the specificities of ever-localized needs will tend to create dissonances in strategies and tactics. This is not a negative consequence. A virtue rather than a vice, such a consequence allows for society to express itself more fully, not in the sense of externalizing some internal essence or character, but instead allows for the continual outward creation of its own character through action and negotiation of contingent circumstance. Indeed, in subsequent chapters I will provide successive ways of interpreting political theories that emphasize how the conceptual recognition of resistance and contestation enhances the potential for equality, democracy, and freedom within society. Ultimately, democratic legitimacy entails resistance. By that I mean that, whereas in the traditional discourse of founding that logically falls into the paradox, the re-articulation of ‘the people’ that I am arguing for grounds a democratic legitimacy that obviates the need for the first step in the foundational apparatus that leads to the paradox in the first place. The act of founding is transformed into perpetual acts of refounding. The reason that I gloss the notion of refoundation as re-articulation is the language of articulation speaks to the way that the discourses of resistance themselves do the work of such a re-articulation. The gaps that exist between no demands, specific demands, and abstract demands are representative of this continual negotiation and obviation of the paradoxical element of political foundations. These gaps run through these resistance movements, and resistance movements more generally, despite the fact that the overall goal of system change remains. The latter is put to use, creating the former, so that abstract agreement at one level does not preclude more specific demands regarding the everyday experiences of those who are protesting.158 Democratic legitimacy is not an unchanging structural foundation that supports various subsequent policies. It is an orientation and

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a potential for continual political activity that asserts and reasserts equality. Its foundation, then, is an openness to this drive towards equality whose work is never done, a drive that does not operate under the illusion that its horizon is fixed and therefore attainable. One way that the performative redefinition of democracy occurs is through retaking public space, insofar as political actors construct public space in such a way that they enable a political space for people to come together.159 In and through such a retaking of space in the context of the Arab Spring, we can again see the distinction between demand and goal with regard to a re-articulation of ‘the people’. The subjectivity of Arab subjects has historically continually been defined at least partially through Western actions. Looking to the history of the Middle East through the lens of how these political subjects have come into being over time, Hamid Dabashi writes, ‘The history of the formation of the modern Muslim subject is one of de/subjection, the very microcosm of the function of the formation of the modern colonial subject, without the militant dismantling of which we as a people will never be free’.160 The Arab uprisings are a collective undoing of a long succession of ways that Muslim subjects have been coded by Western nations, a large-scale restructuring and decentring of the way that the global order is seen and understood.161 Dabashi here echoes the way that dignity and self-determination are factors separating this era of Arab resistance movements from those of the past. Despite much of the early optimistic prognosticating, the region involved in the Arab Spring has descended into violence in more recent years. But even the earlier days of optimism contained the recognition that there was no easy path. Even as ‘the Arab revolution’ was being hailed as ‘democratic, popular and inclusive’, and inspiring ‘a heterogeneous coalition of movements’ from across the region, in the same breath was the warning, ‘it will suffer backlashes, betrayals, defeats and vicious repression’.162 It is not my goal here to adjudicate the current plights of the region’s disparate state and non-state actors. I will note, however, that it does not seem far-fetched to believe that the revolutions themselves have ended, and the current period of unrest is the time after which we will be able to judge whether the term ‘revolution’ itself was ever accurate. As Asef Bayat notes, ‘The question is not if the threat of counter-revolution is to be expected; the question rather is if the “revolutions” are revolutionary enough to offset the perils of restoration’.163 That the region has been engulfed in violence in the years since the movement began is only more evidence for the necessary ‘revolutionary vigilance’, without which all manner of backsliding is possible.164 While there has certainly already been such regression, the democratic revolutionary spirit that animated the initial protests can still be recaptured in the face of the post-mortems for the Arab Spring, which have certainly already begun. One philosopher writes,


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There is no doubt that the Egyptian revolt (rather than revolution), just like the Iranian one before it, was a democratic overthrow of tyranny. As Machiavelli, Spinoza, and other astute historical materialist political philosophers have long recognized, it is the tyrant who has most to fear. But, there is also little doubt that the theocracy that Egypt’s most popular leaders, the Muslim Brothers, sought in Egypt and still seek elsewhere is decidedly undemocratic.165

In retrospectively evaluating the trajectory of a movement we can see the important distinction between revolution and revolt. The former brings actual lasting change and the hope that comes with a refoundation of society under the aegis of democracy. The latter, however much it has in common with revolution at its source, moves instead towards a redeployment of authoritarian repression. In these terms, the potential revolution was surely over after August 14, 2013, the day of the Rabaa massacre of Muslim Brotherhood supporters at the hands of the armed forces, an act that was later deemed a crime against humanity in a Human Rights Watch report.166 Syria is also a site of massive failures to push forward any broad agenda of change in concert with other Arab nations. In the face of pan-Syrian, nonsectarian efforts against him, in order to consolidate his power Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad provoked a civil war instead of attempting to negotiate any genuine process of reform, according to British-Syrian writer Robin YassinKassab. The civil war continues to this day, sparking the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.167 Fostering sectarian divisions and aiding the rise of ISIS, Assad bet that international actors would side with his regime if they became faced with the choice of either that or the threat of Islamic extremism.168 Against the failures and tragic turns of the Arab Spring, however, there is also already the attempt to resurrect the hope that once grounded it and made it seem so promising. A new book by Yassin-Kassab and human rights activist Leila Al-Shami, Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, attempts to harness that hope through a return to the stories and ideas of those who continue to fight against Assad and his regime, and who have not given up hope of a liberated Syria.169 This is an especially important act because the global conversation about Syria has, in line with Assad’s intentions, become one about ISIS and regional stability, all too easily eliding the fact that in the shadow of the ongoing civil war there are still important stories to be told about Syrian activists working for democracy.170 This is the type of work that needs to continue with regard to each of the movements discussed here, to ensure that the debates surrounding them remain grounded in the people and actions at their centre. A journal founded in the spirit of Occupy has continued to publish, branching out from economic concerns to encompass all manners of contemporary oppressions and

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responses to them.171 This sort of broad mindedness is a necessity moving forward for democratic resistance movements, an emphasis that has also been played out in the Democratic presidential primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. The focus on an economic message coming out of Occupy was taken up by Bernie Sanders, though the discourse of his campaign needed to make clearer all of the ways that a focus on economics does in fact include and is constituted by concerns about feminism and race. Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street are conjoined in that way, though you would not know it from the way the election has played out. These connections, already being stressed by many activists and writers, need to continue. Reflecting on the Occupy movement in the wake of what many commentators deemed its failures and its regression into crisis, Mark Chou asks whether the idea of a crisis of democracy is in fact such a negative outcome. Instead, we might think of democracy as something that can never be finished, and so any crisis internal to it can be negotiated towards democratic renewal.172 Crises, then, do not signal that democracy is a lost cause. Crises of democracy point towards challenges and problems that need solving, but that can be solved democratically. One of the tasks that such a stance brings to light, however, is that we must be clear about what we mean by ‘democracy’ if we are going to articulate its importance.173 This is a theoretical issue, but one that must remain connected to both the historical development of the idea of democracy and the actions and political movements carried out in its name. One of the goals of this book, and its juxtaposition of this snapshot of resistance movements and theoretical explorations of democracy and equality is to sketch an outline of a kind of theoretical apparatus for doing democratic political philosophy that can incorporate the importance of crisis and resistance while recognizing the importance of real democratic and insurrectionist politics. As we take stock of these three movements and the necessarily incomplete pictures of them that I have offered here, we can use the dual complementary lenses of semantic shift and rearticulating ‘the people’ to provisionally bridge the gap between political philosophy and political action. The result is something like a responsive and dialectical relationship between the two that yields an improved understanding of democracy in context. Actions and their contexts are not fully subsumable to theories of politics, and the ideals that political philosophies vastly underdetermine the possibilities for action on the ground. One of the goals of this chapter has been to highlight the complexities and layers of different sorts of resistance movements in order to mount a challenge to political philosophy: the latter must, in recognizing the former, adapt to make itself more flexible and democratic. One consequence of such a shift is a heightened sense of the importance of interdisciplinary work within political philosophy. In the remaining chapters of this book I highlight a


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second consequence. Namely, to read and interpret existing democratic and egalitarian political philosophies in new ways that open them up to being more responsive to the concrete political actions that take place in the real world. Another overarching theme that I want to draw out of these reflections is that we are looking at distinct ways that individuals and groups assert and claim power to define how they want to live together. Despite the great divergences in context and (still unfolding) outcomes, we can connect the three movements discussed here together and begin to see an outline of the notion of a democratic polity, or a ‘public people’. Democratic legitimacy is a fundamental characteristic of a public people. As a function of democratic legitimacy, a public people is never fixed, but is continually renegotiated. The condition of legitimacy is constituted by both social and cultural sensibilities and attitudes that foster and promote openness, flexibility, and empathy and institutions that are constructed specifically to foster those sensibilities. A democratic polity, then, is grounded in democratic legitimacy and characterized by democratic sensibilities. In the words of David Harvey, ‘People – on the street, in the squares – are what really matter in the end. That’s the only political force we’ve got’.174

notes 1. Caygill, On Resistance, 6–7. 2. Many thanks to Allison McGrath for her knowledge and guidance regarding the literature on social movements. 3. Buechler, ‘The Strange Career of Strain and Breakdown Theories of Collective Action’; McAdam, Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930–1970, 2nd Edition, 5–19. 4. Buechler, ‘BEYOND RESOURCE MOBILIZATION?’; Edwards and McCarthy, ‘Resources and Social Movement Mobilization’; McCarthy and Zald, ‘Resource Mobilization and Social Movements’. 5. Armstrong and Bernstein, ‘Culture, Power, and Institutions’; McAdam, Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930–1970, 2nd Edition, 36–59; Meyer, ‘Protest and Political Opportunities’; Meyer and Minkoff, ‘Conceptualizing Political Opportunity’. 6. Buechler, ‘NEW SOCIAL MOVEMENT THEORIES’; Larana, Johnston, and Gusfield, ‘Identities, Grievances, and New Social Movements’; Melucci, ‘Getting Involved: Identity and Mobilization in Social Movements’; Pichardo, ‘New Social Movements’; Polletta and Jasper, ‘Collective Identity and Social Movements’. 7. Compare with Ernesto Laclau’s discussion of what he calls ‘radical investment’ in the formation of a people, with an eye towards the same goals of lasting change. Laclau, On Populist Reason, 110.

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8. Carty, ‘Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt’. 9. Pichardo, ‘New Social Movements’. 10. Buechler, ‘NEW SOCIAL MOVEMENT THEORIES’. 11. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 150; ‘Occupy Wall Street| Journal of the Mental Environment’; Moynihan, ‘Wall Street Protest Begins, With Demonstrators Blocked’; White and Lasn, ‘The Call to Occupy Wall Street Resonates around the World | Micah White and Kalle Lasn’; ABC News, ‘Wall St. Protesters Say They’re Settled In’; Ryan, ‘The Tragic Life of a Street Vendor’; Ryan, ‘How Tunisia’s Revolution Began’; Fisher, ‘In Tunisia, Act of One Fruit Vendor Sparks Wave of Revolution through Arab World’; Whitaker, ‘How a Man Setting Fire to Himself Sparked an Uprising in Tunisia | Brian Whitaker’; Luibrand, ‘Black Lives Matter’; Williams, ‘Trayvon Martin Protests Being Held in More than 100 US Cities’; Ruffin II, ‘Black Lives Matter’. 12. There is extensive literature on the processes of media framing in relation to social movements of all kinds. See Andrews and Caren, ‘Making the News’; Benford and Snow, ‘Framing Processes and Social Movements’; d’ Anjou and Van Male, ‘Between Old and New’; Gamson and Modigliani, ‘Media Discourse and Public Opinion on Nuclear Power’; Gamson and Wolfsfeld, ‘Movements and Media as Interacting Systems’; Kruse, ‘The Movement and the Media’; McCurdy, ‘Social Movements, Protest and Mainstream Media’; Deana A. Rohlinger, ‘Framing the Abortion Debate: Organizational Resources, Media Strategies, and Movement-Countermovement Dynamics’; Snow et al., ‘Frame Alignment Processes, Micromobilization, and Movement Participation’; Sobieraj, ‘Reporting Conventions’. 13. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 5. 14. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!. 15. Fahmy, ‘How the Egyptian Revolution Began, and Where It Might End – Khaled Fahmy – Aeon Essays’. 16. Filiu, The Arab Revolution, 58–9. 17. Ober, ‘The Marriage of Democracy and Liberalism Is Not Inevitable – Josiah Ober | Aeon Essays’. 18. Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man. 19. Dabashi, The Arab Spring, 59. 20. Ibid., 63–4. 21. Robin, ‘The First Neoliberals | Jacobin’; Achcar, The People Want a Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising, 125. 22. Massad, ‘Under the Cover of Democracy’. 23. Achcar, The People Want a Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising, 188. 24. Khalidi, Sowing Crisis. 25. Drury, ‘The “Dirty Secret” of British Arms Sales to Libya Just Months before Gaddafi Slaughtered pro-Democracy Protesters’; ‘Blood Money’. 26. Achcar, The People Want a Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising, 87. 27. Ibid., 90. 28. Filiu, The Arab Revolution, 73. 29. Dabashi, The Arab Spring, 63; Filiu, The Arab Revolution, 72. 30. Filiu, The Arab Revolution, 80–1.


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31. Ibid., 89. 32. Achcar, The People Want a Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising, 56; Wenar, Blood Oil. 33. Achcar, The People Want a Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising, 57–8. 34. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, 94. 35. Achcar, The People Want a Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising, 86. 36. Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror. 37. Filiu, The Arab Revolution, 72. 38. Khalidi, ‘Preliminary Historical Observations on the Arab Revolutions of 2011’. 39. Fanon, Sartre, and Bhabha, The Wretched of the Earth, 2–3. 40. Dabashi, The Arab Spring, xvii. 41. Ibid., 11. 42. Ibid., 12. 43. Alessandrini, ‘Their Fight Is Our Fight’. 44. Brodzinsky, ‘Our Central American Spring’. 45. Gilens and Page, ‘Testing Theories of American Politics’. 46. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 167–9. 47. Ibid., 169. 48. Ibid., 168. 49. Ibid., 176. 50. See also the description of the Arab Spring as a series of ‘bottom up’ revolutions in Dabashi, The Arab Spring, 261. 51. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 155. 52. ‘The Debt Collective’. 53. Jubilee, ‘Rolling Jubilee’. 54. Lummis, Radical Democracy, 18. 55. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 178. 56. Ibid., 154. 57. Chomsky, Occupy, 175. 58. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 170. 59. Li and Lau, ‘Hong Kong Chief Declares End to Occupy as Last Site Gone’. 60. Yu, Ng, and Chan, ‘Hong Kong Police Target Occupy’s ‘Principal Instigators’ after All Sites Cleared’. 61. Chretien, ‘General Strike Call from Occupy Oakland’. 62. Mahler, ‘Oakland, the Last Refuge of Radical America’. 63. Chretien, ‘General Strike Call from Occupy Oakland’. 64. Norton, ‘California Leads the Way in the “Block the Boat” Movement’. 65. Tharoor, ‘The Growing Solidarity between #BlackLivesMatter and Palestinian Activists’. 66. Taylor, Occupy!, 16–7; Chomsky, Occupy, 70. 67. Chomsky, Occupy, 174. 68. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 165. 69. Ibid., 166. 70. Ibid., 173.

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71. Graeber, ‘Occupy Wall Street’s Anarchist Roots’, 141. 72. Gordon, ‘The Irreplaceability of Continued Struggle’, 87. 73. Winter, ‘Prosecutors’; Jacobson, ‘Trayvon Martin’. 74. Huckabee, ‘The Problem with Saying “All Lives Matter”’. 75. Townes, ‘Obama Explains The Problem With “All Lives Matter”’. 76. Chasmar, ‘Marissa Johnson, Black Lives Matter Leader, Explains Why “all Lives Matter” Is a Racial Slur’. 77. Eligon and Pérez-Peña, ‘University of Missouri Protests Spur a Day of Change’; Miller, ‘Black Grad Student on Hunger Strike in Mo. after Swastika Drawn with Human Feces’. 78. Eligon and Pérez-Peña, ‘University of Missouri Protests Spur a Day of Change’; Miller, ‘Black Grad Student on Hunger Strike in Mo. after Swastika Drawn with Human Feces’. 79. Crockett, Jr., ‘Everything We Know About the University of Mo. Football Boycott’. 80. Miller, ‘Black Grad Student on Hunger Strike in Mo. after Swastika Drawn with Human Feces’. 81. Eligon and Pérez-Peña, ‘University of Missouri Protests Spur a Day of Change’. 82. Ibid. 83. Rhoden, ‘University of Missouri Football Players Exercise Power in Racism Protest’. 84. Culpepper, ‘How Missouri Football’s Boycott Helped Bridge a Familiar Campus Divide’. 85. Tracy and Southall, ‘Black Football Players Lend Heft to Protests at Missouri’. 86. White, ‘The Recession’s Racial Slant’. 87. Taibbi, ‘The Line That May Have Won Hillary Clinton the Nomination’. 88. New, ‘National Labor Relations Board Declines to Assert Role on Northwestern Football Union’; McCann, ‘What Appeals Court Ruling Means for O’Bannon, NCAA’. 89. Tracy and Southall, ‘Black Football Players Lend Heft to Protests at Missouri’. 90. Culpepper, ‘How Missouri Football’s Boycott Helped Bridge a Familiar Campus Divide’. The disparity between the racial makeup of teams and that of administrators, team owners, and coaches is prevalent across professional sports leagues in the United States as well, as per a study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida (Chalabi, ‘Three Leagues, 92 Teams And One Black Principal Owner)’. 91. Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism; Slaughter and Rhoades, ‘The Neo-Liberal University’; Slaughter and Rhoades, Academic Capitalism and the New Economy. 92. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told. 93. Beckert, Empire of Cotton. 94. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 7.


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95. Caygill, On Resistance, 204. 96. Dewey, ‘The Only Guide to Gamergate You Will Ever Need to Read’; Morozov, To Save Everything, Click Here; Caygill, On Resistance, 204. 97. Cf. Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. 98. Filiu, The Arab Revolution, 44; Herrera, Revolution in the Age of Social Media. 99. Filiu, The Arab Revolution, 46. 100. Ibid. 101. Ibid., 49. 102. Ibid., 49–51. 103. Ibid., 56. 104. El-Mahdi, ‘Orientalising the Egyptian Uprising’. 105. Dabashi, The Arab Spring, 68. 106. Flanders, ‘Black Lives Matter’s Patrisse Cullors on Creating a New Economy of Nonviolence’. 107. Moynihan, ‘Wall Street Protest Begins, With Demonstrators Blocked’. 108. Robinson, ‘Black Lives Matter’. 109. ‘We Are the 99%’. 110. Taylor, Occupy!, 22. 111. Ibid., 20. 112. Ibid., 13–4. 113. Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics, 95–6. 114. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!. 115. Ibid., 38. 116. Taylor, Occupy!, 193. 117. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 170. 118. Ibid., 172. 119. May, The Political Thought of Jacques Rancière. 120. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 172. 121. Ibid., 180–1. 122. Kang, ‘Our Demand Is Simple’. 123. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 15, 28. 124. Ibid., 178. 125. Dabashi, The Arab Spring, 63. 126. See Dencik and Leistert, Critical Perspectives on Social Media and Protest; Castells, Networks of Outrage and Hope; Carty, Social Movements and New Technology; Faris, Dissent and Revolution in a Digital Age; Gerbaudo, Tweets and the Streets; Gitlin, The Whole World Is Watching; Ryan, Prime Time Activism. 127. Chatelain and Asoka, ‘Women and Black Lives Matter’, 59–60. 128. Garza, ‘A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement’. 129. Lindsey, ‘Post-Ferguson’. 130. Chatelain and Asoka, ‘Women and Black Lives Matter’, 55. 131. ‘#SayHerName Brief’. 132. Khaleeli, ‘#SayHerName’. 133. Bellafante, ‘Protesters Are Gunning for Wall Street, With Faulty Aim’.

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134. Sorkin, ‘Occupy Wall Street’; Gottlieb, ‘Protest News Framing Cycle’. 135. Rucker, ‘Leaked Video Puts Romney Campaign on Defensive Again’; Corn, ‘SECRET VIDEO’. 136. Recall also that cultural production is one way that we are able to track the effects of new social movements on the culture at large. A full analysis in this regard is beyond the scope of my work here. A brief look at some recent films, such as Fruitvale Station, Money Monster, 99 Homes, Margin Call, Selma, Dear White People, The Big Short, and The Queen of Versailles, among many others, shows that the public recognizes how these movements have become integral to contemporary experience. 137. Taylor, Occupy!, 22. 138. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 180. 139. Barron and Moynihan, ‘Police Oust Occupy Wall Street Protesters at Zuccotti Park’. 140. CNN Wire Staff, ‘New York Court Upholds Eviction of Occupy Protesters CNN.com’. 141. Barron and Moynihan, ‘Police Oust Occupy Wall Street Protesters at Zuccotti Park’. 142. Dabashi, The Arab Spring, 64. 143. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 65. 144. We will see an especially salient illustration of this paradox in the following chapter on Rousseau. 145. Olson, ‘Paradoxes of Constitutional Democracy’, 331. 146. Quoted at Tekin, Founding Acts, 52. 147. Olson, ‘Paradoxes of Constitutional Democracy’, 331. See also Keenan, Democracy in Question. 148. Tekin, Founding Acts, 52. 149. Ibid. 150. Geuss, Politics and the Imagination, 67. 151. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 160; Leach, ‘Prefigurative Politics’. 152. Lerner, ‘Why Disrupting Political Events Is An Essential Tactic For Black Lives Matter’. 153. Townes, ‘How The Democratic Presidential Candidates Responded To The Black Lives Matter Question’. 154. DInkin, ‘Bernie Sanders Blew a Huge Opportunity at Netroots Nation’. 155. Patterson, ‘Black Lives Matter Notches Wins in Chicago and Cleveland’. 156. Lussenhop, ‘Chicago Prosecutor Loses Her Fight with Black Lives Matter’. 157. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 51. 158. Compare with the discussion found at Dabashi, The Arab Spring, 238 regarding how we are able to tie the various Arab revolutions together. 159. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 159. 160. Dabashi, The Arab Spring, 86. 161. Ibid., 87. 162. Filiu, The Arab Revolution, 146–7. 163. Bayat, ‘Paradoxes of Arab Refo-Lutions’.


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164. Dabashi, The Arab Spring, 62. 165. Dobbs-Weinstein, Spinoza’s Critique of Religion and Its Heirs, 250. 166. Kingsley, ‘Egypt’s Rabaa Massacre’. 167. Yassin-Kassab et al., ‘‘I Was Terribly Wrong’ – Writers Look Back at the Arab Spring Five Years on’. 168. Abi-Habib, ‘Assad Policies Aided Rise of Islamic State Militant Group’. 169. Yassin-Kassab and Al-Shami, Burning Country. See also Di Giovanni, The Morning They Came for Us, which provides in-depth accounts of the atrocities committed by Assad’s regime in the face of popular protest. 170. Projects like ‘The Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution’ strive towards similar ends. 171. ‘Tidal: Occupy Theory, Occupy Strategy’. The journal’s mission is stated as follows: ‘Tidal offers a space for the emergence and discussion of movement-generated theory and practice. It is a strategic platform that weaves together the voices of on-the-ground organizers with those of long-standing theorists to explore the radical possibilities sparked by the occupations of Tunis’ Kasbah, Tahrir, Sol, Syntagma, Zuccotti and their aftermaths’. 172. Chou, ‘From Crisis to Crisis’, 49. 173. Ibid., 52. 174. Sitrin and Azzellini, They Can’t Represent Us!, 1.

Chapter 2

Between Nature and Society Resistance in Rousseau’s Social Contract

As disparate as its many texts are, Rousseau’s corpus is an attempt to work through the relationship between equality and freedom in a variety of ways. If he ultimately never arrives at a satisfactory answer to the question of whether these two ideals can be reconciled, his efforts nonetheless illustrate why such reconciliation is so difficult, and perhaps impossible. In The Sentiment of Existence, David Gauthier argues that Rousseau’s ideals of man and citizen fail on their own terms, and that the autobiography of the Confessions and the Reveries play out the tension between individual freedom and social equality. This subsequently shows us how Rousseau never stopped believing in the uniqueness of individuals and their natural freedom, while nevertheless always recognizing the futility of trying to move outside of a societal understanding of those individuals.1 My interpretation of Rousseau’s philosophy in this chapter resonates with these tensions while arguing that they produce different consequences.2 Namely, that although Rousseau’s ideal of a legitimate state – one guaranteeing both equality and freedom – cannot succeed on the terms he sets out, this failure illustrates the conceptual impossibility of a fully legitimate state authority while also revealing how to productively begin conceiving of resistance to authority given that lack of legitimation. Rousseau’s is a philosophy of emancipation, insofar as he is primarily concerned with ridding human beings of all forms of slavery and domination. His point of departure is the present constitution of the social world, which is evident in both the Discourse on Inequality and On the Social Contract. Rousseau is first and foremost critiquing the world around him, one rife with inequality, domination, and oppression; his writings are by and large attempts at making sense of how such a reality could have been reached, as well as thinking of how humans might extricate themselves from it. 63


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Rousseau has often been misunderstood based upon superficial readings of both Discourse on Inequality and On the Social Contract; my view is that Rousseau is in fact well aware of the problems wrongly attributed to him, and is actually making every attempt to think through those problems to their ends.3 It is true that Rousseau is not able to offer a set of social institutions that will solve the various social problems that he recognizes. What he offers instead is insight into why the issue of solving these problems is so difficult in the first place. Rousseau’s real-world starting point, noted above, and methodology form a critical standpoint that highlights the inevitable failure of certain kinds of political solutions, the reasons behind those failures, and, finally, a way to move forward with those failures in mind. To prove these conclusions I look to Rousseau’s accounts of the human being and of society, arguing that acts of resistance can be situated within them. This goal may seem paradoxical or even absurd, considering that Rousseau formulates the General Will and defines the social contract such that individuals must forfeit their rights to the community. A right to resistance against that community is therefore incomprehensible if we consider only the formal conditions of the pact. Against this view, I argue that how Rousseau defines the formal nature of the contract while also attempting to consider the empirical and historical nature of political communities produces a gap in the legitimacy of the community resulting from the contract. In other words, Rousseau recognizes the importance of both idealization and concrete reality, but does not see how they can be understood in tandem to productively point the way towards a better world. While not sanctioning resistance, I interpret Rousseau’s view so that resistance can nevertheless be understood from the perspective of the General Will, insofar as it is resistance that challenges the definition of the common interest that binds citizens together. Resistance so understood entails a certain conception of the self, and so a secondary, but no less important, goal is to give an account of the subject that emerges from Rousseau’s texts. The image of the self that Rousseau constructs is social and artificial, yet the importance of nature and the natural world does not disappear; we can only think about what is natural about us as human beings through the lens of our inescapable social constitution.4 Section I argues that Rousseau’s interpretation of the divide between the natural and the social in his Discourse on Inequality does not provide a justificatory grounding for civil society, as both Hobbes and Locke mean for it to do. Rousseau investigates this very divide in order to show that it in fact cannot be conceived of in that way, and that there is nothing outside of the social world for us to theorize. In other words, even the natural and individual elements of our existence – amour de soi, natural pity, and our faculty of perfectibility – are only conceivable within the broader framework of the social world that we inhabit.5

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I accord a distinctly normative character to Rousseau’s discussion of the natural world, using it to guide further political and social considerations. I argue that this normativity can only be properly binding if his account of the natural in the Discourse on Inequality is thought of as being a mythical account: myth is necessary to show why and how our social world has a grip on us and why it matters. It is an account of why we are in the grips of society, why that is meaningful, and why we must continue to care about it. Another way of framing the project of the Discourse on Inequality is to say that, given its starting point of the contemporary world and its problems, Rousseau is asking: How is the normative possible? He does not begin with an account of the normative, but is attempting to see how it actually comes about through the constitution of the social world. Although Rousseau’s goal is a path to emancipation, he offers no determinate meaning of what emancipation would look like from the outset; rather, in working through the tension between equality and freedom he constructs the said meaning, giving content to emancipation’s possibilities based upon the details of our social evolution. In Section II I shift to the writings in which Rousseau provides us with concrete political prescriptions, including On the Social Contract and Considerations on the Government of Poland. Here I argue, first, that Rousseau’s vision of an ideal political community can only be properly understood against the background, often ignored, of the very specific conditions within which he constructs that ideal. Though his articulation of political legitimacy fails on its own idealized terms, the manner of this failure shows us how we might conceive of political resistance within Rousseau’s philosophy. The normative character of the natural argued for in the previous section is relevant to these considerations: although a political system cannot be built from our natural state alone, it is also impossible to move entirely beyond it. Rousseau’s version of the social contract is in fact an attempt to construct a political structure that would move completely beyond the natural world, and is the reason why it ultimately fails: it needs to produce an entirely artificial subject. Such a criterion, however, is impossible given our analysis of the natural world as presented in the Discourse, and despite the ineliminable social character of human beings. Natural physical inequalities, and therefore physical force, cannot be justified politically; we are unable to make the leap from that which is invoked as a given, such as natural superiority, to its normative justification. The inability to completely reconcile the natural and social worlds manifests itself at the political level, where the whole of society cannot be as self-sufficient as Rousseau would have it. Ultimately, a gap remains in the social identity, and it is precisely there that Rousseauian resistance appears. Section III appeals to the conclusions from previous sections, arguing that Rousseau’s accounts of equality and of the social world have latent within


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them an understanding of political resistance that is necessary for any emancipatory politics. My claim is that, given Rousseau’s account of the human condition, as well as what he sees as the necessary conditions for legitimate civil society, there is no way to conceive of a political formation that can be closed off to the possibility of the resistance on the part of those who would challenge the constitution or definition of the common interest that binds citizens. That is, resistance occurs on the part of those who are not considered equal within the General Will. I therefore disagree with Judith Shklar’s contention that the form of government that we get in On the Social Contract is meant to foster passivity among citizens, being merely symbolic and ritualistic.6 This interpretation of Rousseau certainly differs from Hobbes’ political philosophy, but Locke would at first glance appear to be closer in spirit to Rousseau; I believe that this is not the case. It is true that in his Second Treatise of Government Locke gives substantial power to the people when he discusses issues of tyranny and the conditions for the dissolution of government. Locke defines tyranny as the other side of law: where law ends, tyranny begins.7 In other words, tyranny occurs when the power that has been entrusted to govern and preserve the people and their property is put to different ends that undermine that very goal.8 In the face of tyranny, Locke asks directly, ‘May the Commands then of a Prince be opposed?’9 He then answers in the affirmative, albeit with conditions: ‘Force is to be opposed to nothing, but to unjust and unlawful Force’.10 In the face of the tyranny of those in power, then, the people may use force against force; the social contract through which society was founded has been breached.11 Locke authorizes resistance on the part of the people against authority when that authority has failed to carry out its duties to the people, making those in power much more beholden to the people than Hobbes had envisioned. Locke draws a line between the just wielding of power and the unjust, and whenever that line is crossed, revolt is sanctioned. On my reading of Rousseau, however, the claim is not so conceptually straightforward. The distinction that I want to draw between Locke and Rousseau is based on legitimacy. For Locke, the social contract legitimates the political power in place under certain conditions. On its face, Rousseau’s version of the social contract does the same. Part of my argument in this chapter is, however, that once the details of Rousseau’s contract are unpacked, we can find no such straightforward delineation between legitimacy and its opposite. Instead, we find that from the outset of its founding, the legitimacy of Rousseau’s contracted society is in fact in question. I ground this claim regarding legitimacy in my argument that Rousseau’s concept of the human subject is one for whom we cannot conceive of a concrete break between the natural world and artificial society. Just as the

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pre-social natural world is beyond our epistemological reach (if in fact it exists at all), the creation of a fully artificial social environment is also impossible. On my reading of Rousseau, the only truly legitimate state of the social contract is exactly such an artificial social environment, meaning that the failure of achieving such a state brings with it the failure of full political legitimacy. The resulting position is not passivity, but instead the recognition that attempts to construct political communities around coherent identities and common interests is beset by disagreement about what the common interests of a community are and ought to be, and therefore about the makeup of the community itself – who belongs. The ideal of popular sovereignty that Rousseau gives us through the General Will is a regulative ideal towards which we ought to strive, a notion in line with the perfectibility that he sees as part of the human condition. Rousseau’s writings reveal the imperative to create a better future – he is neither a pessimist nor a quietist. While it is true that he fails to offer concrete solutions that aren’t a priori saddled with conditions that impede their very success, he is not left in the position of saying that nothing can be done about the inequality to which he bears witness. Section I: Illusory Nature in the Discourse on Inequality This section attempts to do two things. The first is to give an account of Rousseau’s presentation of the concept of the natural in the Discourse on Inequality; the second is to argue for interpreting the natural as having mythical import. In developing his ideas about natural humanity in this text, Rousseau’s reliance on a mythical sense of the natural illustrates how we can only ever theorize about humanity from the inescapable position of sociality in which we currently find ourselves. He is presenting an account of the natural in order to provide the grounds from which he might prescribe a way out of the miserable conditions of humanity that he sees all around him. From this standpoint, the natural becomes the ground from which we can strive for goodness against the backdrop of our distinctly human faculty of self-perfection.12 At the outset of the text, in the epistle dedicatory ‘To the Republic of Geneva’, we get the following wish: ‘I should have wished to be born in a country where the Sovereign and the people could have had only one and the same interest, so that all the motions of the machine might always tend only to the common happiness; since this is impossible unless the People and the Sovereign are the same person, it follows that I should have wished to be born under a democratic government wisely tempered’.13 Though he is ostensibly


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praising his home of Geneva, Rousseau is also pointing out that the type of country that he wishes for does not currently exist.14 I highlight this passage because it makes clear that, before the text proper has even begun, Rousseau has cast what comes in a normative light.15 The passage gives normative weight to the text because Rousseau is praising something that he is also telling us does not exist: the Geneva of his dreams. The rest of the Discourse can therefore be read as the story of what would have had to happen if his alternate Geneva were to have been able to exist. The main body of the text contains multiple accounts about the content of the ‘natural’ in natural humanity, what Rousseau sometimes refers to as ‘Savage man’. It is this usage of the natural, or of what we once were or might have been prior to the corrupting influence of society and its institutions, that I claim Rousseau is dealing with as myth. By myth I mean the rhetorical strategy of telling stories about the past in order to illuminate the present – stories that are not meant to be taken to be true in a literal or historical sense. The question certainly arises of why Rousseau writes utilizing myth in this way. My view is that myth in this text functions as the starting point for rational theorizing, providing a justificatory ground to make normative claims regarding changes for the better. It should be clear from Rousseau’s stated intentions in the text that he did not mean to provide a factual anthropological history of humanity. For example, although he writes, ‘It is of man that I am to speak’, he is quick to offer qualifications about the limits and possibilities of doing just that, describing his investigation as one that, ‘ought not be taken for historical truths, but only for hypothetical and conditional reasonings; better suited to elucidate the Nature of things than to show their genuine origin’.16 Furthermore, Rousseau’s avowed starting point is not some past instantiation of humankind. Instead, he writes, ‘I shall assume him always conformed as I see him today, walking on two feet, using his hands as we do ours, directing his gaze over the whole of Nature, and with his eyes surveying the vast expanse of Heaven’.17 From such a beginning, Rousseau will proceed to ‘form conjectures based solely on the nature of man and of the Beings that surround him, about what Mankind might have become if it had remained abandoned to itself. This is what I am asked, and what I propose to examine in this discourse’.18 We have, then, hypothetical and conditional reasonings, and conjectures, about the human condition. Out of this general context of speculative thought, Rousseau gives us more than one illustration of what humanity’s progression from its natural to its social state might look like. There are a number of different stages, each with their own hypothetical combination of sociality, solitude, dependence, individuality, family, property, equality and inequality, jealousy, rights, and wealth. There are pure individuals at one stage, with children who cannot

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even recognize their own mothers; the first dwelling is constructed, which leads to the formation of the family; subsequently societal institutions are formed when multiple families unite together. This progression hinders any recognizable non-social (or pre-social) conception of humanity, insofar as all interpretations of natural humanity must be filtered through the lens of society. Through his multiple explanations for the life of human beings in the state of nature, Rousseau shows that actual knowledge concerning pre-social or pre-institutional humanity is not conceivable. Backing up these claims entails three related goals: (1) showing how Rousseau articulates the split between the natural and the social, and (2) that any theorizing about human beings cannot avoid taking the present social condition of humanity as its starting point, including all of the knowledge that comes along with that position. This retrospective theorizing is not fruitless, however, if (3) the imperative of this retrospection is to make normative claims about the possibilities of human perfectibility and goodness through the social constitution of humanity. The stated purpose of the Discourse on Inequality is the following: ‘To mark, in the progress of things, the moment when, Right replacing Violence, Nature was subjected to Law; to explain by what chain of wonders the strong could resolve to serve the weak, and the People to purchase an idea of repose at the price of their real felicity’.19 Rousseau wants to show where and how humanity has gone wrong, and then point the way towards something better. Given his claims about hypothetical reasoning and conjecture, however, the story he tells about where humanity has gone wrong can only be a speculative one.20 This conceptual space allows for the recourse to normative myth, since the historical facts of the matter have been set aside. They are not irrelevant generally, but it does not matter how far back into the history of humanity one goes – there will be no point at which the social is left behind and the purely natural is discovered. Rousseau’s intention is to mark the movement from nature to society, though what we see instead is that this demarcation is impossible to pinpoint in any concrete sense. Rather, we come to the realization that any attempt to think about humanity outside of the terms and structures that are familiar to us is impossible. We must, however, test the limits of this type of theorizing in order to be able to come up with some way to think about changing the state of things as they are; otherwise the risk is that the status quo can never be altered. This is how the mythical reading of the natural functions, as a way of using the retrospective theorizing that we are capable of in a prescriptive way. In looking ‘backwards’ Rousseau is searching for a middle ground between quietism in the face of the terrible state of things around him and the purely abstract utopianism of a better life far removed from anything resembling the possible. This grounds his work in the present and places him firmly in the realm of critique.


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Rousseau’s claim that he is concerned with ‘only hypothetical and conditional reasonings’ gives us a crucial distinction: as opposed to historical truths, which would purport to reveal a genuine origin of things, Rousseau is more interested in the elucidation of their nature. The distinction between nature and origin tells us that, although we cannot seek the pre-social origins of humanity, we can know that there is something more than that which we are to which we can aspire. Rousseau articulates this forward-looking definition of our nature throughout the text, one based in his normative mythical reconstruction of humanity’s past. Rousseau begins the text by noting the seeming impossibility of identifying whatever the meaning of ‘natural man’ could even be: ‘The human soul, altered in the lap of society by a thousand forever recurring causes, by the acquisition of a mass of knowledge and errors, by the changes that have taken place in the constitution of Bodies, and by the continual impact of the passions has, so to speak, changed in appearance to the point of being almost unrecognizable’.21 The qualification at the end of the sentence indicates that, even if we are unable to get back to the origin of things, we don’t have to get rid of the concept of what is natural to us. It can still be of use if we are able to rethink it in mythical fashion, allowing it to function in a normative and forward-thinking way. The qualification is continued when Rousseau writes, ‘It is easy to see that it is in these successive changes of man’s constitution that one must seek the first origin of the differences that distinguish men who, by common consent, are naturally as equal among themselves as were the animals of every species, before various Physical causes introduced in some species the varieties which we observe among them’.22 We are prodded by Rousseau to observe these very changes, which he previously pointed to as nearly making the natural state of humanity unknowable, in order to investigate what this natural state may have been. This path is both recognition of the difficulty of the task at hand, and an explanation of the recourse to myth; it shows that Rousseau is already theorizing retrospectively, beginning with the idea of the successive changes to our constitutions brought on by different societal forms. The natural equality of human beings referenced in this passage is not presented as an immutable fact discovered by human investigation, but it is instead known by common consent. Human equality is not a matter for empirical investigation, but must instead be founded on the common consent of human beings themselves, with all of the changes that humans have undergone that have yielded such variety among them. Rather than merely descriptive disinterested inquiry into the past, Rousseau appeals to the consent of the people, which carries with it a normative dimension.23 The most suitable and legitimate social and political scenario – considering humanity’s current condition – is the one that entails common consent to our equality, based not

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upon the discovery of the timeless essence of human beings, but instead upon their current condition of inequality, which must form the starting point from which we attempt to conceive of something better. Rousseau will not be able to tell us about a pre-social natural equality, though he can tell us how we can think of ourselves for the future and can give us an ideal to strive towards. Such is the function of reconstructing our natural past through myth. Though the underlying purpose of this mythical sense of the natural is to highlight the potential for radical change or alteration that Rousseau sees in human beings, it is a power that we can only have collectively as a society (outlined through the General Will in On the Social Contract), since changes on this scale are only possible through the alteration of society’s institutions; the people have the power to change those institutions democratically. There is a dialectic set up between the individuals within society and that society’s institutions. The former set up by the latter to accomplish certain future goals, the realization of which is capable of then altering individuals, and so on.24 This potentiality is a part of our humanity for Rousseau, one capable of goodness even in the face of strong empirical evidence that would seem to point to the contrary: Rousseau’s humanity is defined by normative claims about the faculty of self-perfection. Rousseau discusses this faculty in relation to the differences that he sees between humans and animals.25 He admits that there is room for reasoned disagreement in general about these differences; yet there is one point on which he firmly demarcates the distinction, one property ‘about which there can be no argument’. This faculty cannot act alone, however, needing ‘the aid of circumstances’ with which it fosters the development of ‘all the other [faculties]’. This faculty of self-perfection permits all changes to the human race, unlike non-human animal species, each of which are, Rousseau writes, ‘after a thousand years what it was in the first year of those thousand’.26 Rousseau uses the mythical and normative sense of the natural in the service of this uniquely human potential of the drive for self-perfection. Regarding the separation between the natural and the social, and the possibility of our having any knowledge of what constitutes the former, Rousseau writes, ‘For it is no light undertaking to disentangle what is original from what is artificial in man’s present Nature, and to know accurately a state which no longer exists, which perhaps never did exist, which probably never will exist, and about which it is nevertheless necessary to have exact Notions in order accurately to judge of our present state’.27 We can have no knowledge about such a pure state because, from our place of theorizing in the present, we have no idea even of the possibility of the existence of an original form of human nature. When he follows up this claim with the assertion that, despite this ignorance, we must nevertheless attempt to theorize just that from which we are a priori cut off, Rousseau highlights the normative dimension of his


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claim. If this path is followed, we can improve human existence through the ideals of freedom and equality. The only catch is that these ideals must be understood in certain ways that are determined by present conditions. We can see this stance even more clearly through the question that Rousseau asks both himself and his readers at the outset of the text: ‘What experiments would be needed in order to come to know natural man; and by what means can these experiments be performed within society?’28 That is, how could we strip away the elements of our constitution that are products of social and institutional arrangements so that we could isolate what is purely natural within us? The success of this task is impossible, but we can nonetheless learn from our attempts if we recognize its impossibility. Note the way that Rousseau words the question itself, grounding it in experimentation. Especially important is the second clause, which situates the possibility for these experiments within society. That is the limiting condition of any experiment we might undertake in this regard, and a condition that only lets us get so far. As I’ve indicated, I don’t believe that Rousseau believed that this question could actually be answered. This is because, ‘The more new knowledge we accumulate, the more we deprive ourselves of the means of acquiring the most important knowledge of all’.29 Returning to the distinction between nature and origin, the accumulation of knowledge and all other changes to our constitutions places any genuine origin beyond retrieval, but an investigation of how those changes could have occurred can reveal something about our current constitution. In looking back from human beings as they are and assuming them ‘always conformed as I see [them] today’, Rousseau offers a story about the human condition that is supposed to render us more understandable to ourselves through revealing criteria through which that condition must be thought. That is, there is no space outside of the social world through which we can grasp anything about our humanity. An integral component of that story, on my reading, is the mythical way that we conceive of our natural origins. Rousseau’s story of the invention of private property and the subsequent societal developments that it engendered illustrates the ineliminable nature of our social existence. Rousseau describes two points within the history and development of private property as ‘revolutions’, each irrevocably altering the social world. The first grew out of the unity of common and individual interest, insofar as some crude form of mutual engagements was formed around the necessity for cooperation.30 These engagements led to the ‘period of a first revolution which brought about the establishment and the differentiation of families, and introduced a kind of property’.31 Leisure time was discovered as the ideal of self-sufficiency was left behind, and with it came new conveniences and superfluous needs. Rousseau describes this state of affairs as ‘the first yoke which, without thinking of it, they imposed on themselves, and the

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first source of evils they prepared for their descendants’, altering the constitution of human beings.32 As Rousseau writes, ‘everything begins to change in appearance’.33 Public esteem began to be of value, and with it mutual valuation and civility. But revenge as well becomes a norm, carried out in reaction to those who flouted the newfound civility conventions.34 This form of early society, with only the beginnings of morality, remained, however, within an individual’s means.35 The coming of the second revolution, with the appearance of agriculture and metallurgy, heralded the slavery and misery of large-scale necessary dependence upon others.36 The large-scale division of labour of the second revolution introduces domination and servitude, and wealth and poverty.37 Only at this point does Rousseau arrive at the state of war that is characteristic of the world that Hobbes and Locke describe.38 Rousseau’s story of societal revolutions ends where Hobbes and Locke begin their political theorizing, elucidating all of the social history that they subsume into the state of nature. This point is precisely Rousseau’s objection with their accounts, which he sums up by writing, ‘They spoke of Savage man and depicted Civil man’.39 Rousseau’s reconstruction of a possible conceptual path from the natural world to the state of war shows us that if we were to imagine, as a kind of thought experiment, human beings in a pure natural state and removed entirely from the influence of society, what we would find is a totally independent being. It would be a being, however, so independent that it has no relation whatsoever to any other beings of its kind; it is unable even to recognize its fellows. Rousseau’s speculations on the origin of contemporary humanity argue that any attempt to abstract away the social aspect of human beings entirely leaves us with a being that is not in any way actually recognizably human. Hobbes and Locke attempt such an abstraction when they try to see beyond the effects of society on human beings, but they only partially succeed. Hence Rousseau’s claims that even their human beings in the state of nature are instances of ‘Civil man’. We can glimpse Rousseau’s account of the relationship between the natural and the social in his famous remark to M. de Malesherbes concerning the natural goodness of humanity: natural goodness is the proper end of the human faculty of self-perfection. Interpreted through the lens of the second Discourse, Rousseau’s claim ‘that man is naturally good, and that it is solely by institutions that men become wicked’, is a normative one set against the background of his negative view of the contemporary world.40 Rousseau is insisting that human beings are capable of goodness in ways that were not being recognized by his contemporaries. He was well aware of the same fact that Hobbes and Locke were, namely, that humans are capable of evil and vice. He is challenging the reader to think of human beings otherwise, or of how humans might be made different. In this scenario, being capable


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of goodness means the possibility of transcending current institutional and societal arrangements and structures. Rousseau gives even more weight to his claim in a letter to Beaumont, where he calls the natural goodness of humanity ‘the fundamental principle of all morality’.41 The only reason that he can say we are inherently good while still denying determinism is because we can be anything at all, from the lowest evil to the highest good, and that we are capable, under the right conditions, of collectively making the normatively correct choice of goodness. Descriptively, we are clearly capable of both good and evil. Prescriptively, however, we can only make the normative claim that we should strive for goodness. Unlike Hobbes and Locke, Rousseau theorizes an absolute break between the natural and the social that no amount of analysis will be able to traverse, and so he is left with the necessity of starting anew from humanity’s current state.42 One motivation for the text on the whole is Rousseau’s dissatisfaction with previous attempts to think about what natural rights mean: ‘[Those] who have examined the foundations of society have all felt the necessity of going back as far as the state of Nature, but none of them has reached it. Some have not hesitated to ascribe to Man in that state the notion of the Just and the Unjust, without bothering to show that he had to have this notion, or even that it would have been useful to him’.43 This long passage continues, with Rousseau adding to just and unjust the ideas of the natural right of property, the authority of the stronger over the weaker leading directly to the formation of government, as well as the concepts of need, greed, oppression, desire, and pride. As we have mentioned earlier, as Rousseau surveys the field of investigations into the state of nature, and no doubt referring to Hobbes and Locke, he remarks on their depictions of ‘Civil man’ while speaking of ‘Savage man’.44 For Rousseau, the capacities and concepts that have been used in the explanations and definitions of the natural, pre-social state of human beings are actually the products of the very society to which philosophers like Hobbes and Locke say they are prior. Though they claim to lay bare the state of nature, they do no more than redescribe civil society and its ills. In their considerations of human beings in the state of nature, these philosophers utilize traits and characteristics that are in fact produced by society, and so they don’t explain the state of nature at all. Instead of attempting the impossible task of trying to form institutions and civil society from the perspective of the state of nature, we have to put aside that state completely, or at least any hope of being able to come to some kind of concrete knowledge of it. Rousseau’s mythical construal of the natural is relevant to his response to Hobbes and Locke. The only way that we can come to grips with our human condition, given the fact that our origins are cut off from us, is to reconstruct conceptually what could have led to our current condition. Hobbes and Locke err because they think an accurate description of the true state of nature

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is conceptually possible, distinct from civil society, whereas for Rousseau it only exists within civil society in mythical form. Merely redescribing the current state of affairs offers no insight into how to get out of it. As Robert Wokler notes, [Rousseau’s] idea of natural liberty was in an important sense illusory…in so far as mankind never actually inhabited the innocent pristine state in which such liberty could be enjoyed. According to Rousseau’s philosophy, in order to get at the truth it was often necessary to leave the facts aside…the state of nature he conceived was a fiction. There could therefore be no point in our attempting to return to it.45

This stance frees Rousseau to think about how we want to mould our societies and our institutions in the best – most free and equal – way possible; there is no natural foundation like the state of nature to which civil society has to conform, or onto which it has to map. The natural, or pre-social, world plays a vexed and ambiguous role in how we think about envisioning society and its institutions. On the one hand, we should not try to recreate anything from a pre-social state of nature or protect any remnant of that state, because whatever those things may have been (if they ever even existed) they are beyond our epistemological reach. On the other hand, as a concept the natural offers normative leverage for pointing to an improved picture of humanity and new visions for society. Its very ambiguity makes it an effective tool for articulating social critique and change. The goal is to conceive of the best society that we can that respects the normative goods of equality and freedom, given the state of humanity that we encounter. While it is true that we are trying to ‘regain’ the freedom that we enjoyed in the state of nature it must be a rethought freedom, because in society we are fundamentally different creatures than we would have been pre-socially. The meaning of freedom depends on the constitution of the human beings under consideration at a particular time and in a particular place. The freedom that we might think was appropriate to the mythical pre-social human beings that Rousseau describes is not one that is even possible for a humanity that has entered into society. We can theorize what the freedom of a pre-social state was, which Rousseau certainly does throughout the Discourse, but we can only use such a conception in order to better understand what freedom should mean for those in the society that we have at present. We can only work backwards to the ‘absolute’ freedom of the solitary, natural human. Freedom also plays an integral role in demarcating the limits of humanity; it is freedom, not understanding, that separates humans from animals.46 As opposed to animals, it is the ‘capacity as a free agent’ that the human being adds to the processes of nature.47 Rousseau is attempting to overcome the difficulty of thinking about the content of freedom relative to the impossibility of isolating a pre-social natural state for human beings. The notion of


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the free agent is deepened by the idea of self-perfection. Based upon what he has already said about the limits of human knowledge and the constraints of the social, Rousseau cannot make any claims about what is most natural to human beings. He can say, however, that we must attempt to alter the present state, and freedom helps imagine a state in which we are better off. Freedom is our nature insofar as we are free in each specific time to alter the formation of society, alterations that will also affect how we are subsequently constituted. Rousseau frequently invocates the natural state of ‘Savage man’ as a point of comparison to our current ‘artificial’ sociality; it is a way to reveal the limits of how we can think about radically changing our circumstances. I want to juxtapose two final quotations from the Discourse to conclude my argument, one from the very beginning of the text and one from the very end. On the final page of the exordium Rousseau tells us that what is found in the subsequent pages is nothing other than ‘history such as I believed I read it, not in the Books by your kind, who are liars, but in Nature, which never lies. Everything that will have come from it, will be true’.48 Nature, which never lies, has put itself forth for humanity to see, yet in such a way as to make unknown to us any number of distinctions within it. Nature here can only be understood in a broad sense, as that which can be seen and reflected upon by us as human beings. Rousseau uses ‘nature’ in this quote as an umbrella term that includes what he refers to later in the text as ‘Savage man’ and ‘Civil man’. It must also include what is encompassed by the second quotation, which comes just a few pages before the end of the Discourse. There, Rousseau writes, ‘Since the Mankind of one age is not the Mankind of another age, the reason why Diogenes did not find a man is that he was looking among his contemporaries for the man of a time that was no more’.49 The fact that Diogenes knew of something to look for in the first place is the relevant point, because it shows how different iterations of ‘Mankind’ can present themselves to one another, not as fact, but as myth. We can look to them for inspiration, for guidance or advice, or perhaps for lessons, but however we look at them, we are unable to replicate them; we can only use them as starting points. As he continually reminds us, the social institutions in which we all live together produce inequalities. Hence, in On the Social Contract Rousseau writes, ‘Anyone who dares to institute a people must feel capable of, so to speak, changing human nature’.50 That is, political change always resets the ground from which we begin, each time too late, to theorize our own humanity. The shift away from an appeal to the natural is grounded in the normative ideals of freedom and equality, and the possibility of achieving these ideals is at the centre of our open-ended natural condition. Starting from where we already are does not mean that we cannot speak of ‘Savage man’ at all, but that when we do we necessarily speak of him through

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the lens of the present, and in doing so recognize the mythical nature of these characterizations. Such insight does not yield knowledge or facts about presocial humanity, but it can illuminate how we think about our own time and provide new ways to think about the future. The past can therefore be thought of as a surplus – open to our mythical reconstructions, while at the same time a constraint on our imaginations. Section II: The Law of the Heart and the Tensions of the General Will If, as the previous section argued, there is no true state of nature to which we can refer, then the very idea of a social contract is altered. On the contractarian view endorsed by Hobbes and Locke, the contract is the path out of the state of nature and into civil society, if we cannot properly envision the state of nature, however, then a social contract on those terms is incoherent. Rousseau implies as much when he begins On the Social Contract by echoing the conceptual starting point of the Discourse on Inequality: ‘taking men as they are, and the laws as they can be’.51 Such a stance begins to open up a space of resistance to the contract itself, making the possibility of resistance a constitutive part of any contractually legitimate social formation. In this section I argue that however we proceed from Rousseau’s starting point, there will be no way to articulate a fully coherent and stable social identity of the contracting society, meaning that the legitimacy heralded by the contract is put into question from its instantiation.52 And yet, as we will see, Rousseau’s criteria for legitimacy in On the Social Contract actually demand such coherence. The upshot of this tension is not that all government is illegitimate, but that legitimacy can never be externally justified, made absolute, or placed beyond question. This outcome produces the space where resistance becomes possible, contradicting the popular, yet misguided, view that Rousseau’s social contract stifles any and all dissent and countenances domination.53 Ultimately, given the conditions for its instantiation, Rousseau’s conception of a contract will always have a gap within it into which resistance might step. The positive political project of On the Social Contract is therefore not an attempt to articulate an abstract notion of the best possible way of thinking about government and/or institutional societal arrangements. ‘Taking men as they are, and the laws as they can be’, is it possible to conceive of a civil order in which ‘there can be some legitimate and sure rule of administration’?54 In other words, Rousseau is not promising an excavation of what human beings were like ‘in the beginning’ in order to see where things went wrong and to correct the mistake.


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It is evident that On the Social Contract is a work of social critique when he writes, ‘If I were a prince or a lawgiver, I would not waste my time saying what needs doing; I would do it, or keep silent’.55 Not being in a position to affect these changes, he writes about them, describing the text’s purpose in the following way: ‘“To find a form of association that will defend and protect the person and goods of each associate with the full common force, and by means of which each, uniting with all, nevertheless obey only himself and remain as free as before”. This is the fundamental problem to which the social contract provides the solution’.56 It is clear that the starting point is emphatically not a conception of natural individuals around which the civil order is built. His problematic is whether, from within the civil order that already exists, we can produce legitimate authority, ensure individual freedom, and protect goods, while also creating an equal society in which all are united with all. In other words, without neglecting either one, how do we maximize both freedom – an individual virtue – with equality – a collective virtue. Rousseau makes the point that this task is impossible through the engendering of new forces; all that is possible is that ‘men…unite and direct those [forces] that exist’, which means that they must combine the sum of their forces of selfpreservation.57 This is another way for Rousseau to say that he is ‘taking men as they are’ and not trying to start from what once potentially was. Ultimately, the General Will is what this unity of forces looks like. Before getting to the formation and workings of the General Will, it is necessary to articulate exactly how a contract can be agreed upon and be legitimate. Rousseau is clear that the foundation of a people is the true foundation of a society.58 Only then would it be possible for a people to give itself a leader. That is, the election of a leader can only be done by a people already in existence; the election cannot be the act that instantiates a people in the first place. Following up on this point, Rousseau writes, ‘Indeed, if there were no prior convention, then, unless the election were unanimous, why would the minority be obliged to submit to the choice of the majority…the law of the majority rule is itself something established by convention, and presupposes unanimity at least once’.59 Rousseau here makes one point two different ways, and equates two different phenomena: the existence of a people and unanimous agreement. There must be either prior convention or unanimity in order for a certain outcome – the election of a leader – to obtain, but the implication is that unanimity would only be possible if there were already a prior convention in place, which refers to the prior act of the founding of a people. Established as an empirical impossibility, Rousseau sets up this ideal of unanimity as a conceptual tool, or as a guiding myth. These are also two ways of describing the scenario in which a minority would be obliged to follow a majority in a system of majority rule. Otherwise, there has been nothing to legitimate majority rule among a given group. In

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making clear that a people must be in place in order to give itself a leader of any kind, Rousseau equates ‘the act by which a people is a people’ with unanimity. As a result, Rousseau’s view of the social contract requires unanimity as its founding principle in order for legitimacy to obtain. Legitimacy is the necessary condition for contractarianism in the first place. Everything that follows, from the workings of the General Will to the legislator and beyond, must be considered in this light. The legitimate social contract requires that a strong social identity already be in place, identities accounted for by Rousseau within the text itself. What is unanimity, and how is it equivalent to identity? There are peoples and societies before there are nations, which Rousseau makes clear when writing, ‘What people, then, is fit for legislation? One which, while finding itself already bound together by some union of origin, interest, of convention, has not yet borne the yoke of true laws’.60 The social contract institutes a nation, not a historical people; the latter is a prerequisite for the former. Recall Rousseau’s comments regarding unanimity and prior convention. Historical peoples are described as having stable and coherent identities formed through history, providing the foundations for the legislation arriving out of the social contract. Unanimity is not something like conformity of belief or opinion, which would be much too strong. It should instead be thought of in terms of the common interest of the society in question, alongside the willingness to put said common interest and membership in society first when it comes to public matters. It is certainly true that this sounds as though an informal general will must already be in place before the proper General Will can be founded, but that is exactly one of the tensions inherent in Rousseau’s view that will be discussed more fully below. This identity is the basis for the unanimity that grounds the legitimacy of the General Will, to which I will now turn.61 The explanation of the contract that founds civil society and yields the General Will is exhausted by just one clause, ‘the total alienation of each associate with all of his rights to the whole community’.62 Additionally, Rousseau writes that the social contract itself can be reduced in the following way: ‘Each of us puts his person and his full power in common under the supreme direction of the general will; and in a body we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole’.63 This is a ‘public person’, a ‘moral and collective body’, and a ‘common self’.64 It is a ‘single will, which is concerned with [our] common preservation, and the general welfare’.65 It is only the General Will that can direct the forces of the state, and then only to its proper end, which is the common good.66 Finally, this General Will is nothing other than sovereignty.67 Furthermore, the General Will points to no individual or determinate object, but only to all.68 If it were to be otherwise then it would change in nature and cease to be the General Will.69 This is not just a mere collection of


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individuals; as a moral person with an individual will of its own, the General Will exceeds the sum of its parts. As such, it is lawmaker insofar as ‘law is nothing but the declaration of the general will’.70 The outcome of the General Will is restricted by common interest, preservation, and welfare. Laws are produced by the General Will, and enshrine rights; the General Will adheres to the common consent of the people. Rights, therefore, are a product of the people’s common consent. This series of relationships illustrates Rousseau’s equivalences between common consent, unanimity, and a historical people; they are three different ways of defining the identity of a social group. According to the procedures that Rousseau outlines, the General Will is established by tallying the votes of all who are part of it. In casting a ballot, all that the individual is doing is trying to best ascertain what the General Will is in that instance insofar as the General Will is that which is in the common interests of all the citizens.71 The General Will produces equality only because it is able to overcome the partiality of the individual, who, it would appear, finds it very difficult to see beyond herself. However, when united together with other individual wills, it is easier to do good for the society as a whole. Indeed, while it is not impossible that a particular will agree with the general will on some point, it is in any event impossible for this agreement to be lasting and constant; for the particular will tends, by its nature, to partiality, and the general will to equality. It is even more impossible to guarantee such an agreement, even it if did always obtain; it would be an effect not of art, but of chance. The Sovereign may well say, I currently will what a given man wills or at least what he says he wills; but it cannot say: what this man is going to will tomorrow, I too shall will it; since it is absurd for the will to shackle itself for the future, and since no will can consent to anything contrary to the good of the being that wills. If, then, the people promises simply to obey, it dissolves itself by this very act, it loses its quality of being a people; as soon as there is a master, there is no more sovereign, and the body politic is destroyed forthwith.72

In collaboration, citizens become free in a new sense of the term, one that is applicable to societal circumstances, because the relevant action occurs at the level of the General Will and not at the level of the individual.73 With the structure of the General Will in place, it is incumbent upon the body politic, qua General Will and sovereign, to consistently reaffirm the laws that it has willed for itself. It cannot simply say that it will obey, regardless of the content of the laws that have been made. It must instead continuously create and judge laws according to the common interests of the members of society. However, the General Will is able to exist only insofar as the common interests have tied together all of the members’ wills in the first place. If this has not happened, then, by definition, the very social contract that led to the creation of the General Will has been renounced.

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It is the nature of the contract to support, and in turn be supported by, the common interests of those who come together to form it. Rousseau tells us, ‘The social pact establishes among the Citizens an equality such that all commit themselves under the same conditions and must all enjoy the same rights’.74 This is so because the General Will is constituted not by certain members united together, but rather by a common interest, which, as we have seen, is necessary for the founding of a people.75 The connection of all members through their common interest is a direct result of the unanimity initially needed to get the contract off the ground in the first place, and is obtained from the historical people who enters into the contract. Rousseau grounds these historical peoples, who exist prior to electing a leader, in common interests that tie them together as societies. The General Will can only then be the codification in law of this unity that has already existed in the social world. This is the background needed to analyse Rousseau’s infamous claim that the General Will cannot be mistaken, and that individuals are forced to be free: ‘Whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be constrained to do so by the entire body: which means nothing other than that he shall be forced to be free’.76 It is also the way to understand his claim that factions ought not exist within a state. Rather than advocating the suppression of dissent, this provision of the social contract is actually in place to protect the freedom of individuals and keep them from being dominated by others.77 We have already seen that the General Will points towards the common interest of all of those who participate in it, and that this common interest should be understood through the lens of the historical people that formed the basis for the political people inaugurated by the social contract. The deliberation involved in the General Will therefore results from the large number of small differences among the individuals that obtain when they each deliberate and vote on their own.78 There is the possibility, however, that factions arise. Factions are ‘small associations at the expense of the large association’, and ‘the will of each one of these associations becomes general in relation to its members and particular in relation to the state…. The differences become less numerous and yield a less general result’.79 When each individual deliberates alone in her participation in the General Will, all of the small differences between individuals work towards the common interest of all. But, when individuals do not deliberate separately and form groups, though the number of differences between individuals is minimized, the gap between the differences themselves becomes much greater, dividing the community. These factions each have their own ‘general’ will, but one that is not directed to the common interest of the society as a whole. Becoming a part of a faction means substituting a different general will for the General Will of the social contract; it is to dismiss the common interest of all in favour of the common interest of a few. Rousseau’s denunciation of factions is therefore meant to


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safeguard the freedom of each individual to participate in the General Will in a meaningful way, so that in deliberation they are not facing groups who do not have the common interest of society in mind. At first glance this characterization of factions seems to point towards a conception of resistance that remains purely individual. I think, however, that there is a certain formulation of a faction that fits within my argument. What would this type of faction have to look like? Recall that for Rousseau, ‘The particular will tends, by its nature, to partiality, and the general will to equality’.80 He sees factions as groups of particular wills that tend towards partiality. That is, they tend away from equality and from the common interest that dictates the General Will. If factions are to have another possible formulation, then there must be the possibility that they do not do this, and that they in fact attempt to redefine or alter the content of the common interest of the General Will in the name of the common interest of all. In order to protect the General Will and prevent the formation of breakaway factions that will threaten it, as well as the abuse of power by the prince or members of the government, a state must give itself ‘the best constitution it can have’, despite the inevitability of that state’s collapse.81 Indeed, Rousseau writes, ‘The body politic, just like the body of a man, begins to die as soon as it is born and carries within itself the causes of its own destruction’.82 With these admissions Rousseau seems to resign himself to the formation of the factions that he was previously so worried about. This point illustrates how the alteration of governments, whether through revolution or reform, is built into the structure of institutions as outlined by Rousseau. The social contract will eventually be broken, and rights lost. At this point the process must be begun again, new common interest articulated, a new General Will formed, new rights enshrined, and a new people born. This is what I take Rousseau to mean when he writes, Anyone who dares to institute a people must feel capable of, so to speak, changing human nature; of transforming each individual who by himself is a perfect and solitary whole into part of a larger whole from which that individual would as it were receive his life and his being; of weakening man’s constitution in order to strengthen it; of substituting a partial and moral existence for the independent and physical existence we have all received from nature. In a word, he must take from man his own forces in order to give him forces which are foreign to him and of which he cannot make use without the help of others. The more these natural forces are dead and destroyed, the greater and more lasting are the acquired ones, and the more solid and lasting is also the institution: So that when each Citizen is nothing and can do nothing except with all the others, and the force acquired by the whole is equal or superior to the sum of the natural forces of all the individuals, the legislation may be said to be at the highest pitch of perfection it can reach.83

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The complete artificiality called for in this passage echoes the unanimity needed to found a nation; just as complete unanimity is impossible, and is therefore mythical, so too is complete artificiality. They both function as regulative ideals that cannot be realized in practice. Yet, as we know from the second Discourse, though the natural cannot ever be separated from our social constitution, neither can it be overcome or left behind. This puts the efficacy of the social contract in doubt, since if the secure foundation of a political people needs complete artificiality to succeed, then it will be doomed to fail from the beginning. Rousseau, however, seems to implicitly recognize these inherent limitations. Such recognition is apparent in the four kinds of laws specified in On the Social Contract, as well as through the limitations that Rousseau places on the state in the name of stability. In putting forth conditions that he knows cannot be fully satisfied given contemporary conditions, he accepts the next best thing. This second-best scenario is one where the fully coherent and unanimous identity that would bring stability to the state is not possible, meaning that the identity of the state is always open to contestation. Unanimity becomes an aspirational regulative ideal countenanced by Rousseau’s account of human perfectionism. I will turn to how this can be conceived of within Rousseau’s framework in Section III. Rousseau’s taxonomy of the different kinds of laws is yet another way that he articulates the meaning of a historical people’s unanimity of identity, upon which the social contract is based. Political laws are foundational, and constitute the ordering of the state.84 Civil laws regulate the relationship between the individuals within the state, making sure that they each remain both independent of one another and dependent on the state.85 That individuals ought to be kept independent of one another yet dependent on the state is the same point that Rousseau makes regarding factions. As soon as an intermediary group takes shape, both of these specifications are undermined. The third kind of law is criminal law.86 Though Rousseau states that political laws, as constitutive of the form of government, are the proper and only subject of the text, he calls the fourth and final kind of law ‘the most important of all’, the law of the heart.87 This law ‘is graven not in marble or in bronze, but in the hearts of the Citizens; which is the State’s genuine constitution; which daily gathers new force; which, when other laws age or die out, revives or replaces them, and imperceptibly substitutes the force of habit for that of authority. I speak of morals, customs, and above all of opinion; a part [of the laws] unknown to our politicians but on which the success of all the others depends’.88 Rousseau’s description of the law of the heart shows what must be included in any unanimity of identity of the historical people upon which the social contract is based.89 Such an account of the law of the heart makes clear that it must come prior to, and provide support for, even the fundamental political laws that form the


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state. This point is made even clearer throughout Emile, and is the reason for that text’s structure. At its outset Rousseau is considering various educational attempts to form either men or citizens, and writes, ‘Forced to combat nature or the social institutions, one must choose between making a man or a citizen, for one cannot make both at the same time’.90 What Rousseau means here, however, is not that a single individual could never be both man and citizen, but that they cannot be made at the same time, since the latter depends on the former, and so the former must be primary.91 Frederick Neuhouser notes that Rousseau is attempting to overcome the opposition between the two, which entails ‘devising an education that makes it possible for the goals implicit in each of these ideals to be realized in a single individual’.92 The solution to this problem is that education must come in successive stages, but with the understanding that this does not imply that each could do without the other. Emile must be first made a man by the tutor, free of any and all societal influence, if he is going to be able to function as a free individual within society. Becoming a man means learning and internalizing the ‘law of the heart’: customs, morals, and opinion, which Emile must learn before he can participate in society. The first four books of Emile concern this aspect of Emile’s education, before Rousseau gives him an abbreviated version of the social contract in Book V and sends him out into the world. And yet, this educational programme does not ultimately succeed. Regarding those who charge Emile with promoting a system of domination in the place of education, Robert Wokler wryly comments: We might pause for a moment to consider how inept must be a social system built upon that programme, according to which each child must be kept away from all others by a single tutor who devotes much of his own life to the task, only to find, in due course, that his charge is unfit for both political and domestic responsibilities, and, following the infidelity of his wife, becomes a vagabond, and then a slave to pirates, perhaps even ending his days on a desert island.93

His description of Emile and its sequel makes clear that, as with On the Social Contract, Rousseau is portraying a scenario that is in principle impossible, but that nonetheless reveals certain necessities and goods for which we might strive from the perspective of our own limited resources. My claim throughout has been that we ought to conceive of the instances in which Rousseau presents ideals that are out of reach as mythical constructions that can guide our theorizing. The natural man that Emile’s tutor wishes to form is not a possibility given the necessity of interaction with society. This desire, yet inability, to reach the content of the natural in Emile parallels the same failure in the Discourse on Inequality. The first four books of Emile give

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content to the law of the heart that in Of the Social Contract Rousseau says is the condition for all other laws; the man in Emile is made prior to – and is the basis for the possibility of – the citizen. Given the eventual failure of Emile’s education, we can see that Rousseau has no illusions about the practicality of implementing the educational apparatus found in that text. If the perfect citizen cannot even be formed under such rigorous and perfect conditions, then doing so in the real world will certainly not be achievable either.94 It is still possible and necessary, though, to foster the law of the heart from within society. This means, however, that the unanimity of identity or common interest that grounds a historical people was absent initially, opening up the identity of society to contestation. Since that identity is always related to the common interest of all, fostering identity through the law of the heart means fostering common identification among the members of society with one another. But if this is done from within then society lacks the absolute legitimation brought about by fundamental political laws. The result of this insight is an ongoing process of identity-formation in which the unanimous content of the General Will, as the condition of its absolute legitimacy, along with its ability to force individuals to be free, is impossible on Rousseau’s ideal terms. Prior convention and unanimity ground the General Will’s ability to coerce and imply that there is a coherent and stable identity – law of the heart – undergirding the General Will. When this condition doesn’t obtain, a space of possible resistance opens up within the conceptual apparatus of the General Will as to what the content of the common interest is in the first place. Identities arise through the formation of historical peoples and the ways that the common interest internal to them is variously articulated and contested. This means that resistance and contestation are necessary conditions for identity-formation, rendering it impossible to posit a stable identity without recourse to the sites of resistance that call that stability into question. One instance in which Rousseau outlines the law of the heart comes in his Considerations on the Government of Poland. There he offers concrete ways to foster patriotism and civic duty, advice intended to provide the grounds of a coherent and stable identity that can then motivate identification with the General Will. Rousseau writes that the project’s goals are, ‘Reforming the Government of Poland, that is to say, giving to the constitution of a large kingdom the solidity and vigor of that of a small Republic’.95 Educational efforts form the heart of the plan, with Rousseau stating, ‘It is education that must give souls the national form, and so direct their tastes and opinions so that they will be patriotic by inclination, passion, necessity…. At twenty a Pole should not be just another man; he should be a Pole’.96 In other words, Rousseau is describing a people, revealing that what it means to be part of


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a people is learnt. There is certainly much more to the advice given in the text, but this small selection should make clear that a coherent identity is something that Rousseau sees as being a prerequisite for the functioning of the General Will. We can also read this advice alongside his recognition of the ultimate futility of achieving a robust form of identification without cracks or contestations. That does not mean that there should never be attempts to foster a national or cultural identity. These identities are not monolithic and do not subsume individuals into them; the particular wills of each are retained within the social contract. The futility of the formation of a national identity at the deepest level only means that each instance of its formation – of its articulation of a common interest – can be challenged in principle, since it can never rest on the kind of foundation that would render that contestation illegitimate. These challenges come in the form of the re-articulation of the common interest and in the name of the society as a whole, within which all are equal. This reasoning separates legitimate resistance from the kinds of factions that Rousseau deplores, since the latter do not intend to modify the General Will, but only to consolidate private gain at the expense of the public good. Finally, the size of a particular nation is an important consideration. There are limits to the size a state can attain relative to its capacity for good governance: it must not be too large to be well governed, nor too small to be selfsustaining.97 The conditions for the size of the state echo the claim regarding unanimity and the presence of a historical people. Their purpose is to ground a firm identity that can motivate identification with and consent to the General Will. If a nation grows too large then it strays from its goal of promoting the interest common to all, and the social bond stretches and grows loose.98 Taken together, the various aspects of the General Will and the law of the heart clarify the impossibility of achieving the absolute coherence of an identity that would ground and legitimate the social contract beyond contestation.99 We can now return to the story told by Rousseau in the Discourse on Inequality, which also provided conditions under which civil society was inaugurated. It is not, however, a story of the ideal of unanimity or the coherence of a common interest uniting a historical people. Instead, the inaugural founding of civil society was done by the rich and powerful in order to maintain their dominance.100 According to On the Social Contract, however, force carries with it no political right.101 The poor acquiesced only for protection.102 Of them, Rousseau writes, ‘Why did they give themselves superiors if not to defend them against oppression, and to protect their goods, their freedoms, and their lives, which are, so to speak, the constitutive elements of their being?’103 This is the ‘fundamental maxim of all Political Right, that Peoples gave themselves Chiefs to defend their freedom, and not to enslave them’.104 The initial founding of civil society was predicated upon the subjugation of

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the weak by the strong and powerful, making the legitimating unanimity of a historical people and their common interest unable to ever form the foundation for the ideal functioning of the General Will as put forward in On the Social Contract. As Rousseau knows, ‘It is impossible to subjugate a man without first having placed him in the position of being unable to do without another’.105 The General Will, with its provisions against factions, is meant precisely to block the possibility of such subjugation. It cannot, however, do so beyond doubt. This is why, after Rousseau has shown the ways in which a social contract can never be made completely legitimate and entirely authorized, we are still left with an institutional state of things in which the common interest is contingently settled but not beyond doubt. In other words, the common interest is still what directs the General Will, but what that common interest is has not been decided in advance through the existence of an already established people. The people itself remains open to redefinition, and therefore so does that people’s common interest. This is precisely where resistance enters into the equation. Section III: The Possibility of Resistance in the Name of Common Interest This third and final section will build upon the insights from the previous two sections in order to articulate the possibility of resistance within the overall framework of Rousseau’s social and political philosophy; more specifically, a form of resistance that is carried out in the name of the common interest of society, and which underwrites the equality of all of its members. The equality of each and all is explicitly built into Rousseau’s conception of the General Will. It is equality that is, at least partially, explained in reference to the common interest of the members of the state who participate in the General Will. Equality is also grounded in the social identity of historical peoples, which forms the unanimous basis for the proper functioning of the General Will. My claim is that equality as outlined by Rousseau as necessarily inscribed within the General Will is impossible to fully realize. Instead, we should think of it as an aspiration or a regulative ideal. Rather than an internal contradiction, such an impossibility opens up the space within the workings of the General Will where the articulation of the common interest is at stake. In simultaneously trying, on the one hand, to work out the necessities for the legitimation of government institutions among free people, and on the other hand, lay bare the shortcomings of the societies that we are responsible for having created, Rousseau implicitly reveals a middle path that, as much as is possible, lives up to his ideal of freedom. The said middle path lies between


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the two mythical poles of our completely natural past and our completely artificial future, and shows how resistance is latent within Rousseau’s conception of equality.106 On Rousseau’s terms a fully stable and coherent identity is not possible within a given society. Since the underlying justification can never be as strong as Rousseau claims it needs to be, the door is open from the outset for a reinterpretation of the social identity itself, which manifests itself through the common interest of each and all. Resistance is embedded within a concern for the common interest that the General Will is supposed to represent, an interest in which is the motivating factor behind resistance itself. Those who would attempt acts of resistance care about the fact that their interests are not compatible with the common interest, but want them to be. But why would individuals care about the reformulation of the common interest? Why not simply reject participation in the public political process and withdraw into private life? Why do we care about the common good? Rousseau has an answer to this question that provides motivation for resistance that seeks to reformulate the common interests of society. According to the story that Rousseau tells in the Discourse on Inequality, the human species must seek coherence at the societal, not the individual, level.107 Even working together to hunt or build huts is recognition that the common good is primary and that we require others for our own self-fulfilment. Survival and self-preservation necessitate that we recognize that the common good is something worth pursuing. The fact that such a claim relies on amour de soi being a driving force is not a problem, since it is a part of our natural constitution that can’t be left aside. Emile and On the Social Contract also make the desire for social coherence necessary. In Emile it is done through the fact that Rousseau does not think it is possible to bring Emile’s education to an end after Book IV. At that point he has only received the education of a man, but he has yet to know what it means to be a citizen. He must be groomed for entrance into society and the General Will in order to make his freedom as complete as can be, which occurs in Book V. In On the Social Contract Rousseau is clear about one of the project’s primary conditions right at the outset. Given the obstacles that have come to exist in nature, as well as our individual capacities and endowments, the only way forward in overcoming those obstacles is the unity of existing forces.108 The common interest must take precedence if we are going to continue to struggle for even our individual self-preservation.109 The impetus for resistance is the desire for the coherence of the common interest. This does not at all mean, however, that the conception of Rousseauian resistance that I am describing is a complete solution to the identity issues that arise within his idea of the state. The limit to this resistance is the inability to incorporate new types of citizens into the General Will. Rousseau did

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not conceive of women, for instance, as political beings, and so they are not recognized on the public stage as beings who have a say. This is most clear in Book V of Emile, where Rousseau describes Sophie as essentially being only a subsidiary of Emile, someone he needs in order to become the citizen he ought to become. Resistance is therefore limited to those who already form a part of the General Will and have a say within it. These are those who are already recognized as playing a role, and it is the role itself that is the candidate for redefinition. New actors are barred from the stage, though those actors who are already present can reshape the roles that they play. Since the law can always only be general and abstract, its content, and the particulars that make up the objects of the law, are open to being reimagined from within.110 What would this type of resistance look like? Here again we have reached the limit of what Rousseau can tell us, as the resources that I have outlined underdetermine the specific forms that resistance can take. This is a direct consequence of the fact that Rousseau prescribes a framework that is contentless when it comes to the General Will and the articulation of the common interest. He is only concerned in On the Social Contract with the form that legitimate government takes. He does not, however, want to completely ignore the fact that content must of course be given to the laws. These particulars are to be left up to the specific society – the historical people – that implements them, with the understanding that there must be different laws for different peoples. Rousseau emphasizes this specificity when he writes, ‘The same laws cannot suit such a variety of different provinces with different morals, living in widely different climates, unable to tolerate the same form of government’.111 As long as the criterion of formal freedom and equality under the General Will are met, then the laws of the heart of the historical peoples who implement the General Will meet the minimum conditions for legitimacy. Aside from the abstract form that Rousseau gives to the General Will, there is no concrete content to it that specific societies would be able to apply to themselves. That content must come instead from inside each unique society, based upon the common interests generated by its historical moment. Certainly, Rousseau sees the task of cultivating the law of the heart for a nation as a much more important element of their constitution, but finds that he can only speak about it on a case by case basis: Emile is a child of the French countryside, and he devises separate plans for the governments of Poland and Corsica. The upshot is that the content of resistance can only be decided upon by those who resist, just as the common interest of the people is up to them to articulate; neither can be imposed from the outside. Its form is not entirely left up to those who resist, however, because it must be in some way connected to the deliberative procedures of the General Will. Certainly this means that such resistance is only one kind among many, but it is the form to be found in Rousseau’s writings. Though Rousseau often describes


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the General Will and its functions in deliberative terms, there are other ways to publicize a conception of the common interest, such as demonstrations, protests, marches, artistic expression, and more. One further point needs to be made about the limitations of Rousseau’s view mentioned above. Rousseau’s autobiographical writings demonstrate that he does in fact recognize the limits of the political world and the freedom that it can provide. I have focused on Rousseau’s political writings because it is there, especially in On the Social Contract, that he attempts to find ways to mitigate the uncertainties and ambiguities that he sees in the relationship between society and the individual, and I have tried to show the outcome of those attempts. Viewing his autobiographical writings alongside my conclusions about the construction of the social contract shows us how Rousseau supplements the limited freedom available politically with a higher form of personal or individual freedom available even to those who remain excluded politically from the form of freedom guaranteed by the General Will. Even for those with a conceptual place within Rousseau’s political sphere – who participate in the General Will – political freedom is limited and does not exhaust freedom’s content. Politics forms only one part of the broader social world, and contrary to a commonly held view, Rousseau never seeks to subsume the individual to the collective or to the state; the individual exceeds politics. Rousseau also knows that there is no way to separate the individual from the social world that she inhabits, despite the fact that she is not reducible to that social world. This is why he struggles throughout his autobiographical writings to assert his individuality and his uniqueness against the society he inhabits – yet time and again he must face up to the fact that he is unable to completely extricate himself from it; it always pulls him back. I have offered three main arguments in this chapter: (1) Rousseau resorts to a mythical conception of the natural as a consequence of the impossibility of demarcating the social from the natural in order to show how we can think of normativity within the social world; (2) Rousseau’s own conditions for the proper and legitimate functioning of the social contract cannot be fulfilled on his own terms. I have argued that the former normativity, combined with the latter instability of the social contract, opens up (3) a space of possible resistance within Rousseau’s conception of legitimate government. These three steps build upon one another: the lack of a natural foundation for a legitimate state necessitates Rousseau’s attempt to offer a completely artificial one. When this fails, just as the entirely natural version fails, the middle ground of resistance appears. This space of resistance is a necessary one, since, on my reading, Rousseau was well aware of the shortcomings of his view; he knew that he was asking too much, having known that the contingency of history and our imperfect natures render a fully stable and coherent social and institutional structure impossible.

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notes 1. Christopher Kelly offers an alternate analysis of Rousseau’s philosophy through the lens of his autobiographical writings, specifically the Confessions. Kelly’s project is to show how this text takes up all of the different social and political themes from Rousseau’s other works and combines them within his self-presentation. Kelly writes, ‘Rather than regarding the Confessions as merely providing access to the man behind the works, I use it in an effort to clarify the most important issues of Rousseau’s thought’. (Kelly, Rousseau’s Exemplary Life, xii) 2. Rebecca Kukla also offers a highly illuminating portrait of the many seemingly divergent aspects of Rousseau’s thought. See Kukla, ‘The Antinomies of Impure Reason’. 3. This places my reading alongside other attempts to defend Rousseau against his many detractors. See, for example, Wokler, ‘Rousseau’s Two Concepts of Liberty’; Inston, ‘Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Ernesto Laclau and the Somewhat Particular Universal’; Inston, Rousseau and Radical Democracy; Howard, ‘Rousseau and the Origin of Revolution’. 4. At the outset of Emile Rousseau notes one of his goals for any good education, making it clear that the social world is never absent. He writes, ‘The essential thing is to be good to the people with whom one lives’ (Rousseau, Emile, 13:164). 5. This point means that this section is also an attempt of sorts to give one account of Judith Shklar’s remark that in his texts, ‘Rousseau had left the theory of a stable human nature behind him with the rest of the Platonic tradition’ (Shklar, Men and Citizens, 9). 6. Shklar, Men and Citizens, 20. 7. Locke, ‘The Second Treatise of Government’, §202. 8. Ibid., §201. 9. Ibid., §203. 10. Ibid., §204. 11. Locke separately lists five ways that a government can be dissolved from within, all of them forms of misconduct and dereliction of the duties agreed to in the social contract (see Ibid., §212–19). 12. See Einspahr, ‘The Beginning That Never Was’; Neuhouser, Rousseau’s Theodicy of Self-Love; Neuhouser, ‘The Critical Function of Genealogy in the Thought of J.-J. Rousseau’ for additional readings of the Discourse on Inequality that highlight their normative character; I depart from them in using this normativity to ground a theory of a resisting subject. 13. Rousseau, ‘Discourse on Inequality (Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men)’, 114–15. 14. For further comments on the realities of the Genevan politics of the day and Rousseau’s disapproval of them, see Wokler, ‘Rousseau’s Two Concepts of Liberty’, 173–74. 15. Derrida describes this famous passage as ‘a dream of failed origin rather than of lost origin’ (Derrida, The Beast and the Sovereign, Volume II, 22). Further commenting on the passage, Derrida adds, ‘given that the Robinsonian [Crusoe] dream or ideal – basically that of an absolute identification of the sovereign and the people in


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a single person, a unique and thus lone person, solitary, exceptional – is inaccessible, what is called ‘a democratic government [wisely] tempered’ is the best expedient, the least bad approximation’ (Ibid., 23). 16. Rousseau, ‘Discourse on Inequality (Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men)’, 131–32. 17. Ibid., 134. 18. Ibid., 132. 19. Ibid., 131. 20. See Neuhouser’s work for an illuminating investigation of the relationship between genealogy and critique in Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality. He argues, ‘Rousseau rejects moral inequalities only to the extent that they are incompatible with the basic conditions of the freedom and happiness of every member of society’ (Neuhouser, ‘The Critical Function of Genealogy in the Thought of J.-J. Rousseau’, 382). This consequentialist view is a product of the fact that the project of the Discourse on Inequality is an analytical one rather than a historical one (Ibid., 384). 21. Rousseau, ‘Discourse on Inequality (Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men)’, 124. 22. Ibid., 124–25. 23. It is certainly easy to read this invocation of common consent as a precursor to the notion of the General Will in On the Social Contract. 24. This is not meant in the Hegelian sense, since for Rousseau this relationship is not a teleological one. Rousseau explicitly recognizes that even the ideal state described in On the Social Contract will inevitably crumble. 25. For illuminating discussions of Rousseau’s relationship to animals and the ways he uses them to set up his definitions of humanity, see Oliver, Animal Lessons, 51–78, 97–130. 26. Rousseau, ‘Discourse on Inequality (Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men)’, 141. 27. Ibid., 125. 28. Ibid. Rousseau also asks the question another, more substantive, way: ‘And how will man ever succeed in seeing himself as Nature formed him, through all the changes which the succession of times and of things must have wrought in his original constitution, and to disentangle what he owes to his own stock from what circumstances and his progress have added to or changed in his primitive state?’ (Ibid., 124). 29. Rousseau, ‘Discourse on Inequality (Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men)’, 124. 30. Ibid., 163. 31. Ibid., 164. 32. Ibid., 164–65. 33. Ibid., 165. 34. Ibid., 166. 35. Ibid., 167. 36. Ibid., 167–68.

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37. Ibid., 171. 38. Ibid., 172. This is an all too brief reconstruction of these events as described by Rousseau in the Discourse on Inequality. My purpose here is only to offer a sketch in order to give the general progression of social life. 39. Ibid., 132. 40. Quoted at Cohen, Rousseau, 97. 41. Quoted at Ibid. 42. Rousseau’s plan for the constitution of Poland is one particular example of how these conditions might be implemented, given the concrete specificity of Polish history and its then-contemporary political situation. 43. Rousseau, ‘Discourse on Inequality (Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men)’, 132. 44. Ibid. 45. Wokler, ‘Rousseau’s Two Concepts of Liberty’, 163. Additionally, Rousseau writes, ‘What, then. Must Societies be destroyed, thine and mine annihilated, and men return to live in forests with the Bears. A conclusion in the style of my adversaries, which I would rather anticipate than leave them the shame of drawing it’ (Rousseau, ‘Discourse on Inequality (Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men)’, 203). 46. Rousseau, ‘Discourse on Inequality (Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men)’, 141. 47. Ibid., 140. 48. Ibid., 133. 49. Ibid., 186. 50. Rousseau, ‘On the Social Contract’, 2.7.3. 51. Ibid., 1.0.1. 52. Rebecca Kukla provides an illuminating discussion of what she calls Rousseau’s impure reason. She shows how sceptical Rousseau is, at an epistemological level, of any completeness of truth and identity. Kant, Hegel, and Marx will come after Rousseau and each offers his own concrete solutions involving the coherence and synthesis of reason and knowledge. Rousseau remained sceptical that any such move could work. See Kukla, ‘The Antinomies of Impure Reason’. 53. Robert Wokler provides a catalogue of these charges, as well as a distinct fruitful reading of Rousseau that counters them. See Wokler, ‘Rousseau’s Two Concepts of Liberty’. 54. Rousseau, ‘On the Social Contract’, 1.0.1. 55. Ibid., 1.0.2. Again note Rousseau’s rhetorical formulation of imagining himself otherwise, just as he does at the outset of the second Discourse. Each time he sets up a mythical grounding for his reflections, providing evidence for my view that he at least implicitly recognized the limitations of his theorizing. For further discussion of this particular point, see Derrida, The Beast and the Sovereign, Volume II, 20–25. 56. Rousseau, ‘On the Social Contract’, 1.6.4. 57. Ibid., 1.6.2. 58. Ibid., 1.5.2. 59. Ibid., 1.5.3.


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60. Ibid., 2.10.5. Patrice Canivez offers a helpful taxonomy of the different ways that Rousseau uses the term ‘people’. Canivez calls this type Rousseau’s ‘historical and cultural concept of people’ (Canivez, ‘Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Concept of People’). 61. Jim Miller defends the view that Rousseau is the decisive figure in the development of modern democracy. Much of this story revolves around Rousseau’s conception of freedom, as stated succinctly in his characterization of the General Will. See Miller, Rousseau. 62. Rousseau, ‘On the Social Contract’, 1.6.6. Michael O’Donovan-Anderson draws an interesting parallel between Rousseau’s description of the social contract as the total alienation of each member with Wittgenstein’s private language argument in the Philosophical Investigations. His claim is that, ‘both thinkers, against a standard Enlightenment account of the requirements of justification, assert instead that justification can occur only within the practice/community which is to be justified’ (O’DonovanAnderson, ‘Wittgenstein and Rousseau on the Context of Justification’, 88). 63. Rousseau, ‘On the Social Contract’, 1.6.9. 64. Ibid., 1.6.10. 65. Ibid., 4.1.1. 66. Ibid., 2.1.1. 67. Ibid., 2.1.2. 68. Ibid., 2.4.5. 69. Ibid., 2.4.6. 70. Ibid., 3.15.8. 71. Ibid., 4.2.8. 72. Ibid., 2.1.3. 73. Ibid., 4.2.8. 74. Ibid., 2.4.8. 75. Ibid., 2.4.7. 76. Ibid., 1.7.8. Interpreting the ambiguities within Rousseau’s conception of the General Will, Christopher Bertram presents two interpretative paths: democratic and transcendent, each having different sets of consequences for the overall workings of Rousseau’s philosophy. In the end, he argues for the two as being complementary in a way that is consonant with the way that I attempt to resolve the tensions within Rousseau’s political thought. See Bertram, ‘Rousseau’s Legacy in Two Conceptions of the General Will’. 77. Kevin Inston discusses this point nicely in terms of the relationship between the particular and the universal in On the Social Contract. See Inston, ‘Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Ernesto Laclau and the Somewhat Particular Universal’. 78. Rousseau, ‘On the Social Contract’, 2.3.3. 79. Ibid. 80. Ibid., 2.1.3. 81. Ibid., 3.10.6–7, 3.11.2. 82. Ibid., 3.11.1. 83. Ibid., 2.7.3. 84. Ibid., 2.12.2.

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85. Ibid., 2.12.3. 86. Ibid., 2.12.4. 87. Ibid., 2.12.6. 88. Ibid., 2.12.5. 89. Kelly Oliver discusses the consequences for our actions if this learning by heart could actually be taken to its limit (Oliver, Animal Lessons, 108). 90. Rousseau, Emile, 13:163. 91. Rebecca Kukla gives an illuminating account of human nature in Rousseau is considered in terms of a kind of aesthetic education. She argues that Rousseau conceives of selves as autonomous agents who are nevertheless concretely planted within the ‘messy natural world of bodies, climates, and contingent habits and passions’ (Kukla, ‘Making and Masking Human Nature’, 228). Despite our different aims, my account of human nature as gleaned from the Discourse on Inequality resonates with hers. 92. Neuhouser, Rousseau’s Theodicy of Self-Love, 20. Graeme Garrard for a thorough picture of Rousseau’s complex relationship with both his own time and the ancient republics. Garrard characterizes his view as a counter-Enlightenment that sought to articulate a republic of virtue, as opposed to one of letters. This relationship is laid bare at the outset of Emile, when Rousseau describes the virtues of the citizens of ancient Sparta or Rome. The educational project of that text is meant to show how such a mode of citizenship could be adapted to the eighteenth century. See Garrard, Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment. 93. Wokler, ‘Rousseau’s Two Concepts of Liberty’, 166. 94. I interpret the overall failure presented in Emile and its sequel to include the differences in education that Emile and Sophie receive; neither is adequately prepared for life in society. This does not, however, mean that Rousseau’s obvious sexism disappears. I will return to this theme towards the end of the chapter, highlighting how it remains an obstacle for interpreting Rousseau’s egalitarian goals. 95. Rousseau, ‘Considerations on the Government of Poland’, 193. 96. Ibid., 189. 97. Rousseau, ‘On the Social Contract’, 2.9.1. 98. Ibid. 99. Louis Althusser’s account of On the Social Contract also highlights its internal tensions, which he terms discrepancies. He argues that the contract itself ‘has the immediate function of masking the play of the Discrepancy which alone enables it to function’ (Althusser, ‘Rousseau: The Social Contract’, 114). Although my account resonates with his in this regard, my conclusion remains much more positive (cf. Ibid., 155–60). 100. Rousseau, ‘Discourse on Inequality (Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men)’, 173. 101. Rousseau, ‘On the Social Contract’, 1.3. 102. Rousseau, ‘Discourse on Inequality (Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men)’, 175–76. 103. Ibid., 176. 104. Ibid.


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105. Ibid., 159. 106. Perhaps this is what Rousseau had in mind when he ended the introduction to Part I of the Discourse on Inequality by writing, ‘Discontented with your present state, for reasons that herald even greater discontents for your unhappy Posterity, you might perhaps wish to be able to go backward; And this sentiment must serve as the Praise of your earliest forbears, the criticism of your contemporaries, and the dread of those who will have the misfortune to live after you’ (Ibid., 133). 107. Rebecca Kukla explores the vexed nature of the self in Rousseau, especially as compared to Kant. See Kukla, ‘The Antinomies of Impure Reason’. 108. Rousseau, ‘On the Social Contract’, 1.6.2–3. 109. There is also clearly an aesthetic dimension to Rousseau’s thoughts on imperfection and the necessity of the unity of individuals, as he shows in the Confessions. He writes of being enamoured with a beautiful prostitute who seems physically perfect to him in every way. Convinced that there must be some flaw to be found, he eventually notices a ‘malformed nipple’, which causes him to ‘panic’ (Rousseau, The Confessions and Correspondence, Including the Letters to Malesherbes, 5:270). Rousseau constantly shows himself sceptical of claims to already existing perfection, seeking out flaws even in the unlikeliest of places. Just as he rejects the possibility of a perfect state, he rejects the possibility of perfection in terms of beauty. 110. For discussions of Rousseau’s complex relationship with women, see Okin, ‘Rousseau’s Natural Woman’; Wingrove, Rousseau’s Republican Romance. 111. Rousseau, ‘On the Social Contract’, 2.9.3.

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Resistance Not Revolution Species-Being and Social Emancipation in Marx

Recent introductions to Marx have begun by posing the question of Marx’s contemporary relevance. Jonathan Wolff writes, ‘In 1907 the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce asked “What is living and what is dead in the thought of Hegel?” Every decade or so, someone or other gets the idea of asking the same thing about Marx. Well, now it is our turn. At the start of the twenty-first century how much, if anything, will escape the funeral pyre? My answer is: more than one might think’.1 Prior to the turn of the millennium Étienne Balibar similarly noted, ‘The general claim of this little book is to understand and explain why Marx will still be read in the twenty-first century, not only as a monument of the past, but as a contemporary author – contemporary both because of the questions he poses for philosophy and because of the concepts he offers it… Marx is more important for philosophy than ever before’.2 Both of these texts, Wolff’s explicitly so, are responses to world events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the claims of the disappearance of ideology, and Francis Fukuyama’s thesis on the so-called ‘end of history’. These same events prompted an international conference held at the University of California, Riverside in 1993, titled ‘Whither Marxism? Global Crises in International Perspective’.3 Another example, spurred by the more recent events of the 2008 financial crisis, is Terry Eagleton’s Why Marx Was Right.4 It seems that Marx’s defenders, as distinct as they can be, are forever in need of providing justification for themselves.5 This sort of justification has been carried out in the face of real world events and the failures of concrete experiments in Marxism on the one hand, and in response to theoretical critiques of Marxism on the other. In doing so Marxists of different stripes have attempted to reformulate Marxian political ideas in order to render them more applicable to the contemporary scene and its problems or issues. Successors to Althusser’s scientific Marxism – such as Rancière, Balibar, Badiou, Laclau – have tried in different ways to continue 97


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the radicalism they see in Marx, all while abandoning Althusserian orthodoxy to varying degrees.6 Critical Theory has moved apace into its Second and Third Generations, with Habermas, Honneth, Benhabib, Fraser, and Young engaging with the Marxist tradition as well as the post-Rawls Liberal literature.7 Analytical Marxists like Cohen, Roemer, and Elster have made efforts to incorporate Marx’s politics into debates surrounding distributive justice, contemporary economics, and morality by stripping away the elements of Marx’s view that hindered such a project; this primarily entailed eschewing the dialectical character of his writings in favour of analytical tools.8 In light of these debates, movements, and reorientations of Marx’s thought, this chapter looks directly back to Marx in seeking to rethink his political philosophy afresh and on his own terms while remaining attuned to the demands of contemporary global political life. In doing so I hope to offer a position that recognizes the importance of the normative categories that are the sine qua nons of contemporary democratic theory alongside the insistence that a theoretical stance must resist any tendency towards stagnation. In other words, a political theory must account for the dynamic social processes that produce exploitation and domination, which means that it must move beyond the state apparatus in order to account for the necessity of resistance to that apparatus and its wide-reaching effects. The result sacrifices stability for openness and flexibility. My goal is to offer an interpretation of Marx that leaves his views well placed to participate in contemporary debates about democracy, equality, radical politics, and political action. To that end I focus on Marx’s conceptions of species-being, rights, and democracy in order to show how his conception of human existence enables a concurrent conception of resistance that is in harmony with Marx’s view of emancipation. Marx’s definition of human existence, which he terms species-being, is couched in the dialectic between nature and society. Given the details of species-being, however, Marx sets up an untenable dichotomy between political and human emancipation. The latter is meant to bring true freedom to human beings, beyond alienation, and would be achieved in Communism; the former is dismissed as bourgeois and wholly inadequate to ensure the freedom proper to the human species. Marx scoffs at mere political emancipation, seeing it as a tool for capitalist exploitation and alienation. In place of this dichotomy I argue for what I call social emancipation. This does not entail the withering away of the state, as Marx suggests would be necessary for human emancipation to occur, but I argue that it nonetheless provides human beings with the freedom proper to species-being through its constantly renewed activity of resistance to oppression, domination, and ideology. The chapter will proceed in three parts. First, I will outline Marx’s conception of species-being and human agency, specifically articulating his view on the relationship between nature or the natural world and society, civil and otherwise.

Resistance Not Revolution


The dichotomy between natural and social is important because of the ways that Marx transforms the views of the social contract philosophers who came before him. They relied on the demarcation between nature and civil society in order to ground the legitimacy of the state. Against this view, Marx combines nature and that type of society into one dynamic holistic category, in addition to telling a story about bourgeois civil society and why must be overcome. On this point I want to situate my reading Marx in relation to the previous chapter’s reading of Rousseau. There, my two-part argument went as follows: Rousseau does not accept the division between the state of nature and the state of civil society. His view of the natural world and the state of nature subsequently removes the possibility of firm justification for the state based upon that division, in contrast to Hobbes and Locke. The result is that the state is contested from the outset through resistance in the name of the common interest of those within society. My argument in this chapter mirrors the previous one to a certain extent. In explicitly collapsing society into nature through his articulation of species-being, Marx’s holistic dialectical model renders any justificatory move from nature to civil society impossible. An understanding of species-being underscores the salience of this point. Second, I will critically engage with Marx’s views on democracy, rights, and emancipation. While generally following the spirit of his stance, I show that Marx overstates his case. Specifically, I show that his recourse to human emancipation is unnecessary and does not follow from the conception of species-being. Finally, in place of Marx’s dichotomy between political and human emancipation I reconstruct emancipation based upon my interpretation of species-being, positing a social emancipation that is grounded in the activity of resistance. Implementing social emancipation within Marx’s framework relies on reinterpreting his post-capitalist Communist ideal. On my reading, rejecting the dichotomy between political and human emancipation also means rejecting the possibility of overcoming civil society through the establishment of Communism. Rather than a concrete possibility, Communism and the freedom it promises take the form of a regulative ideal that is in principle unreachable but whose vision inspires social and political activity.9 I am reading Marx as simultaneously unmasking one unhelpful myth – capitalism – and offering up another, helpful one – Communism – in its place. The freedom that he sees as only possible through human emancipation, manifest in Communism, can be transferred to an alternative form of emancipation – social emancipation – that remains grounded in speciesbeing. Social emancipation entails the ongoing and renewable activity of freedom through resistance, while still acknowledging that Marx’s post-capitalist dream of Communist society fails. Communism itself is then transformed into a regulative ideal that animates resistance.


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For the purposes of this chapter I remain agnostic on the specific reason for abandoning the post-statist Communist ideal, as there are several possibilities based upon different readings of Marx’s texts. My position, for which there is no space to defend here, is that Marx’s Eurocentric and teleological view of history is untenable.10 This stance obviously does not entail a rejection of Marx’s overall project, though the many debates surrounding these issues necessitate modifications; here I argue for one such modification. Accordingly, though I abandon Marx’s dream of unmediated society and full transparency, I do want to insist on inheriting a Marxian spirit.11 This spirit is articulated in Marx’s letter to Arnold Ruge, where he makes clear that he is working from the standpoint of a certain kind of critique, that of a ruthless criticism of everything that exists.12 Marx’s position in the letter provides the underlying theme of this chapter, so it is important to outline the details here. Marx writes to Ruge that he wants ‘to find the new world only through criticism of the old’.13 Internal critique should be read here both methodologically and politically. Marx writes, ‘The state everywhere presupposes that reason has been realized. But in just this way it everywhere comes into contradiction between its ideal mission and its real preconditions’.14 Instead of only producing new theoretical principles in the face of these contradictions, Marx instead advocates identifying criticism with real struggles. The alignment of theory and praxis can then ‘show the world what it is fighting for’.15 Marx describes the process in terms of bringing about the self-consciousness of those involved in struggles. The reform of consciousness is not to be done through principles or dogmas, but through an analysis of contemporary political consciousness in order for that consciousness to show itself to itself – for it to become self-conscious. There ought not to be any strict dividing line between past and future, meaning that we cannot abandon the past and begin with a clean slate of sorts – the past instead forms the conditions of possibility for the future. Instead we ought to clarify the already existing desires of political struggles in order to be able to carry out the goals of the past. This is therefore not a new task, but the completion of an old one: the task of freedom. That is, criticism provides clarification to itself about what its struggles and desires are really about. Through criticism we make our goals even clearer to ourselves. This ‘the work of our time’ is therefore confessional.16 In the letter Marx is explicit about bringing theory together with real struggles: this is certainly one way that he tries to shift Hegel’s idealism onto more concrete material foundations, but there are also implications in terms of dialogues within contemporary political philosophy. The emphasis on real struggles means that Marx can be taken up and reformulated with regard to new and different contemporary concerns, which connect directly with the potential efficacy of realizing one’s goals. Though Marx himself can be charged with utopianism, this was in fact the charge that he made against

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the French utopian socialists: their theories were far too idealized to be in any way connected with the contemporary world and its ills. Consequently, without any connection between the present they rejected and the future they sought, they were left with no way of carrying out their plans. Temporality is therefore an integral element of Marx’s critiques of the utopian socialists. Marx is explicit about the necessity of ‘our time’ and its tasks, meaning that the contemporary scene, whatever the time period, is both primary for and constitutive of critique. That is, there is no one sufficient general or abstract critical position, but only critical positions in light of and in response to the real struggles against exploitation and domination that are all around us. Accordingly, if we are going to continue to look to Marx for resources and assistance in formulating critical positions for own times, we must not be afraid to modify the particulars of his position even as we retain its critical spirit. Marx provides further critical emphasis in the letter’s most famous passage: ‘But if the designing of the future and the proclamation of ready-made solutions for all time is not our affair, then we realize all the more clearly what we have to accomplish in the present – I am speaking of a ruthless criticism of everything existing, ruthless in two senses: The criticism must not be afraid of its own conclusion, nor of conflict with the powers that be’.17 In light of the need to rethink Marx’s political philosophy in terms of contemporary needs and debates I interpret Marx’s ideal of Communism as a regulative political fiction, or regulative myth or ideal.18 This interpretation parallels my interpretation of Rousseau’s General Will from the previous chapter, though in inverted fashion: Communism represents not total undivided sovereignty but sovereignty completely effaced. Its impossibility means that the state, instead of withering away, will always lack complete legitimacy, yielding a theory of exclusion and resistance. This interpretation goes against Marx’s ideal of the future transparency between man and nature, or the natural and the social – the overcoming of all dichotomies. Resistance would be obsolete in such a world because it would be unnecessary. Continuing his critical stance from the standpoint of our own time means that we must, in a way, move on from Marx. His own position, as sketched in the letter to Ruge, makes such a move necessary; we must confront the struggles and tasks of ‘our time’ in order to clarify our criticism and our struggles.19 Section I: The Activities of Species-Being and the Link between Nature and Society The purpose of this section is to provide an account of species-being that makes clear just how significantly Marx departs from other influential


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accounts of the human animal.20 Most important is the fact that Marx rejects a particular view of ‘natural man’, a rejection that has certain implications for thinking about democracy and political organization. I will turn to these latter concerns in Section III in detailing the specifics of my interpretation of Marx. Marx’s definition of the human being and his characterization of the human essence in terms of species-being is a direct response to two strains of thought.21 The first is the contractarian political philosophy of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau.22 The second is the classical economic theory of Smith and Ricardo. The two are connected through their reliance on the state of nature as a conceptual tool to develop their respective notions of human beings and human society. Marx’s articulation of the relationship between nature and humanity – and implicitly, therefore, the possibility of the movement from the state of nature to the state of civil society – offers a corrective to these views. Instead of drawing a distinction between nature and civil society, and establishing a definition of the human through the details of the conceptual movement from one to the other, Marx rejects the dichotomy between natural and civil. Through this rejection he sets up a unitary, though not static, view of nature. By positing a dynamic series of relationships, all internal to the natural world, Marx focuses on our productive capacities as living creatures that necessarily interact with and alter their environments. Importantly, this removes the necessity of state formation through the act of founding civil society, a primary element of the contractarian view. Though Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau are all clear that they did not believe that the states of nature they described ever existed, they rely on the conceptual distinction between such a purely natural state and the artificial world of civil society in order to theorize political legitimacy. For Marx, however, this kind of theorizing is both unhelpful and incoherent. Since there is no purely natural state that human beings must leave, forming civil society in doing so, then the foundation of the legitimacy of the state that is set up through civil society’s founding is also undermined. For social contract theorists the state of nature, even conceived of only theoretically and not historically, provides the conceptual basis for the legitimacy of the state and its institutions. It articulates the conditions that must obtain for legitimacy to exist. Though eventually he believes that the state will wither away and Communism will arrive, Marx nonetheless believes that the existence of states in the here and now must be the starting point for political philosophy. I will eventually reject Marx’s thesis on the withering away of the state, but I do follow him in recognizing the importance of refusing to admit a state of nature into political theory. The social emancipation that I argue for in this chapter is based in this very refusal. In the Manuscripts of 1844 Marx is explicit about rejecting the state of nature, which he calls ‘some imaginary primordial condition’.23 The reason

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for the refusal is simple: recourse to the state of nature as an explanans tells us nothing about the current state of humanity as we find it, which is the only starting point that Marx thinks we are capable of taking up.24 Marx further rejects of the idea of the isolated human in the state of nature at the outset of the Grundrisse, where he writes, ‘The individual and isolated hunter and fisherman, with whom Smith and Ricardo begin, belongs among the unimaginative conceits of the eighteenth-century Robinsonades [‘Utopias on the lines of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe’], which in no way express merely a reaction against over-sophistication and a return to natural life, as cultural historians imagine’.25 On this interpretation, these stories of isolated individuals are not merely the rhetorical or literary devices that tell us about human nature that Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau might think they are. For Marx all of the stories told about the state of nature are themselves responses to the material conditions of civil society, and therefore these stories tell us not about ahistorical human nature but instead about the states of civil society that were being confronted by their authors. More specifically, they are stories about newly emerged forms of human independence within civil society that was brought about in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Afforded a previously unknown freedom from familial attachment in civil society, philosophers went about trying to understand this newfound individual freedom. In doing so, however, they read such freedom back through history as a natural law instead of a novel development in human society brought about through human activity. Marx reiterates the point in his brief discussion of J.S. Mill at the beginning of the Grundrisse, noting that in identifying the bourgeois relations of production in society, Mill presents them as ‘natural laws independent of history’.26 Rather than being ahistorical, Marx sees them all as stories specifically about the present that have been projected back into the past and naturalized, effectively covering over their historical character. In Marx’s view, these philosophers were actually interrogating the current material conditions of society and the newfound civil autonomy of individuals, though they failed to realize their work as such.27 Marx begins these draft notebooks with this discussion of the state of nature and the Robinsonades because he will go on to give an outline of his theory of production in the Grundrisse. Insofar as a story of production is a story about the individuals who are part of the process of production, it must also be a story about a certain conception of the involved individuals as human beings. Marx positions his theory of production opposite those of Smith and Ricardo, in whom he sees a debt to the social contract theorists and Robinsonades due to their conceptions of the individual as isolated and autonomous. This type of individual, however, has never actually existed. In contrast, Marx cites Aristotle’s formulation of the human animal, but gives his own gloss on the latter’s famous phrase, writing, ‘The human being is in the


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most literal sense a [political animal], not merely a gregarious animal, but an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society’.28 That is, the individual as we know it is dependent upon society in order to exist at all.29 The opening section of the Grundrisse nicely encapsulates Marx’s view of the individual, around which his articulations of the natural world revolve. It presents the individual in opposition to the autonomy of both the social contract theorists and the classical political economists, and sets up the framework of his overall view. Given this introduction, it should be clear that the position of the human being vis-à-vis nature and society is an interesting one for Marx because he rejects the very terms of the discussion, at least as it was proceeding among the classical economists and political philosophers at the time. In other words, there is not an essentially dichotomous relationship between nature and society that he wants to outline and subsequently defend. Instead, Marx views nature as the overarching concept that encompasses and grounds any view of the state and civil society. Furthermore, civil society is an obstacle to the ultimate realization of freedom that Marx sees in the postcapitalist world of Communist society, and he conceived of it as available only through human emancipation. For Hobbes and Locke – though in different ways and for different reasons – the state of nature is a coherently theorizable conceptual space that can serve certain practical or theoretical ends; they were under no illusions that it ever existed. Marx rejects this. The Theses on Feuerbach contains a broad outline of many of the ideas that are more fully fleshed out in other texts.30 One thing that Marx does in these brief aphoristic notes is to position himself between Hegel and Feuerbach.31 In Marx’s view, the latter doesn’t adequately oppose the former because his materialism (along with all other previous forms of materialism) remains passive and objective. This means that Marx reads Feuerbach as ignoring human beings and their practices, rendering his materialism unable to grasp ‘practical-critical’ activity. As a result he produces a materialism that always remains merely contemplative (Thesis I). As evidence for his interpretation Marx points to Feuerbach’s discussion of human essence abstracted from all individuals. Countering this view, Marx posits human essence as, ‘the ensemble of social relations’, which Feuerbach does not see since he has looked beyond concrete individuals. Feuerbach consequently ends up with an isolated individual just like Smith, Ricardo, and the social contract theorists (Thesis VI). The centrality and importance of activity – and therefore society – for Marx is highlighted in these brief notes, an emphasis that I will carry through my interpretation of Marxian emancipation. The consequence of Marx’s social view of humanity is that any ahistorical human essence – whether that of Feuerbach, Locke, or Ricardo, or any other – is a social product belonging to particular forms of society (Thesis VII).

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Marx’s argues that Feuerbach’s crude materialism leaves out the human agent and reduces actors to merely passive observers, which leaves humanity at the mercy of history. Marx clearly does not want to emphasize society at the expense of history, but instead looks to synthesize the two through his conception of the human being that comes out in his discussion of speciesbeing. The relationship between history and human beings is reciprocal, in that human beings make history just as history makes human beings. Human agency is therefore neither entirely formed by circumstance nor removed from the picture. With this point in mind, I now want to turn to how Marx rejects the terms of the relationship between nature and civil society that are accepted by the contractarians, and in doing so provides his own account of human beings, species-being. Marx’s account of species-being is a dialectical one that doesn’t in principle privilege any one moment over any other, and the rejection in the Theses of one-way determination guides the account. Hobbes and Locke define the human being as primarily a bearer of rights. Marx does not disagree that humans are or can – or even that in some situations should – be such bearers. His disagreement with the contractarian view depends on the distinction he draws between the political and the human, which I will turn to in the following section. For Marx, rights act at the level of political emancipation and so are unable to deliver the true human freedom that only comes through human emancipation. Marx describes humanity in the following way: ‘Man is a species-being, not only because he practically and theoretically makes the species – both his own and those of other things – his object, but also – and this is simply another way of saying the same thing – because he looks upon himself as the present, living species, because he looks upon himself as a universal and therefore free being’.32 This invocation of the universal is a forerunner of Marx’s usage of Aristotle at the outset of the Grundrisse. As Held describes it, ‘Marx’s theory of species-being is thus both an account of what makes a human being human, and the fact that this essence of humanity is only (potentially) fully realized within the community’.33 The human being is a species-being because, as individuals, humans view themselves as acting out what it means to be the universal of which they are a part. There is a question here about whether or not Marx thinks that we are conscious of doing this or simply do it pre-reflectively. The letter to Ruge is of particular relevance on this point. Recall that this is where Marx characterizes critique as having the particular benefit of being able to make those who engage in it more self-conscious of their own critical aims. Part of what critique does is that it helps to clarify even our own critical practices even as we engage in them. At the level of our species-being, even though selfconsciousness will reveal this aspect of our existence to us, it is also already


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in play whether we realize it or not. Recognition of ourselves as species-being would be transformative, in that humans would now see themselves as having potential that they had not known about previously. In other words, only retrospectively would they see that it was there all along and being put to use. Making the species the object of our actions means that through this activity we make ourselves into instantiations, or manifestations, of a universal. That is, there is something that is fully actualized in each individual, and that is the universal notion of the human species. The connection to human activity is important, since it is activity that will be connected to labour and to nature.34 We can subsequently see how Marx is glossing this idea when he writes that the human is, ‘an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society’, which occurs through activity.35 Society exists insofar as human beings see themselves as universal beings, part of a species in which there are others like themselves, with whom they cannot help but interact. This is the mere cognitive ability to see others as we see ourselves. Stephen Mulhall emphasizes this point when he writes, ‘Any animal lacking consciousness of itself as a member of a species would be incapable of recognizing any of its actions as deriving solely from its membership in that species, as being species-specific actions rather than, for example, individual actions’.36 Mulhall places human drives, which are in need of development through enjoyment, at the centre of his account of how we individuate ourselves as members of the specifically human species.37 Part of what makes human species-being unique is that we use these drives, as well as the praxis that comes from them, to modify our nature within the contingent limits of history; humans are their own task.38 The resistance that forms social emancipation echoes this specific point: society is its own task, and we can only achieve human freedom through our efforts to modify it for the better according to our social nature. Society in general means nothing more than human beings living together in the world. As Wartenberg notes, species-being is ‘an attempt to understand the human being as a creature in society, faced with naturally imposed conditions of existence, but capable of an incredible breadth of response to those very conditions’.39 All forms of civil society are also forms of society generally, but society generally is not exhausted by those forms.40 Just as Communism, the society beyond civil society, is still a form of society in general, states of nature are also forms of society in this larger sense insofar as they are forms of human interaction. Hobbes is a helpful comparison. The Hobbesian war of all against all described in Leviathan counts as a form of society for Marx. Hobbes views it as a group of atomized individuals all seeking nothing other than their own particular gain and survival – whence the need to come together and form civil society. The movement is from one extreme of competition to another of cooperation (read: subjugation), and Hobbes draws the

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line between the two quite clearly. Marx counters by offering the observation that human needs and desires preclude the competitive state of nature from playing the natural role that Hobbes wants it to play. Our survival – the very desire that Hobbes says directs competition – is actually what makes such a view implausible.41 Put differently, we already know prior to civil society that at least some form of cooperation leads to survival.42 The meaning of species-being takes shape in the context of estranged labour and its relation to capitalism. The possibility of human alienation plays a central role in how Marx identifies the human being, its potential to have rights, and its relation to the natural world. Within capitalism, Marx argues, we find the necessity of alienation and of humanity’s estrangement from itself. Our essence as human beings – as species-being – is separated from our existence in that our capacity for free directed activity is not being actualized through our work. The alienation of labour is constituted in a number of ways. The first is that the labour is external to the worker.43 This means that the work is not part of the worker’s essence; he denies himself in his work, and only ‘feels himself’ and feels ‘at home’ when he is not working. The labour undertaken by the worker is forced labour, undertaken as a mere means and not as an end in itself. The worker has no choice if he is to attain survival or satisfy any other needs. Marx summarizes these points when he writes, ‘The external character of labor for the worker is demonstrated by the fact that it belongs not to him but to another, and that in it he belongs not to himself but to another’.44 One implication of this statement of Marx’s is that there is an identification of the individual with work or activity. Fittingly, several lines later this is termed ‘a loss of his self’.45 The personal life of the worker is turned against him, insofar as it is alien to him and owned by another. The worker’s activity (‘for what is life but activity?’) becomes separate from him, and all that is left that can be said to be properly his are his merely bodily animal functions.46 Though Marx locates the human beyond its strictly biological functions, he does not stray from materialism. The labour of the worker is connected to nature and its relation to species-being, such that the alienation brought about by the capitalist mode of production directly relates to the natural world, which is inseparable from human beings. Marx brings out this connection through what he calls inorganic nature. On the one hand, human beings physically live from the natural products that they find in the world. On the other hand, ‘The universality of man manifests itself in practice in that universality which makes the whole of nature his inorganic body, (1) as a direct means of life and (2) as the matter, the object and the tool of his life activity. Nature is man’s inorganic body, that is to say nature in so far as it is not the human body’.47 What is not the human body is nonetheless an extension of it, since we use our bodies to make use of and manipulate what is physically external to us. Given the


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relationship that Marx holds between nature, labour, and the human being, not all nature is going to be the inorganic body of the human being, since inorganic nature is limited to what human beings are capable of mixing their labour with. That which we are able to use in this way, however, is not fixed and changes over time and with the alteration of labour’s productive power. We may have no idea in advance which elements of nature will become part of our inorganic body by becoming free for our use through activity. The human being is central to Marx’s accounts of nature, production, capitalism, and history, and we saw above how one element of conceiving of the individual as species-being is that it sees itself as universal. Human universality in relation to nature means that everything outside of the human body is secondary in some way – notice that he uses the term inorganic, not unnatural. There is not, however, a hard separation between the human and nature, even if the latter is inorganic. Nature itself makes up the inorganic body of the human being, which means that, though the human is central, it is not isolated or removed from nature. Humans are the historical agents that drive change, both to themselves and to their environments. The human capacity to be agents of change is a matter of taking control of history such that, as a species, we are able to realize the potentialities of human flourishing to the fullest extent. This resonates strongly with the letter to Ruge, insofar as the realization of this potential is gained through critique of one’s own time. The historical point must be emphasized: it is only in the context of history and temporality can this potential become actualized. Since time and history occur for human beings together, Marx further underlines the lack of isolation of each individual. Regarding the activity carried out by species-being, Marx writes in the Grundrisse, ‘Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules, etc. These are the products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified’.48 Through such activity human beings add to nature, making it objective. Only nature that is not worked over by human beings through their activity remains inorganic, as even pieces of machinery fashioned from nature can become organs of the human body in its productive activity. Marx is adamant in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, ‘Labor is not the source of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use-values (and what else is material wealth?) as labor, which is itself only an expression of a natural power, human labor power’.49 The human as species-being is the locus of these formulations, but what is defined as body or not body, organic or inorganic, is not restricted to a standing or static view of the human being. It is the activity of human beings itself that can change these definitions over time.

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While the individual human is inherently connected to the universal human species as well as to nature, Marx elevates the human above the merely natural. He makes this hierarchy clear when he writes, ‘Man is not only a natural being; he is a human natural being; that is, he is a being for himself and hence a species-being…as everything natural must come into being, so man also has his process of origin in history. But for him history is a conscious process, and hence one which consciously supersedes itself. History is the true natural history of man’.50 As human beings make history, so too do they continually make and remake themselves and their species-being. Activity – including reflective and self-conscious activity – is central to this process, as both the human being and history are continually being brought into being by the productive activity of those same humans. The human natural being is more than mere natural being, a distinction that I ascribe to Marx’s initial rejection of Feuerbach’s version of materialism that we saw above in the discussion of the Theses. That crude materialism was rejected for not being able to grasp any dimension of activity or praxis; for Marx human life is production and activity, which means active agency and not quietism in the face of the potential domination of humanity by the overarching movements of history.51 This two-way determination is apparent in the relationship between the individual and society: ‘Just as society produces man as man, so it is produced by him. Activity and consumption, both in their content and in their mode of existence, are social activity and social consumption. The human essence of nature exists only for social man…. Society is therefore the perfected unity in essence of man with nature’.52 Existence is a social activity, and even in private work we are social beings.53 Nature’s objective essence depends upon human social life, and though this means that understanding these different essences is always contextual, the movements of history determine these contexts. Furthermore, this double relation between the natural and the social is always present for humanity: ‘The production of life, both of one’s own labor and of fresh life in procreation, now appears as a double relation: on the one hand as a natural, on the other hand as a social, relationship’.54 The two are unable to be separated, though their formulations are open to change depending on the forms that productive human activity takes. On this view, it looks like labour is the essence of human beings. But labouring under capitalism, insofar as it necessarily entails the alienation of the worker, erases human beings from society and creates a soulless and inhuman world.55 What, then, of the properly non-alienated human? For Marx, such a state of humanity can only be achieved in a post-capitalist world; that is, it can and will be achieved in Communism. Human beings only produce in true freedom when they do so not merely out of need, which is what sets humans apart from non-human animals on Marx’s view.56 When human


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beings produce well they subordinate economics – mere means – to universal ends: ‘It is therefore in his fashioning of the objective that man really proves himself to be a species-being’.57 This is also the only way towards true freedom for Marx, which is freedom from the subsuming of human need to economic need. The category of ‘social’ is exhaustive for Marx. It is the space determined by the material productive forces in a given society, forces that are outside of the control of any particular individual or group of individuals. They are instead already in place – and so constituted historically. In other words, we all enter into a society that is already ordered a certain way, which we are unable to change on our own. Relations of production are necessary even for our survival, again rejecting the Hobbesian emphasis on atomistic individuality in the state of nature. Successful survival is precisely the development of new, better forms of production.58 Though certainly not exhaustive, this overview of the way that Marx articulates the human individual in relation to nature and the natural is sufficient for my purposes here. The relationship between human beings and nature is a dynamic and reciprocal one. In rejecting Feuerbach, Marx embraces a view of humanity that is active and productive, and that understands itself as universal. As such, each human being is inherently social, connected to others and to nature, connections that are constitutive of activity and production. Now these views of nature, the human being, and the human species must be related to a discussion of democracy and emancipation. Section II: Between Political and Human Emancipation Our discussion of species-being has shown that it is inextricably both social and temporal, and through its productive capacities its activity makes history and its movements objective. This productive activity is grounded and directed by needs, which differ depending on the prevailing societal formation, whether feudal, capitalist, or otherwise. Marx’s teleological view of history, which my interpretation of his thought leaves behind, sees each successive societal formulation as an overcoming of the former, which means overcoming the alienation proper to each.59 Subsequently, in each new formation of society humanity renders itself more free than before. True equality would therefore come with true freedom, which according to Marx is only available in Communism. This absolute freedom entails that humans would be freed from acting only on economic and political need, and would instead be able to act on human need. Consequently, all would be equally able to freely express themselves through their activity. The language that Marx uses

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to describe Communist freedom mirrors the language that he uses to describe the dichotomy between political and human emancipation. Consequently, in rejecting the latter dichotomy of emancipation, I also reject the thesis that only in Communism, beyond all alienation, is freedom possible. Freedom remains the goal, but we can locate it elsewhere. Doing so involves rethinking the distinction that Marx draws between human emancipation and political emancipation, and with it his articulations of democracy, since in the same texts where Marx derides political emancipation he does so to democracy as well. I want to recover democracy for Marx and place it within the framework of social emancipation that I develop in the following section.60 Since social emancipation entails achieving freedom through resistance to ideology and alienation, democracy is situated within resistance as well.61 The direct connection between individuals, their interaction, and their environment means that there must be a distinction drawn between society generally and civil society. Marx reserves the latter for scorn insofar as he views it as synonymous with bourgeois capitalism. The emphasis is on ‘civil’, not ‘society’. In other words, civil society is just one possible form of society. One form of civil society is the bourgeois capitalism of Marx’s day. That particular form arrived on the heels of feudal society, from which it is distinct, and will be supplanted by Communist society. Civil society is the realm of everyday economic activity, which means that it is distinct from the state. It also means that all forms of human society up through capitalism have been civil societies, but that Communism will cease to be civil in the same fashion. There, human need takes the place of merely economic need, and the limitations of civil society have been overcome. Civil society is the sum total of the material conditions of life within society, but it is not primary: its anatomy is found in that same society’s political economy. Marx’s analysis and definition of civil society shows us why he rejected the idea that real change could come from within in through political emancipation. Civil society is able to grasp legal relations and forms of state, but political economy explains or structures civil society and gives it its meaning. The result is that, in order to be able to understand legal relations and forms of state, we must study political economy. Thus Marx is led to devote his later work to such study. The broader point resonates with Marx’s letter to Ruge and its insistence that attention be paid to real struggles: the particular is determinate of the general; the general doesn’t come first (Marx 1978: 3–6). Legal relations arise from economic ones (Marx 1996: 211). Civil society is determined, it is not determinate. Seyla Benhabib has argued for a reconceptualization of Marx’s notion of civil society in relation to Hegel in a way that resonates with my overall strategy. She shows how Marx’s logic of civil society must be thought of as


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distinct from Hegel’s precisely because of Marx’s break from Hegel with regard to ‘the unity of the Hegelian totality’, which ‘consists of the one principle that emanates through it’.62 Marx’s emphasis on ‘a moving, dynamic, and self-reproducing totality’ is of a different order than Hegel’s ‘unfolding of a single conceptual principle’.63 Benhabib’s separation of Marx from Hegel on this point coincides with my argument for social emancipation and the dynamic resistance that then constitutes freedom. Benhabib ultimately calls Marx’s logic ‘the method of expounding a concrete and differentiated totality’.64 Such a description is also apt regarding the logic of resistance that I am presenting, insofar as it does not depend on a radical break with capitalism, which keeps the totality intelligible from the side of the present. It is a conception of resistance that remains both concrete, because it begins with real struggles, and differentiated, because those struggles dynamically alter the totality through resistance. In turning to Marx’s analysis of the bourgeois capitalism of his time we can see exactly how and why he draws the distinction between political emancipation and human emancipation, which he grounds in a critique of Bruno Bauer. In On the Jewish Question, his charge is that Bauer, in rejecting Jewish religious freedom in favour of a secular democratic civil society, confuses political emancipation with human emancipation: political and civil rights belong on the level of bourgeois reform, not on the level of revolution that would overthrow the existing order. Marx’s definition of alienation describes the worker as he exists within the existing capitalist system. A democracy that gives certain specific rights to its citizens will not, however, erase that alienation. Instead, democracy as Marx discusses it here only gives sovereignty to alienated man, in the sense of alienation described above. Alienation is thus the crux of Marx’s dichotomy of emancipation: as long as it exists, human emancipation has not occurred. Religion, just like capitalism, alienates. Religion is the spirit of bourgeois civil society, and it alienates individuals both from themselves and from their community.65 Religion for Marx is the product of oppression and discontent, whereas the realization of human essence entails its abolition, along with the abolition of everything else that alienates human beings.66 The idea of a perfected democracy ‘demands of no one that he accept Christianity, but simply that he accept religion in general, any religion’.67 That is, civil society gives freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. In other words, it does not give real freedom, just as it is also not freedom to ‘freely’ enter into contracts as a worker within capitalism. The freedom gained by democratic civil society is therefore merely the freedom to engage in alienated labour.68 Since freedom is impossible as long as there is alienation, and civil society is only able to grant the freedom to engage in alienated at most, Marx sees freedom as existing beyond such a society.

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In On the Jewish Question Marx writes that bourgeois civil society, ‘leads each man to see in other men not the realization but the limitation of his own freedom’.69 In contrast to this view, in The German Ideology he notes, ‘Only in community with other has each individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible’.70 This means that human beings do not initially or naturally possess a primordial natural freedom that can then be lost. Instead, freedom must be constituted and gained through true communal life; we do not have freedom to lose, only to gain. The state, however, is only an illusory form of communal life.71 It does not guarantee freedom in any way, and even if it were ‘free’ the result would not be the freedom of the individuals within it: ‘A free state – what’s that?’72 In the terminology used above, this is to focus on the general at the expense of the particular. As Marx writes, ‘The state can liberate itself from a limitation without man himself being truly free of it’.73 This is why he believes that Communism necessarily entails the eventual withering away of any existing state. The state is unnecessary to foster community because humanity, as species-being, is already communal and inseparable from nature. At bottom, there is the intercourse among human beings that produces not only the various societal forms of production, but what we think of as the very essence of the human being: ‘For language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of intercourse with other men…. Consciousness is therefore from the very beginning a social product, and remains so as long as men exist at all’.74 Again, we do not begin with individual consciousness and then put them together to form a society, just as we did not begin with an understanding of nature that stands alone and apart from us. Accordingly, Marx takes as his ‘first premise’ the existence of actual, living human individuals, ‘real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live’, instead of abstract freedom, equality, or a set of natural rights.75 These individuals are the ones living, making history, and producing their own subsistence, and their nature depends on the material conditions that determine the context of their production.76 Furthermore, the particulars of the existence of civil society comes from these same individuals and their activity: ‘The form of intercourse determined by the existing productive forces at all previous historical stages, and in turn determining these, is civil society’.77 This relationship highlights the two-way, dialectical connection that Marx gestures towards in the Theses; history and the forms of production affect species-being, which affects history and the forms of production, and so on. Capitalism provides a new lens through which to view human beings because the bourgeois civil society that goes along with it has a certain character. The various facets of life are separated out and individuated, an overall


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state of affairs that is distinct from the previous feudal mode of life. Under feudalism, all elements of life were combined and housed under the umbrella of the political sphere in that there was always a political relationship between the single individual and the state as a whole.78 The political revolution that overthrew the feudal order ‘abolished the political character of civil society. It shattered civil society into its simple components’.79 Bourgeois capitalism is the manifestation of this shattering, which resulted in the separation of the public political sphere and the private sphere of property, labour, etc. Marx is identifying democracy with capitalism, a move that is at best equivocal and at worst misguided. A charitable reading entails that Marx is failing to distinguish between two uses of the term democracy. On the one hand, there is its current bourgeois form that seeks things like rights from within the framework of the state. This is exactly the stance of Bauer’s that he rejects. On the other hand, however, there is democracy in its ideal or potential form. The latter usage of democracy is one that Marx wants to hold onto and that we can identify with equality, freedom, and creativity. Indeed, it would see its proper manifestation in Communism, when each and all would be free and equal.80 In democratic civil society natural man serves only as the bearer of natural human rights.81 However, these rights fall under the political sphere of this new, non-feudal formation of society, meaning that they will not bring real freedom to humanity. ‘True’ natural humanity, one beyond rights, will only come after capitalism. That is, the realization by humanity of itself as speciesbeing will be the real beginning of human emancipation and the beginning of freedom. Conversely, bourgeois democratic civil society can only offer political emancipation: ‘Political emancipation is the reduction of man on the one hand to the member of civil society, the egoistic, independent individual, and on the other to the citizen, the moral person’.82 The split within the individual necessitated by political emancipation in bourgeois society is the alienation that is constitutive of that form of society. These two options – human and citizen – track the separation wrought by capitalism upon the unity of life under feudalism.83 This is the one positive element of feudalism, and it is this unity that Marx wants back, though in a new, better, and more advanced form. If rights are fought for and won, nothing has been done to overcome the division between human and citizen. That is why political emancipation, while often very positive, remains limited. Indeed, Marx critiques the Gotha Programme for conceiving of its struggle within the ‘narrowest national perspective’.84 The ‘bounds of the present-day national state’, which the Programme explicitly invokes, renders real equality impossible. In reality, ‘equal right is continually beset with bourgeois limitations’. For workers within that framework, equal right meant only an unequal right to unequal labour. Since for Marx the economic base of society

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is determinative, and society is capitalist, then any conception of rights must be within the bounds of that system. As Marx writes, ‘Rights can never be higher than the economic form of society and the cultural development which is conditioned by it’.85 In making its demands internal to the system, the Gotha Programme undermines its own goals, rendering success impossible from the outset. Marx decries as fantasy the idea that state aid will be able to transform society – a new society must be achieved through revolutionary as opposed to reformist means. On Marx’s view, the reforms called for, such as the establishments of co-ops under workers’ democratic control, would only achieve their aims if they were independent of the bourgeois government.86 These sorts of proposals are incapable of achieving anything more than the political emancipation that Marx rejects in Bauer’s text. Opposite this definition of mere political emancipation is the more fundamental idea of human emancipation. But human emancipation as a specifically political achievement is illusory; the state is merely instrumental for revolutionary politics. Marx describes this form of emancipation in the following way: Only when real, individual man resumes the abstract citizen into himself and as an individual man has become a species-being in his empirical life, his individual work, and his individual relationships, only when man has recognized and organized his forces propres [own forces] as social forces so that social force is no longer separated from him in the form of political force, only then will human emancipation be completed.87

Instead of political rights won within the confines of the democratic state, human beings ought to achieve emancipation that encompasses the entirety of social life, including the totality and unity of social forces; freedom is not exhausted by a political regime of rights.88 Instead, the social and political spheres must be fused together, something that comes about through the realization of humanity as species-being. Against the limitations of the Gotha Programme, human emancipation transcends bourgeois right, naming a society whose motto is: ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs’.89 The full articulation of species-being, as the natural essence of humanity, therefore comes at the end of the history that Marx is telling. Its realization will bring about the end of capitalism and bourgeois civil society because it will abolish the separation of the political and social spheres. This does not entail a move backward to feudalism, but instead a move forward to something new. In keeping with his criticism of the French utopian socialists, Marx does not characterize Communism as an ideal reality, and it is not supposed to be utopian.90


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Yet this is precisely the tension in Marx’s thought that I am attempting to resolve through social emancipation. In distancing himself from utopian thinking, Marx makes Communism into the very movement that abolishes the present material conditions – he describes Communism thinking differently, or learning to think differently.91 That is, the term does not pick out a particular form of society, only a general form that has overcome alienation and a lack of full freedom. It arrives at the end of pre-history, after capitalism, and is the first non-antagonistic societal formation.92 History proper, then, begins where antagonism and alienation end. This sets up true history to encompass any number of further societal formations that are non-alienating and that are ‘Communist’ in form. Marx has set up a radical break between the pre-history of antagonistic societies and the history proper of Communist societies. In rejecting the necessity of this historical rupture I nonetheless follow Marx in conceiving of Communism as thinking differently. Social emancipation and its activities of resistance continually attempt to think about society differently, guided by the ideal of freedom beyond antagonism, while denying the singular rift between pre-history and history. Section III: Social Emancipation and the Activities of Resistance Having outlined Marx’s conceptions of both species-being and the dichotomy between political emancipation and human emancipation, I now want to put forward what I call social emancipation. It is meant to take the place of the distinction that Marx draws between political emancipation and human emancipation, while remaining grounded in Marx’s own conception of the human being. Political emancipation is rejected for only offering reform, doing its work from within the existing system. It accepts the state qua state and believes that it can achieve its goal of emancipation from within that framework. Political emancipation, however, is revolutionary and would dissolve the current formation of society and the state. This very dissolution is the achievement of emancipation on this view, so by definition it must not do its work on the state’s terms. In offering a unified alternative to this dichotomy I am not rejecting Marx’s overall view.93 He shows us in Capital all of the ways that capitalism is easily able to adapt and co-opt legislation attempting to limit its ills – political measures – for its own ends, undermining these efforts at reform. Though he may very well not realize it, implicit in his description of capitalism’s seemingly endless capacity for adaptation in the face of reform is a rejection of the ideal of human emancipation. This could be the reason for Marx’s shift

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towards economic analysis in his later works. It is beyond the scope of this chapter to investigate these ideas further, but it suffices to say that my view is recognizably Marxian in that I want to account for the same goals as he does: freedom and emancipation as sought outside of, and against, the state. My account of species-being is the basis for my argument in favour of social emancipation instead of human emancipation. That is, the freedom that is proper to human beings qua species-being is achieved not in human emancipation, as Marx would have it, but in social emancipation. Marx errs in rejecting political emancipation as strongly as he does, failing to see how the distinction between political and human emancipation is not as stark as he would have it be. Capital’s account of how industrial capitalists were able to incorporate any new law intending to improve the lives of workers into their business model makes the potential shortcomings of political emancipation clear, and so Marx is not wrong to be critical of Bauer. In other words, Marx is right to be sceptical of the political emancipation and its limitations. He does, however, let his critical tendency get the best of him in this instance. The question now is, how to reconceive of emancipation while maintaining a critical stance? My answer is social emancipation. My contention is that human beings qua species-being are able to achieve a form of freedom that is compatible with Marx’s aims in articulating human emancipation. As we have seen, Marx argues that human activity continually shapes and directs history. The goal of human activity is the continual shaping and direction of human activity in accordance with freedom, democracy, creativity, and equality. Marx thinks that bourgeois democracy only gives sovereignty to alienated humanity. Accordingly, overcoming alienation is the goal of human emancipation, and so the activities of social emancipation are also geared towards overcoming alienation. Marx sees the most natural form of humanity coming at the end of the pre-historical account that he is giving. History proper, the future Communist history in which alienation has been overcome, is the history of natural humanity. This is the inverse of the state-of-nature scenarios given by Hobbes and Locke, in which natural man leaves such a state and enters society. The shift to Communist history from alienated pre-history is supposed to be the full realization of species-being and the understanding of the relationship between humans and the natural world that they are a part of. Such transparency, however, is suspect not only from a contemporary lens, but is also in tension with Marx’s own thought. Why would what amounts to a future state of nature be any less of an ‘imaginary primordial condition’ than a past one?94 There is no important sense of the natural or the social that is separated from the other, as human beings are always interacting with nature in a broad sense. The social, insofar as it deals with cooperation or interaction, goes all the way down – there is, nor has there ever been, no solitary individual.


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Production, then, insofar as it is connected to the basic intercourse among human beings, also goes all the way down. But, production always includes nature, so the social and the natural are always interconnected. Here we can see Marx denying both idealism and Feuerbach’s crude materialism. Nature has no autonomy and separation from our social interaction with it, nor does sociality sit divided from nature. The meaning of nature does not exist outside of our thinking about what ‘nature’ means. The consequence of these associations is that we have a triangular relationship between nature, society, and the individual, such that one term cannot be removed from the others.95 Feudalism united all three but didn’t produce freedom. Capitalism split them apart and offered something that looks superficially like freedom but that actually produces alienation. Rights given by the bourgeois state are representative of this false freedom under capitalism. They cannot overcome the alienation constitutive of capitalism, and since getting beyond alienation means the move to Communism, it follows that the focus must not be on rights as an end in themselves.96 Overcoming alienation and becoming free therefore entails recognizing humanity as defined by its activity and its production (as species-being) and so recognizing the truth of this triangular relation. But what would such recognition look like? Marx only offers a generalized description of it as Communism, the form of society that will follow capitalism as human history progresses forward. Against Marx’s split between pre-history and history, I take his notion of a post-antagonistic Communist society as a regulative ideal that guides political action, such that there is no fixed future endpoint to that action. Communist society – beyond pre-history, the state, and all antagonism – is Marx’s own kingdom of ends. It would be true freedom, and a time where there would no longer be a ‘cleavage…between the particular and the common interest’ in society. The result is a world in which ‘nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes’, and it is possible for one ‘to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner…without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd, or critic’.97 This famous line of Marx’s captures the kind of freedom that he sees as impossible through a regime of rights within democratic bourgeois society, meaning through merely political emancipation. This kind of society forces human beings to become any one of the above listed occupations and defines them as such. Moving beyond capitalism and bourgeois civil society means recognizing something about nature, that we are part of it rather than distinct from it. Nature, in the final analysis, is what brings freedom on the Marxian account, while a regime of rights at worst directly impedes attaining that freedom and at best serves as a pragmatic stop along the way towards attaining it.

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This utopian sketch of Communist society is only of use to us as inspiration. It is not entirely clear how seriously Marx took this description to be, as he was famously resistant to making attempts at describing Communism.98 In the postface to the second edition of Capital he rebukes those who reproach him for ‘confining [himself] merely to the critical analysis of actual facts, instead of writing recipes (Comtist ones?) for the cook-shops of the future’.99 I have noted Marx’s insistence on beginning from concrete realities of the social world and their attendant facts, and this is merely another such example. A more grounded position regarding Communism is that instead of a historical or ontological break with capitalism, it is merely an epistemological break. This is reinforced by passages with The German Ideology, the same text where Marx provides the above descriptions of Communist society, where Marx also writes, ‘Communism is for us not a stable state which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call Communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence’.100 Though the goal is an entirely new set of societal relations, the tools for creating them can only be found within the present conditions. Kenneth A. Megill smartly emphasizes this point in his thorough discussion of ‘community’ in Marx’s thought. Discussing the Gotha Programme, Engels suggested dropping the term ‘state’ altogether and replacing it with community, which better captured his and Marx’s idea of freedom.101 The ideal community is properly democratic because it allows freedom to manifest itself. The state impedes this freedom on Marx’s view, though I have noted my disagreement with Marx on this point. Megill discerns four characteristics of the kind of community that Marx envisioned as the successor to capitalism and harbinger of human freedom. It is universal, in that it is characterized by openness and communication; it is classless, in that productive labour will cease to be an attribute of class; it is historical, in that it allows for social revolutions to take place within the system; and it is scientific, in that a ‘science of society’ is used to ‘help manage and plan the future development of society’ on a large scale.102 My own view differs from the Marx that Megill presents us with in that the state will not disappear. Resistance is, however, built into the system as that which allows individuals and groups to revolutionize society in various ways. Since resistance is the actualization of freedom (social emancipation), it is done in the name of the democratic openness that Megill finds in Marx.103 Following Marx’s lead in focusing on the particular struggles of the social and political world and taking their cue from them, we are led to reformulate how we think about emancipation and its possibilities. My conception of social emancipation is a way of doing that while also, crucially, remaining true to Marx’s description of species-being. Social emancipation is the


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product of species-being once the teleological movement of Marx’s philosophy of history is left behind. My alternate view remains historical, but is not teleological. Now it remains to be explained just what social emancipation is and how it is distinct from the two forms of emancipation that Marx describes. Social emancipation is first and foremost grounded in resistance and stands between reform and revolution, which correspond to political and human emancipation, respectively; resistance describes the various activities that have emancipation as their goal. Following Marx, the goal of emancipation is freedom. But instead of freedom being achieved as humanity crosses the Rubicon into forms of society beyond antagonistic social relations (Communism), freedom is continually actualized through human activities of resistance to domination and exploitation. Leaving behind the teleology of Marx’s view as invalidated by history leaves us with the issue of defining what political struggle looks like. That is, if it doesn’t explicitly contribute to the teleological progression of societal forms, then what can Marx tell us? There is no particular principle limiting the form that this activity can take – what unites the different activities of this kind is their intentionality. Though one could perform actions that accidentally have the unintended effects of resistance, for them to consider resistance they would have to be recognized as such. Recognition can come, however, either from the individual or group performing it, or from others engaged in struggle. This diffusion of recognition is important for the view to remain recognizably Marxian. As we saw in the definition of species-being and its attendant discussions of nature and society, Marx cannot endorse an individualistic model of anything. To insist on the individual intentionality of resistance would be to undermine the entire framework that is in play. My understanding of social emancipation is an outgrowth of Marx’s conception of species-being. Recall that Marx insists on beginning with the real and the material aspects of life.104 This entails always beginning from ‘actual economic fact’.105 Alongside such a starting point is Marx’s rejection of the regress problem of a first cause.106 Beginning with shared facticity blocks the regress problem because it allows us to see that it is the wrong question to be asked. We only seek an answer to it because our needs aren’t being met in the present – if we focus on those needs and their satisfaction, a process that points towards emancipation, then the regress problem evaporates. That focus, as opposed to a first cause, is the standpoint of critique and its empirical grounding.107 It is a standpoint that always begins with the word ‘definite’: definite production of definite individuals in definite situations. Productive human activity in the service of human needs is the motor of resistance. Marx justifies the strict line that he draws between emancipations political and human with his belief that the state cannot be useful for revolutionary societal change. On its face, this seems reasonable. Why would

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a state purposefully contribute to its own downfall? Things are not so black and white, especially if we follow Marx’s advice and begin with the definite and the particular. On the one hand, it is too conservative to expect measures only internal to the state to promote change. On the other hand, it seems wrongheaded to conceive of societal change that is entirely independent of the state and its functions, given that they do in fact exist. Recall that in Marx’s view, human emancipation cannot be a specifically political achievement.108 If political means from within the formal structures of the state, then we can agree with Marx – it will be necessary, however, to broaden the meaning of the word political. In rejecting the proposals of both Bauer and the Gotha Programme as being inadequate to inspire any real change for the better, Marx constructs an unhelpful distinction. If we reject this line, then the meaning of what is political expands. Resistance and social emancipation seeks the same type of thing that Marx thought human emancipation strove for: the better satisfaction of our needs as species-being, which are needs beyond the merely economic. This gets accomplished in all sorts of ways, from more traditional avenues within the government to radical protest actions well outside of mainstream political life. This is, however, a continuum instead of a difference in kind. Just as Marx notes that the structure of laws and the state depend on the economic foundations of society and the forms of production present within it, the results obtained at the state level are determined by all of the past actions in society agitating for change. Political action can lead to formal legal changes, but the impetus will have come from outside the formal institutional structure in the first place. These actions can be individual or group based. They can be speeches, marches, discussions, talks, performances, publications, etc. No action is in principle barred from having political import or performing resistance. What can these actions accomplish, especially if we no longer have a future Communist society to fight for? The ideal of Communism and the freedom it promises can be converted into a regulative ideal in whose name resistance is carried out. Freedom is no longer the outcome of revolution, but is continually actualized through processes of resistance that would transform society. This is a tenable position because Marx himself has already aligned emancipation with better satisfaction of our non-economic needs. He has also defined species-being as the kind of being that relates to the natural world in a certain way. Nature is species-being’s inorganic body because of how we relate to it through our productive activity, which is dictated by our needs, broadly construed. We know that we cannot ever be sure in advance what parts of this inorganic body will be made objective by human activity. If this is the case, then we ought to be just as unsure of how satisfied we will be over time given the products and consequences of our activity.


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This is where the imperative to resist appears. The dynamic relationship between individuals, society, and nature that Marx endorses means that change is produced through the elements acting upon one another. Human beings are agents of history, pace Feuerbach, yet they are limited by their surroundings. As they manipulate those surroundings their powers are augmented, enabling them to alter their surroundings in new ways. Marx recognizes all of this in his discussions of nature and objectification. But if we know that in principle these activities and the developments they engender are not supposed to come to an end, even in Communist society, then why ought we think that we would reach a point at which we are completely and truly emancipated and free? This is what human emancipation and Communism are supposed to bring to Marx’s reading, but if freedom and emancipation simply imply the satisfaction of our human needs, then the human beings who are continually satisfying those needs must continue to perform the kinds of activities that do so in order to not backslide away from that satisfaction. Alienation, then, cannot in principle be left behind, even if it can be overcome temporarily. Why would there be a guarantee that it wouldn’t return with new unforeseen developments of human productive activity? Rejecting the future state of nature that would be Communism does not mean that freedom has to be abandoned, even if that is where Marx located it. Resistance is the activity that works towards the goal of overcoming alienation on a smaller scale, which seems like a stance that Marx would want to endorse given his oft-stated goal of focusing on the definite and the particular. Freedom is transformed into the ongoing struggles against alienation in the name of emancipation and the satisfaction of needs, but with the recognition that no such victory can be final. We become freer through this realization but also through fighting for better lives. Progress remains, though it is far less guaranteed than Marx would have it. We realize our potential for being free through resistance, not only on our own, but through community and solidarity with others. Marx is clear that there can only be freedom within community. Aligning ourselves with communal struggles is what brings freedom to the surface. In doing so we carry out social emancipation. notes 1. Wolff, Why Read Marx Today?, 1. 2. Balibar, The Philosophy Of Marx, 1. 3. See Magnus and Cullenberg, Whither Marxism?; Derrida, Specters of Marx. 4. Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right. 5. See Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism; Boucher, Understanding Marxism. Boucher is particularly valuable for the emphasis it places on critique within the tradition.

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6. Rancière, Disagreement; Rancière, ‘Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?’; Rancière, On the Shores of Politics; Rancière, Althusser’s Lesson; Balibar, Masses, Classes, Ideas; Balibar, We, the People of Europe?; Balibar, Politics and the Other Scene; Badiou, Ethics; Badiou, Metapolitics; Laclau, Emancipation(s); Laclau, On Populist Reason; Laclau and Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. 7. Benhabib, Critique, Norm, and Utopia; Benhabib, Another Cosmopolitanism; Fraser, Justice Interruptus; Fraser, Scales of Justice; Nash and Fraser, Transnationalizing the Public Sphere; Fraser and Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition?; Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume 1; Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume 2, 2; Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere; Habermas, Between Facts and Norms; Honneth, The Critique of Power; Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition; Honneth, Reification; Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference. 8. Cohen, Karl Marx’s Theory of History; Elster, Making Sense of Marx; Lukes, Marxism and Morality; Roemer, Free to Lose; Roberts, Analytical Marxism. 9. See Lassman, ‘Political Theory as Utopia’, for an interpretation of political theory as inevitably orienting itself with respect to utopian ends. Though I generally agree with his analysis of the Western political tradition, the goal of this chapter (and more broadly, this book) is to attempt to productively deal with the tension he describes. 10. For different ways of making a similar point, see Elster, Making Sense of Marx; Derrida, Specters of Marx; Said, Orientalism; Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason; Levine, The General Will. holds onto the possibility, however, that a traditional view of historical materialism may yet turn out to be true. 11. Compare with Gratton, The State of Sovereignty; Derrida, Specters of Marx. 12. Marx and Engels, The Marx-Engels Reader, 12–15. 13. Ibid., 13. 14. Ibid., 14. 15. Ibid., 15. 16. Ibid. 17. Ibid., 13. 18. Though it is beyond the scope of this chapter to fully defend the claim, I am also working from the position that this letter informs the whole of Marx’s philosophy. This means a rejection of the Althusserian view that there is a drastic shift between the so-called early humanist Marx and the mature scientific Marx. In focusing on species-being as grounding Marx’s potential contributions to political philosophy I am also endorsing a humanist reading of Marx that is at odds with Althusser. Compare with Grant, ‘Gender and Marx’s Radical Humanism in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844’; Ruda, ‘Humanism Reconsidered, or’. 19. The contemporary world’s globalization, heterogeneity, and the fact of pluralism should certainly inform any contemporary reading of Marx. This is also what Rawls does with Liberal contract theory: inherit its spirit and adapt it to a different world from a new perspective. 20. See Wartenberg, ‘‘Species-Being’ and ‘Human Nature’ in Marx’ for an argument that species-being is central to Marx’s critique of capitalism. As such, it


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complements my argument that species-being can ground critique through political resistance. 21. See Henry, Marx. for an argument for the philosophical (as opposed to the economical or sociological or political) centrality of Marx and his unifying focus on what it means to be human. 22. As is clear from the previous chapter, I disagree with Marx’s view on Rousseau, who I take to be much closer to Marx than Marx himself realizes. 23. Marx, ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts’, 323. 24. Marx’s argument here is structurally similar to Aristotle’s rejection of Plato’s unitary Form of the Good as inadequate for explaining what it set out to explain. 25. Marx, Grundrisse, 83. The state of nature stories told by Hobbes and Locke would be forerunners to the more mature (that is, for Marx, economic) views of Smith and Ricardo, which drew from Defoe. 26. Ibid., 87. 27. Ibid., 83ff. 28. Ibid., 84. 29. See Chitty, ‘V-First Person Plural Ontology and Praxis’ for an exceptionally clear rendering of Marx’s view on the essence of human beings from a purely ontological standpoint. 30. Marx, ‘Theses on Feuerbach’. 31. See Held, ‘Marx via Feuerbach’ for further elaboration of Marx’s relationship to Feuerbach. 32. Marx, ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts’, 327. 33. Held, ‘Marx via Feuerbach’, 146. 34. See Dyer-Witheford for a fascinating account of Species-Being Resurgent in relation to the high-technology capitalism of the contemporary world. See also his Cyber Marx. 35. Marx, Grundrisse, 84. 36. Mulhall, ‘Species-Being, Teleology and Individuality Part I’, 14. 37. Mulhall also highlights perfectibility, which again indicates Marx’s debt to Rousseau (Ibid., 15.) 38. Ibid. 39. Wartenberg, ‘“Species-Being” and “human Nature” in Marx’, 95. 40. Society in general is merely the condition of human beings living among one another in some way. Civil society is a subset of society generally, which includes institutions and organizations constructed by citizens to structure their communal lives. 41. Rousseau predates Marx on this point as well, though he articulates it differently. See his Discourse on Inequality. 42. A similar line can be run regarding Locke’s view of the state of nature, though his is not as rigid as Hobbes’ is since it admits of three levels instead of two and allows for property to exist in the state of nature. 43. Marx, ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts’, 326. 44. Ibid. 45. Ibid., 327. 46. Ibid.; Badiou, Ethics draws heavily on this formulation of the human being as well.

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47. Marx, ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts’, 328. 48. Marx, Grundrisse, 706. 49. Marx, ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, 208. 50. Marx, ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts’, 391. 51. Going against Marx’s teleological view, I interpret this point as strongly antideterminative and grounded in the regulative ideal of freedom and communist society. I will expand upon this point below. 52. Marx, ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts’, 349. 53. Ibid., 350. 54. Marx and Engels, ‘The German Ideology’, 173. 55. Marx, ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts’, 352ff. 56. Ibid., 328–29. 57. Ibid., 329. 58. Marx and Engels, The Marx-Engels Reader, 4. 59. Ibid., 5. 60. See Doveton, ‘Marx and Engels on Democracy’, 591. for a helpful survey of the ways that democracy shows up in Marx and Engels. He ends on a positive note, writing, ‘in spite of certain inadequacies, Marx and Engels can still make an important contribution to current debates about the meaning of democracy’. Pierson, Marxist Theory and Democratic Politics. attempts to place Marx’s politics and notions of democracy within concrete efforts at socialist politics. 61. Femia, ‘Marxism and Radical Democracy’ argues that Marxism is not compatible with radical democracy (conceived through the writings of Rousseau, Mill, and Marx himself), though it is notable that Femia’s argument has more to do with Marxism than with Marx. With regard to the notion of radical democracy, my interpretation here situates Marx closer to those found in Howard, ‘Toward a Democratic Manifesto’; Abensour, Democracy against the State. 62. Benhabib, ‘The “Logic” of Civil Society’, 164. 63. Ibid. 64. Ibid., 165. 65. Marx, ‘On the Jewish Question’, 223. 66. Marx, ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction’., 244. 67. Marx, ‘On the Jewish Question’, 226. 68. Ibid., 232–33. 69. Ibid., 230. 70. Marx and Engels, ‘The German Ideology’, 193. 71. Ibid., 176. 72. Marx, ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, 221. 73. Marx, ‘On the Jewish Question’, 218. 74. Marx and Engels, ‘The German Ideology’, 173–74. 75. Ibid., 163. This starting point calls to mind Rousseau’s in The Social Contract: ‘men as they are, laws as they might be’ (SC 1.0.1). 76. Ibid., 163–64, 171. 77. Ibid., 179.


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78. Marx, ‘On the Jewish Question’, 232. 79. Ibid. 80. There is another parallel with Rousseau here: just as the ideal of Communism would be true democracy, the ideal of the General Will achieves the same. 81. Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right’ offers ‘a critique of political modernity under the banner of democracy’ Abensour, Democracy against the State, 12. 82. Marx, ‘On the Jewish Question’, 234. 83. Again, Rousseau is a forerunner here. 84. Marx, ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, 217. 85. Ibid., 214. 86. Ibid., 221. 87. Marx, ‘On the Jewish Question’, 234. 88. I should note that this does not mean that rights are irrelevant by any means. I take Marx’s polemics against rights talk in these passages under discussion to be indicative of his insistence on specifically human emancipation; rights talk does not move past the inadequacies of political emancipation. Since my position here is that this opposition itself is untenable it is not a problem for me to embrace rights talk while still insisting that freedom is not exhausted by them; alone they are inadequate. It has traditionally been the Analytic Marxists who have broached the subject of rights within Marxism (see Buchanan, Marx and Justice.; Miller, Analyzing Marx; Peffer, Marxism, Morality, and Social Justice. in particular). It is worth noting, however, that Balibar stands with them in his steadfast affirmation of the importance of rights. See Balibar, Masses, Classes, Ideas; Balibar, Equaliberty. 89. Marx, ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, 215. 90. Marx and Engels, ‘The German Ideology’, 179. 91. Ibid. 92. Marx and Engels, The Marx-Engels Reader, 5. 93. I follow Laclau, ‘Democracy and the Question of Power’, in considering Marx’s dichotomy untenable, though I part from him in that he comes down on the side of political emancipation, while I want to offer a new category distinct from both. 94. Marx, ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts’, 323. 95. Marx and Engels, ‘The German Ideology’, 171. 96. Ibid., 177. 97. Ibid. 98. Wolff, Why Read Marx Today?, 94. 99. Marx, Capital, 99. 100. Marx and Engels, ‘The German Ideology’, 179. 101. Megill, ‘The Community in Marx’s Philosophy’, 382. 102. Ibid., 392. 103. The classless character of community is worth commenting on here. There is an equalizing of the members of the community in that they are all now thought of as labourers and see one another as such. This hints at an element of Marx’s thought that has gone unmentioned so far: recognition. Renault, ‘Three Marxian Approaches to Recognition’, argues persuasively that there is not one unified conception of

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recognition in Marx’s work, but three. This points to the complexity of the contemporary material conditions that he is analysing, in that exploitation and domination take different irreducible forms under capitalism. It also, I think, reinforces my contention that any historical or ontological break between capitalism and Communism is impossible. My account of social emancipation implicitly recognizes this variegation in the fact that there is not one final struggle that, once won, will lead the way to a new stable community. Resistance does not cease. 104. Marx and Engels, ‘The German Ideology’, 163. 105. Marx, ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts’, 323. 106. Ibid., 357. 107. Marx and Engels, ‘The German Ideology’, 154. 108. Marx, ‘On the Jewish Question’, 234.

Chapter 4

Pragmatism, Participation, and the Construction of Public Problems

Whereas my discussion of Rousseau in chapter 2 revolved around the possibility of resistance within egalitarian society, and my discussion of Marx in chapter 3 dealt with the potential limits of that resistance, I now turn to Dewey’s Pragmatism and begin with those limits in order to subsequently ask how egalitarian communities can organize – and reorganize – themselves in response to them. Despite potentially seeming like an outlier among the other thinkers presented in this book, Dewey’s philosophy instead fits nicely into this progression of philosophical figures because of the ways that he highlights the efforts and responsibilities of members of the public in dictating the shape that their society takes. In this chapter I primarily take up Dewey’s conception of publics in The Public and Its Problems, offering a critical rearticulation of the term so that it is better able to, in my view, address certain issues at the heart of contemporary social and political philosophy: domination and oppression, the fact of pluralism, the importance of difference, and how democratic politics can productively respond to them. While Dewey has a unitary conception of what he calls public problems, I argue that we should draw a conceptual distinction between second-order public problems and the more fundamental first-order public problem (singular) of publics upon which they depend. That is, the very constitution of publics themselves is itself a public problem. The continual construction and reconstruction of publics from within is itself the underlying condition for the possibility for all other more specific problems to be articulated and then solved by that public. When second-order public problems are discussed and subsequently solved, they implicitly carry within their articulation an answer to the question, ‘Who constitutes this public who is able to participate in its public problem solving’? Consequently, the more fundamental first-order public problem is given shape by that very same question, but it is one that 129


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can only ever be answered from within some form of the public that already exists. This pre-existing conception of who constitutes a given public provides the conditions for attempts to reconstitute the public through political action. I will first articulate Dewey’s framework of democracy, focusing on the aspects of it that directly relate to his notion of publics. I will then go on to discuss potential shortcomings of his view through a review of contemporary debates surrounding the efficacy of Dewey’s model. Finally, I will offer my own supplement to Dewey’s view that relies on his core insights yet builds upon them in a way consistent with the spirit of his work. In Dewey’s view, publics are formed through community response to problems that are public in nature – public problems. Furthermore, such responses are grounded within participatory democracy broadly construed as a way of life, which means that Dewey’s definition of democracy stretches far beyond the merely institutional structure and functioning of society. Publics are groups whose individuals are bound to one another by being on the receiving end of thirdparty actions – those who are indirectly affected by any manner of others’ actions – and are constituted through the idea of common interest. In the last several years there has been much discussion in the literature surrounding Deweyan democracy about whether the conceptual apparatus of his social and political philosophy is capable of offering adequate grounds for a critical response to power, oppression, and domination. The charge that Dewey’s philosophy is unable to do so is not a new one – Louis Mumford made it in 1926.1 Recent scholarship, however, has begun to push back against this characterization by reconstructing a Deweyan view of democracy that is attuned to structural inequalities in society as well as to the threat of power being concentrated in the hands of a few elites. These scholars present a Dewey that above all seeks the robust equal participation of all of society’s citizens in articulating the form and direction of the community in which they live, resulting in a far more radical version of Dewey than is usually recognized. I endorse the endeavour to make explicit the radicality of Dewey’s social and political philosophy. In this chapter I add to this burgeoning literature in order to emphasize a specific point that has not been made but that is consistent with both Dewey’s own statements and the more recent defences and reconstructions of his view, namely the question of who participates in the construction of the public. In short, while these recent interventions do show how we can conceive of a critical edge within Dewey’s philosophy, they do not account for how Dewey fails to recognize that the very question of who exactly gets to participate in the construction of public problems is never a given. I want to insist upon the fact that the makeup of who participates in or as the public remains open to contestation and re-articulation, and its

Pragmatism, Participation, and the Construction of Public Problems


content is never fixed. The interpretative modification of Dewey’s view that I offer in this chapter is therefore an attempt to solve the problem of who participates from within Dewey’s own philosophy. The issue of who makes up a community of those who may legitimately participate in the solving of the public problems of that community is itself a public problem, albeit one unmentioned by Dewey. A solution to this higher order public problem is always presupposed in solving the kinds of public problems that he does recognize. My modification of Dewey’s framework of the public makes this point explicit. In doing so, I argue that individuals can exist equally within a properly democratic community only by participating in the construction and reconstruction of the meaning and identity of that community. In other words, the boundaries of community – meaning, who belongs and can therefore meaningfully participate in it, who does not, and how this line is drawn – are what is at stake within democratic community. Furthermore, these boundaries must always be at least potentially at stake for the community to remain democratic and equal, and leave open the possibility of robust participation to all. Another consequence of this view is that ‘full’ participation can never be achieved, because the boundaries of a community and its participants are in principle never fixed beyond redefinition. The makeup of the community of public problem solvers is best articulated in the language of resistance on the part of those segments of a community who are excluded from, or devalued as, members of that community, insofar as community members are able to fully participate in the processes of public decision making. Political resistance is therefore the manner in which those excluded from that participation attempt to offer a new answer to the question – the public problem – of how the community they belong to is constituted and defined. Solving the public problem of the community’s makeup in this way must be done at least partially beyond the merely deliberative means that Dewey emphasizes, since those who are excluded must have the possibility of forcefully asserting themselves within the public sphere; often their exclusion in the first place precludes their use of the legitimate deliberative apparatus in place. They do so in the name of the equality of robust and meaningful participation of all members of a community, as well as the ability to contest the limits of that participation. Dewey is correct that the ability to participate in the construction of public problems is the gateway to the publicly shared life that forms the bedrock of equal standing within democratic communities. The problem of marginalization, however, requires an even stronger position, so that even the constitution of who gets to participate in the construction of public problems is a deeper problem that is always facing a community. Consequently, the manner of this construction must go beyond mere deliberation in order to be as inclusive


Chapter 4

as is possible, keeping open the possibility for those excluded or silenced by the status quo to assert themselves within the public sphere through acts of resistance. This form of political action on the part of those who seek the redefinition of the public and its scope prepare the way and serve as a primer for institutions to be able to subsequently take up the very same issues. The values of society are identified and constructed through the articulation of public problems by a community as well as its response to those problems. Upon inspection, these dual sources of societal value are revealed as dependent upon the democratic values of openness to others within the community, manifest through dialogue, expression, discussion, debate, experimentation, and deliberation. Though Dewey sufficiently champions these democratic values, he does not extend them to thinking critically about the very makeup of the community itself. The critical turn that I am seeking with regard to Dewey’s democratic framework is to take up his principles of democratic problem solving and decision making and apply them at the level of the community itself, with the upshot that the makeup of the community is an issue that demands the same sort of democratic problem solving and decision making as do other more specific and directed public problems. The democratic values that structure Deweyan society also guide the manner through which populations articulate problems of public concern and their solutions; these values also question the very makeup of that society. A first-order public problem is therefore the constitution of public themselves, while the issues that involve and impact each public become second-order public problems. Dewey’s view on its own does not account for the first-order version, though it is consistent with and implied by his writings; in this chapter I make this implication explicit, and do so on Dewey’s own terms.2 Section I: Democracy as a Way of Life This section will focus on Dewey’s views on democracy and publics, as well as his corresponding appeal to officials instead of experts. Once his view is on the table, in subsequent sections I will explore some of the ways that contemporary political philosophers have tried to modify it, and then offer my own contribution. Democracy is, Dewey writes, ‘primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience’.3 Dewey viewed democracy as a way of life, and as an attitude that encompassed all aspects of our experience and our lived lives. Such a view entails that democracy incorporate far more than a specific arrangement of institutions or a certain pattern of voting. If democracy is more than simply a particular way of setting up public institutions or the act of voting, then what is it?

Pragmatism, Participation, and the Construction of Public Problems


In its simplest formulation, Deweyan democracy is collective social inquiry. In The Public and its Problems, Dewey writes, ‘From the standpoint of the individual, [the nature of the democratic idea] consists of having a responsible share according to capacity in forming and directing the activities of the groups to which one belongs and in participating according to need in the values which the groups sustain. From the standpoint of the groups, it demands liberation of the potentialities of members of a group in harmony with the interests and goods which are common’.4 There is a harmonious relationship between individuals and the groups to which they belong, one that is conditioned by the values and interests that connect the individuals therein. Through this dynamic relationship all three elements – individuals, groups, and their interests – have the potential to be altered. Dewey regards democracy as an ‘ideal’ only insofar it is a ‘tendency’ that we push to its limit, even with the knowledge that we will never actually reach it, since ‘things do not attain such fulfillment but are in actuality distracted and interfered with’.5 In short, democracy requires constant renewal if any progress is to be made with regard to it as an ideal. Gregory Pappas writes that, as this sort of unreachable ideal, democracy is ‘a tool that provides some guidance…without telling us what to do in a particular situation’.6 The three-pronged relation among individuals, groups, and interests means that modifications in any direction will have an impact that extends beyond their immediate effects. Democracy is the mode of living together within such a dynamic arrangement, with the goal of consistently making the most of that arrangement for the benefit of all participants. With the emphasis on the collective ability to recognize, inquire about, and potentially solve problems, it is no wonder that Dewey opposes a view of democracy that relies on experts in charge – experts who stand in stark contrast to full participation. A class of experts, he writes, ‘is inevitably so removed from the common interests as to become a class with private interests and private knowledge, which in social matters is not knowledge at all’. Why is this the case? Because the way that one becomes an expert in ‘specialized technical matters [and/or] matters of administration’ in the first place presupposes that the general framework of policy is already satisfactory. In other words, for Dewey the very idea of expertness is at odds with the kind of critical and inquiring mind required by democracy.7 This is not to say, of course, that in some areas expertise is exactly what is needed. But those areas where expertise is required are technical spheres that are removed from direct contact with the social and political world. When these spheres do come into contact with that world it is not the expert’s role to play mediator; that role shifts to the broader democratic public. The upshot of Dewey’s stance on the role of experts and expertise is that the knowledge traditionally thought to belong to these societal experts gets


Chapter 4

disseminated throughout society and therefore democratized. Such a process raises new questions about the dynamics and power differentials between social groups that revolve around identifying and attempting to rectify the possible epistemic injustices at play within particular contexts. How this important issue is dealt with depends on the context of the groups involved and their histories; there can be no generic or ahistorical template for how expert knowledge is redistributed throughout a community at large. Publics are central to Dewey’s expansive vision of democracy, and their definition first requires distinguishing between the general idea of public (the adjective, as opposed to a singular noun called ‘the public’, which is not coextensive with a particular public) and private. Dewey writes, ‘The line between private and public is to be drawn on the basis of the extent and scope of the consequences of acts which are so important as to need control, whether by inhibition or by promotion’.8 A public, then, ‘consists of all those who are affected by the indirect consequences of transactions to such an extent that it is deemed necessary to have those consequences systematically cared for’.9 These two quotations draw the line between the public and private arenas, as well as provide for a way to articulate that line according to the specificities of circumstance. Beyond the fact that actions are considered public when their consequences indirectly affect others, Dewey also tells us that ‘public’ is itself an abstract entity, and so there is a plurality of concrete publics of different sizes that are formed according to the above definition. Individual publics are ‘called into being’ by the consequences of our actions when those consequences ‘expand beyond those directly engaged in producing them’.10 Consequently, there is in theory no limit to the number of publics in existence at any particular time. Publics intersect and overlap with one another, and larger publics can contain smaller publics. Individuals are often members of many different publics at any given time. Some publics are more official than others, if we take official to mean explicitly organized, as in a government institution or a nation state. Dewey’s description of publics shows us exactly how it is that experts lack a primary role to play in democracy. Publics instead have what he calls officials, whose role is antithetical to that of experts. All publics have officials by definition, which Dewey defines as ‘those who look out for and take care of the interests thus affected’ within a given public.11 These officials are ‘public agents’ in that they are ‘doing the business of others in securing and obviating the consequences that concern them’.12 Officials are not experts, as they have no claim to better or more extensive knowledge of the public that they serve than the members of that public have. Officials only come into existence in circumstances when those affected by certain actions and consequences recognize that they are in fact being so affected. As Dewey writes, ‘The public is organized in and through

Pragmatism, Participation, and the Construction of Public Problems


those officers who act in behalf of its interests’.13 The task of these officials is to care for the common interest, insofar as they ‘represent a public, but the public acts only through them’.14 It is in the name of this very same common interest that publics are formed in the first place. Dewey describes publics being formed by those taking steps to conserve their interests in the face of possible harm from others.15 The notion of common interest therefore orients and grounds the very idea of publics.16 In a representative government like that of the United States citizens have a dual capacity: as voter and as officer of the public.17 Votes are representations of the public interest, though of course it is possible that a voter instead acts on private interests alone when voting; in such a case she has failed qua public official.18 Publics are communities that are defined by the recognized and articulated general and specific interests of that community, based upon how members of that community are affected by the actions of those around them with regard to those interests. Dewey’s definition of publics brings together those who act and those who are affected by those actions in a tangible way. This is an important point because it means that by definition there cannot be a public or a community solely made up of, say, industrialists and not those who purchase the goods produced by those industrialists. Dewey’s insistence on both the primacy of the common interest of all members of a community, and the fact that the effects of our actions constitute community, indicates that publics are sensitive to inequality through their very definition. The issue of a community’s common interest intersects with a broader point that Dewey makes about individualism. The focus, he argues, should not be on exactly how human beings came to associate with one another (a clear allusion to social contract theory). Instead, we should focus on ‘how [human beings] come to be connected in just those ways which give human communities traits so different’ from other forms of association found in the world.19 In other words, given the fact of association, what are the distinctly human ways of associating? As humans we group ourselves together in the name of science, religion, art, sport, teaching and instruction of various kinds, industrial and commercial pursuits, and many more.20 There is no specific limit placed on the kinds of interests that can bring people together into a public, only the requirement that common ground be articulated between those who act and those who are affected by those actions. If we continue to recognize, as noted above, that issues of epistemic injustice are close at hand regarding issues of community, then we are left to take Dewey’s definition of community as normative. This rules out as undemocratic – and so not true communities – those that are inherently exclusionary and discriminatory. With these definitions in hand, what can we say about public problems? A public problem is one that is articulated and subsequently solved through appeal to the common interest of the community of those affected.


Chapter 4

Recognizing a public problem could entail the formation of a new public along with its officials. It could also entail a reconfiguration of an already existing public through recognition of how the needs and interests of that public have changed. Whatever the process entails, it relates to identifying and cultivating objects of public concern based on the consequences of human action. Such a process requires inquiry into what things or kinds of things fall under the heading of ‘common good’, which is linked to that of community.21 On the relation between community and democracy, Dewey writes, ‘Regarded as an idea, democracy is not an alternative to other principles of associated life. It is the idea of community itself’.22 A community is therefore more than the sum of the individuals within it.23 Accordingly, in Democracy and Education Dewey writes, ‘There is more than a verbal tie between the words common, community, and communication. Men live in a [normatively true democratic] community in virtue of the things they have in common, and communication is the way in which they come to possess things in common. What they must have in common in order to form a community or society are aims, beliefs, aspirations, knowledge – a common understanding – likemindedness, as the sociologists, say’.24 Communities are therefore fluid and never fixed, though of course they can achieve some sort of stability that is buttressed by habit, custom, and history. The result is that there is no ‘community as a whole’ for Dewey other than the abstract concept of humanity, which sits alongside all of the more local and particularized communities that exist within that umbrella term. But how this abstract concept gets defined is an open question and is dictated by our experiences and what we learn from them.25 We must also be careful to distinguish the idea of community from the state. The former must not be reduced to the latter, though the two are intertwined insofar as we actively define them both for ourselves.26 There are potentially many different communities within any given state. Furthermore, ‘The public forms a state only through officials and their acts’.27 The state, therefore, goes as its officials go.28 Accordingly, citizens must remain vigilant regarding the efficacy of the officials. Society itself is made up of many associations.29 Dewey orients the state in relation to the broader category of community association when he writes, ‘Somewhere between associations that are narrow, close and intimate and those which are so remote as to have only infrequent and casual contact lies, then, the province of the state’.30 This entity is ‘the organization of the public effected through officials for the protection of the interests shared by its members’.31 The interest of the public is the ultimate criterion of government activity. For this relationship between a community and its government to take hold, however, prior work is needed. Though the government ‘exists to serve its community’, this function ‘cannot be achieved unless the

Pragmatism, Participation, and the Construction of Public Problems


community itself shares in selecting its governors and determining their policies’.32 In other words, if such a scenario is to arise then the public must find and recognize itself by orienting itself towards certain interests that unite its members. Developing the terms and conditions of this search is the task that occupies much of The Public and its Problems. This is not a task that can ever be completed once and for all, but is one that always renews itself. As Dewey writes, ‘a state is ever something to be scrutinized, investigated, searched for. Almost as soon as its form is stabilized, it needs to be re-made’.33 The idea that the members of a state, connected through their interests, are also tasked with scrutinizing, investigating, and searching for the state may sound counterintuitive. Dewey’s open-ended view of democracy, however, means that the relationship between a state and its members could be conceived of in no other way. Simply because a state exists and has its institutions formulated in a specific way does not mean that the task of organizing it has been replaced with the task of pure maintenance. Citizens, as members of the state, must continually remain vigilant with regard to the binding common public interests in order to ensure that the formation of the state remains true to them.34 They must also have the agency and opportunities to resist, replace, and reformulate those societal formations that do not live up to the common interests of all. Participation is therefore integral to Dewey’s view. The participation of all members of a community is definitional in the formation of that community, in accordance with the guidelines that Dewey sets out for the formation of publics. That is, publics are formed by the very articulation of the common interests and extended consequences of the members of that public. As Pappas puts it, participation is therefore an assumed and unavoidable fact.35 That is, we are always within a situation in which we must participate in some fashion.36 The question then becomes how to participate, especially since an avowed refusal to participate is still a manner of participation.37 Though participation is crucial to sustain democratic society, it is arguably even more important in the face of oppressive and exclusionary factors. Participation will mean different things given these different contexts and goals of action. Social movements aimed at reform, for example, will participate in certain kinds of ways depending on what they feel will have the most positive impact. We must here distinguish in general between the kinds of participation that would undo, redo, or create new publics. The kinds of participation belonging to each of these will not be known in advance, but just as we find in Dewey’s writing the normatively democratic kind of public and community, we can also see there the same normatively democratic kind of participation: that which strives towards the inclusion of the interests of all who live among one another and their ability to have equal


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standing in their interactions with one another and with the institutions under which they live. Dewey writes that there are ‘literally infinite’ types of association, since ‘There are as many associations as there are goods which are enhanced by being mutually communicated and participated in’.38 Consequently, we lack an a priori way of deciding what future forms of association and participation will look like. There is furthermore no specific endpoint for efforts of participation and association and no perfect form of association whose achievement can be fixed upon. ‘Society’, Dewey tells us, ‘is the process of associating in such ways that experiences, ideas, emotions, values are transmitted and made common’.39 That is why communities are defined as articulating current problems that need to be solved instead of representing achievements in and of themselves.40 We would not even have knowledge without communities, for ‘Knowledge is a function of association and communication; it depends upon tradition, upon tools and method socially transmitted, developed and sanctioned’; knowledge itself is inherently communal.41 Dewey defines community as any place where there is both conjoint activity and an appreciation of the positive consequences of that activity by the participants; in these scenarios there exists the mutual understanding of a desire to sustain the good, however it is defined by the community collectively.42 Participation within our communities and associations to articulate problems and transmit our experiences to others has a necessarily critical element to it, according to Matthew Festenstein, in that we put ourselves up for public scrutiny in the goal of transformation.43 When we transmit our views and experiences about the communities of which we are part to others within those communities we are revealing ourselves in a way, and providing the conditions of possibility for disagreement or assent. Think of the mutual understanding of the desired consequences of the actions of community members among the participants. These consequences don’t have to be so narrowly understood so as to refer to specific actions. Instead, Dewey is describing something like an ethos, a way of life or a general outlook shared by community members and that unites them. The foregoing has certainly not been an exhaustive treatment of Dewey’s views on democracy and all that they entail. It does, however, provide a general framework of Dewey’s view that is sufficient to ground the discussion that follows. This framework of democracy is organized around a community with three main elements: individuals, groups, and interests. These communities are constituted around the consequences and effects of our actions on those around us, indicating that the community is grounded in equality of participation regardless of power or influence. Keeping Dewey’s framework in mind I will now turn to several recent reconstructions of Dewey’s work that seek to address issues within his views on democracy.

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Section II: On the Potential for Deweyan Criticism I now want to consider two interconnected problems with Dewey’s political philosophy that have been discussed in recent literature. The first issue that I will focus on is that of power, specifically whether Dewey offers the conceptual resources to combat its negative manifestations within society. In order to successfully position popular resistance to oppression and domination within Dewey’s notion of democracy, there must first be space for a critique of power. The scholars whose work I consider here argue ‘against the claim that pragmatist social science would make no value judgments but rather become a pure instrument for subjective interests and, in effect, affirm the existing social order’.44 Asking if Dewey provides us with the conceptual apparatus to make sense of power or articulate popular political resistance against domination by societal elites requires asking a further question, which is the second problem: With what force or justification can we put forth that apparatus, even if one is possible? The relationship between Dewey’s ideas of democracy and normativity are implicitly contained within that of resistance. Ultimately, I want to show that while these philosophers do much to show how Dewey’s philosophy can be responsive to power, they do not give an account of how resistance to such power fits within Dewey’s framework. Once I have surveyed these philosophers’ attempts to produce a Dewey who can consider power, in the following section I will offer my view regarding how that Dewey can offer resources for thinking about resistance to power. The initial charge against Dewey is that he lacks the conceptual resources to say why his social and political philosophy doesn’t either easily result in, or implicitly allow for, the consolidation of power among a small group of elites. In the previous section we saw how Dewey’s conception of democracy relies heavily on a given community’s self-articulation of its own common good and common interests. A prima facie objection to such a conception is that on his view it seems far too easy for an elite group to exert its power by silencing others’ interests and asserting their own narrow interests as ‘common’. Accordingly, these recent efforts attempting to combat this objection operate by pushing back against the contention that Dewey’s social and political philosophy merely endorses the status quo, or that that it ‘avoids conflict and is unsuspicious of power’ and traffics in a ‘pragmatic acquiescence’.45 Alison Kadlec even refers to Dewey’s thought as ‘Critical Pragmatism’.46 In attempting to show why Deweyan democracy does not in fact merely acquiesce to the status quo it is important to also demonstrate the force behind the claim that it actually does the opposite. That is, even if it’s a conceptual possibility for Dewey that a small group cannot easily capture societal power, how can we remain within Dewey’s framework while also saying that such a state of affairs ought not to occur?


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I will show how some recent contributions to the literature surrounding Dewey have attempted to solve the problem of power and resistance before shifting to the second problem, that of justification, which is nested inside the first. With these interpretations of Dewey on the table, I can then transition to the chapter’s final section, where I will offer my own way to think about the issues of power and resistance from within Dewey’s philosophy. The crux of the matter with regard to issues of power and resistance is whether Dewey ignored the need to provide a way for the public to push back against the potential for power to be concentrated in the hands of elites. There have been several recent attempts within Dewey scholarship to show that the above charge is a misreading of Dewey, and that he does in fact have mechanisms built into this philosophy for recognizing such a danger and for avoiding it.47 These defences articulate and answer the justification question in different ways, sometimes more successfully than others. In moving through these different responses my goal is to articulate these positions in order to use them as a springboard for my own perspective offered in the following section. The issue of how Dewey is able to deal with power and elite control within society is essentially one about the potential for social criticism, as well as how robust that criticism can be. In her discussion of Reconstruction In Philosophy Alison Kadlec writes, ‘Dewey’s intellectual history of philosophy [given in that text] is aimed at enabling agents to distinguish between real and false interests’.48 This aim is a part of Dewey’s attempt to reclaim the importance of lived experience, which is the very basis for criticizing existing institutions and societal arrangements in the first place.49 Indeed, as Dewey writes of his own work in Experience and Nature, ‘If what is written in these pages has no other result than creating and promoting a respect for concrete human experience and its potentialities, I shall be content’.50 It is this respect that guides his overall approach to philosophy. Kadlec claims that, since Dewey’s notion of experience is so wide-ranging and dovetails with his conception of democracy as a way of life, then it is imbued with critical social force. The very fact that Dewey seeks to undermine dichotomies of privilege is evidence of democratic struggle.51 If correct, then Dewey’s entire philosophy is instilled with critical potential. If this potential is not to be stretched too thinly, however, we must make sure that it remains tightly and productively focused. Before evaluating such a possibility I will turn to attempts to show how Dewey’s philosophy is capable of recognizing the kinds of problems that would call for such a critical response. Near the end of Experience and Nature Dewey laments the fact that human beings are all too often unable to find a workable middle ground in life that is relevant to their capacities and potentialities. Human beings, he writes, ‘move between extremes. They conceive of themselves as gods, or feign a powerful and cunning god as an ally who bends the world to do their bidding and meet

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their wishes. Disillusionized, they disown the world that disappoints them; and hugging ideals to themselves as their own possession, stand in haughty aloofness apart from the hard course of events that pays so little heed to our hopes and aspirations’.52 This passage is indicative of a general outlook in Dewey’s philosophy that continually looks to break down what he sees as false and exclusionary dichotomies, looking for a midway point that is more reflective of our lived experience. Dewey’s account of democracy can also be helpfully framed this way. Melvin L. Rogers provides an illuminating articulation of Deweyan democracy by staking out a middle ground for him within democratic theory, orienting Dewey’s philosophy with regard to two very real dangers. Rogers positions Dewey between Walter Lippmann on the one hand and Sheldon Wolin on the other. The former, with whom Dewey publicly disagreed during his lifetime, advocated the view that, ‘citizens lack the requisite time and interest to bring the democratic ideal to fruition;’ furthermore, ‘he maintains that citizens are inherently resistant to information that would call into question their deeply held beliefs’.53 Lippmann concludes from this point that what we need is an elitist democracy in which an elected specialized class of social scientific experts examine, interpret, and report on political reality, thereby giving shape to policy and society.54 This cadre of experts does all of the work that the masses are unable to do, but are chosen by the masses based upon their ability to do that work best. At the other end of this spectrum is Sheldon Wolin’s view that democracy not even about governing at all but is about the undoing of governance and the negation of reification: democracy destabilizes, is inherently revolutionary, and is always a threat to politics as usual.55 Clearly Wolin’s notion of democracy does not lack the ability to resist against power. As Rogers notes, however, the issue is that, ‘whereas Lippmann moves too far in the direction of privileging elites, Wolin moves too far in the opposite direction, resulting in an inability to reconcile popular sovereignty with representative institutions’.56 On the one hand, Wolin essentially reifies resistance, turning it into the only political value there is: any and all principles of organization or institutional structure are opposed to the revolutionary nature of democracy. On the other hand, Lippmann rules out the very possibility of resistance from being included within democracy, since all that his view of democracy entails is that citizens choose which elites know how best to run things. Walter Lippman’s challenge to popular sovereignty rested on the supposition that ‘citizens are inherently resistant to information that would call into question their deeply held beliefs’.57 Unable to use new evidence to re-evaluate their commitment, public decision making is distorted. Lippman’s position led him to advocate for an elitist vision of democracy, in which ‘experts give shape to the problems that are only dimly perceived by both citizens


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and political officials’.58 In contrast with Lippman’s complete mistrust of the population to properly understand society’s most pressing issues, Sheldon Wolin conceives of a radical notion of democracy that rejects the constraints of elites and the institutions that they support. Democracy is anarchic, ‘both functionally and conceptually tied to revolution’.59 Wolin’s view of democracy lies completely with the people insofar as they undermine and attempt to overturn the machinations of those who control society. Recalling the view of Dewey outlined above, we can see how he can be used to forge a middle ground between these two positions, and Rogers’ reconstruction of Dewey reconciles the opposition between Lippmann and Wolin. Taking stock of these competing visions of democracy, Rogers positions Dewey as being able to embrace the positive aspects of each, while avoiding their shortcomings.60 Since Dewey’s conception of democracy as a way of life is holistic and inclusive of the varied facets of our lived communal lives, it encompasses both our institutions and the social practices that stand outside of them. These practices and experiences certainly at times conform with or reinforce prevailing societal institutions, but they can challenge them as well. In other words, the state and the public are not oppositional, as Wolin would have them, nor is the latter simply in thrall to the former, as it is for Lippman. Instead, citizens are able to guard against the abuse of power in governance by, first, believing in the legitimacy of that governance, and second, participating in the influence and shaping of that very governance.61 Central to this framing of Dewey through the dual lenses of Lippmann and Wolin is Dewey’s ‘democratic faith’.62 This faith connects the two extremes of total administration and chaos, leaving us with an engaged population always able to contest and influence governance.63 Power is therefore not concentrated at either pole but is instead the middle ground that connects them, yielding a holistic space of relations that encompasses all aspects of our lives. As Hildreth puts it, ‘Power is enacted through experience, but every experience is itself situated and structured by a complex transactional field of forces’ that form a ‘cultural matrix’.64 Kadlec describes Dewey’s conception of experience as ‘intersubjective, communicative, and social’, meaning that it permeates our environment and our interactions; it is not something that simply happens to us but is an ongoing process.65 So far these theorists have given us reasons, connected to the holistic nature of Deweyan democracy and its connection to our lived experiences, that Dewey’s view can be articulated such that it proscribes the concentration of power in the hands of elites. At issue, however, is the fact that it is one thing for a theory to say that it has the potential to preclude unjust outcomes, but another to provide a mechanism for doing so. Put another way, we still require a way to show why Dewey’s citizenry would, or ought to, resist oppression and domination from within his theory of democracy.

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Both Hildreth and Kadlec highlight growth as a major way to extract this kind of critical leverage from Dewey, but questions remain as to the efficacy of this strategy.66 That is, does the concept of growth actually provide the right impetus for political resistance? Hildreth locates normative resources within Dewey’s philosophy in two different ways, although the first – the process of experimental inquiry – depends on the second: growth. Dewey describes growth as the only moral end for social life.67 Critics have responded to this definition and argued that growth is far too conceptually neutral of a concept to serve the role of a moral end, since it is capable of having as many negative outcomes as positive ones. These charges echo the initial objection to Dewey’s view regarding power and elites above, and in responding to them Hildreth looks to the relationship between growth and learning through experience in order to give positive valence to the concept of growth. He argues that growth is more than just any kind of learning, but instead entails the kind of learning that opens up, rather than forecloses, future possibilities for growth. Therefore, not all forms of learning are conducive to growth, since some forms of learning actually narrow future possibilities.68 If publics are constituted through the effects that actions have on others, then no community of robbers is a legitimate public because those who are being stolen from are manifestly affected by the robbers’ actions, yet their interests are not being looked out for.69 Similarly, Kadlec writes that, for Dewey, ‘growth cannot be conflated with any unspecified or generic conception of expansion’ because it ‘implies a reciprocal relationship between the expansion of social intelligence and the goods generated by these means’.70 Kadlec’s claim of reciprocity in Dewey’s view stems from his claims about the illegitimacy of a public of robbers: the relationship between robber and victim is not reciprocal insofar as the robber takes, but does not give, goods. The criterion of reciprocity works up to a point. Hildreth himself admits that it may work only on a small scale.71 He also concedes that Dewey does not sufficiently answer the question of how we can get leverage for changing societal institutions, which is a crucial aspect of successful resistance to power, domination, and oppression. In order to further develop these defences of Dewey we must be able to show how Dewey’s view would make change effective on a large scale rather than just a small one.72 In the following section I give an account of how such largescale change might happen from within a recognizably Deweyan framework. Given Dewey’s holism and refusal to appeal to any Archimedean standpoint outside of our lived experience, it makes sense to articulate normativity on immanent grounds. Any Deweyan critical apparatus, Kadlec writes, must be immanent insofar as the limit of inquiry itself is our lived experience; since that experience is the condition of possibility for any criticism in the first place, social criticism must come from within.73 Torjus Midtgarden takes


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up Kadlec’s call for the need to ground Deweyan standards of social critique internally, articulating his account of Deweyan standards for social criticism in sociological and historical sources. The result is what he calls Dewey’s ‘immanent cultural criticism’. This immanent approach to criticism is connected to Dewey’s democratic faith. The kind of engagement on the part of the public that emerges in Rogers’ account of Deweyan democracy takes courage, and is by no means a given. Dewey had faith that such courage was within our reach if only we better recognized our capacities and mined our experiences for insight. He wrote of having ‘confidence in the directive powers that inhere in experience, if men have by the wit and courage to follow them’.74 Pappas, describing the resulting position as one of neither naiveté nor blind trust, writes, ‘We must be ready to doubt, but we must do so for the sake of cultivating our immediate experience’.75 This position has the potential for the kind of critical stance needed, but we need to ascertain just how strong it is. Midtgarden believes that he can derive an adequate basis for immanent critique through resources from history and the social sciences and an interpretation of Dewey’s Lectures in China, 1919–1920.76 Midtgarden sees in the lectures a distinctly historical way of deriving immanent standards of critique through recognition, prefiguring Axel Honneth’s work as well as revealing Dewey’s Hegelian legacy.77 Much of what comes out in the Lectures echo the claims that Dewey makes in The Public and its Problems, such as the idea that ‘a society is made up of a multiplicity of groups each of which is constituted on the basis of at least one interests held in common by its members’.78 The element of Midtgarden’s analysis that I want to focus on, however, highlights a theme unique to the Lectures. In that text Dewey offers a historical study of social conflict and its related social movements, providing a three-stage blueprint for such conflicts and their results. In the first stage there is an absence of conflict on the surface even though there is a dominant group and a suppressed group. There is the surface appearance of non-domination because the dominant group has managed to make their domination appear legitimate in some way or another, perhaps through the law. In the second stage this conflict becomes manifest within society. What before was simmering beneath the surface, perhaps unseen to those not directly affected, now makes itself apparent to all as the suppressed group makes public demands of some kind. The third stage sees the resolution of the conflict in some way, hopefully through the public recognition that the demands being made were valid. Institutional reform subsequently legitimizes this recognition.79 Dewey’s three stages provide a vague schema of how larger scale social change takes place, though he still makes his trust apparent in the democratic human power of collective problem solving.

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Midtgarden subsequently offers two considerations for how to criticize cultural sources of normative authority that build on the Deweyan foundation offered in the China lectures. The first is a ‘subjective’ consideration that entails drawing the distinction between custom and tradition, and the ‘common recognition of authoritative norms implicit in social practices’. In other words, some deeper level of agreement is appealed to that then subsequently entails siding with one of the two views being debated, and one party finds herself in a position of self-contradiction. Traditions are merely institutionalized customs of which we are explicitly conscious. A tradition, then, could effectively critique normative authority ‘by making the very content of norms implicit in customs cognitively accessible (qua beliefs) for its members’.80 The idea seems to be that justifications for customs can be teased out and articulated in order to be appraised according to their efficacy with regard to their presuppositions, keeping critique of those customs internal to their own self-conception. The second is an ‘objective’ consideration, whose goal is to ‘undermine the authority of traditional beliefs by identifying their historical origins and by relating such origins to the present situation and thereby showing their social inadequacy’.81 I take it that the second half of this claim is the more important of two. Paired with the ‘subjective’ condition above, the result is a dynamic and dialectical relationship between, first, the undergirding principles that form societal norms and, second, the concrete expressions of the norms themselves. Criticism can come in the form of claiming that the latter do not meet the standards of the former, or through the demonstration that the latter shows the inadequacies of the former, leading to their reformulation. A more Hegelian version of this process would appeal to something along the lines of its inexorably progressive march towards completion. Dewey, however, can only offer us his democratic faith that such a dialectic would move in the right direction if we constructed the societal conditions conducive to such progress. There is much more to recommend in Midtgarden’s reading of Dewey’s Lectures in terms of its Hegelian roots and relation to philosophies of recognition. At this point I simply want to use it to orient the following section of the chapter, as this brief overview through some of the recent ways that scholars have defended and illuminated Dewey still leaves us with some questions to answer. Midtgarden makes the most successful case for the existence and application of Deweyan critical resources, building on the work of the other thinkers discussed here. Following their collective insights, it does appear that there are resources within Dewey’s thought for a critical apparatus to take shape. It would focus on the potential to restrain the concentration of power in the hands of a cadre of societal elites and ensure that the democratic community of inquirers and experimenters can flourish, as well as provide immanent grounds for the normative force of that restraint. In the following


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section I offer a supplement to these views that incorporates and relies on insights gleaned from the above interpretations while offering a new way to pull them together and strengthen them. In doing so, I argue for a way to conceive of political resistance among the people from within Dewey’s own framework and on his own terms. Section III: A More Thoroughgoing Democracy In this section I offer my own modification of Dewey’s view in light of the outline of his views on democracy and publics given in Section I, as well as the issues relating to critique set out in Section II. Recall that there exists the perceived inability to take account of the power dynamics within society and the subsequent problem of the potential for normative force for social criticism in response to those power dynamics. The view that I develop here is put forward in the spirit of Dewey’s views on democracy while simultaneously attempting to work around some vagueness and tension within them. The goal is to articulate a more thoroughgoing Deweyan democracy, which addresses issues of power through the constitution of pragmatic resistance within society. I want to begin by recalling the point made above the meaning of participation for Dewey: the fact that we are unable to refuse to participate in society because we are always within the context of a given situation that demands a response. This social condition of ours highlights Dewey’s contextualism and holism. Taken together they emphasize the way that temporality is built into Dewey’s conception of democracy. Democracy itself, as outlined above, is a process of solving the problems that come about through the contingencies of human association. This conception of democracy places us directly within the morass of everyday life, in all of its complexity. Democracy is then necessarily a task, writes Pappas, which aims at ‘a better life relative to where we are, rather than to some predetermined conception of the good life’.82 It is not a process that is beholden to an end, as a mere means. Contexts are everchanging such that there is no ultimate end that democracy has in mind other than the continual ability to ameliorate problems as they arise within those contexts. Democracy is not a goal but a facet of our human social disposition that enables us to solve problems with regard to our specific goals. While Dewey’s notion of the ‘ideal’ of democracy understood in this way it can have no a priori justification. It can, however, be tested for its ability to mitigate the ills of the present and improve contemporary conditions.83 Given present circumstances and the problems that have arisen out of them, the question must always be asked, how could society as currently constituted manage to solve those problems? If there are limits to the ways it can do so, then some

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kind of democratic alteration is needed in order to improve the democratic social resources for problem solving. This conception of democracy places a significant amount of weight on the particularities of the present and its constitution, meaning that in unjust societies in which the status quo needs more than minor reform we run into the difficulties noted above: situations in which the disempowered have no Deweyan recourse to justify social change. Pappas offers us a strategy to evaluate this issue, which is to think about how democracy is constituted based upon the conditions in which we find ourselves in the present, including the conditions that have produced it.84 Developing this point, he writes, ‘Present learning can be directly experienced and judged as a meaningful and worthwhile experience regardless of what comes from it’.85 That is, we do not need a fully articulated and clear future ideal to strive towards. Recall that there is no conception of the fully complete ideal of democracy, though there is the matter of judging situations according to their own standards of success. According to Dewey, ‘Every situation has its own measure and quality of progress’.86 Democracy is the very definition of associated living and collective inquiry, and is therefore the communal process of navigating diverse situations, including recognizing what they require. Pappas’ describes his interpretation of Dewey’s ideal of democracy as the very task of the present moment.87 In other words, our collective existence without our communities and societies revolves around the attempt, in good faith, to best serve the common interests of all parties involved, given the constraints and particulars of the current scenario and its difficulties. Even our desired ends are conditioned by the particulars of the situation, so we cannot know them in an abstract sense. Lacking abstract ends to guide our actions we instead begin with the method of solving those problems, which is democracy. Intelligence is required for picking out these problems and their potential solutions, which Dewey defines as, ‘Concrete suggestions arising from past experiences, developed and matured in the light of the needs and deficiencies of the present, employed as aims and methods of specific reconstruction, and tested by success or failure in accomplishing this task of readjustment, suffice. To such empirical suggestions used in constructive fashion for new ends the name intelligence is given’.88 Intelligence, then, is related to democracy insofar as the former is based upon the latter. From the standpoint of the present, given what we know about the past and its outcomes, as well as the makeup of our community and its interests, how should we act? Thinking through such a question in the most complete way possible, given any obstacles, defines intelligence, and its use within Dewey’s experimental outlook emphasizes the cultivation of better possibilities for the future. This perspective must be complemented by a critical inheritance of the past that recognizes the backward-looking function of knowledge and the


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fact that we must investigate exactly how our beliefs were formed and put into place. In situating our beliefs historically we can provide them with their justification. This sort of emphasis on our present activity and its manner of constitution is helpful for pointing towards how a meaningful conception of resistance can be developed within Dewey’s thought. The present takes on increased importance insofar as it is not simply the means to a future end but is rather rich and complex on its own. It has a history that has shaped it and that we must reckon with if we are to hope for a better future to come out of it. Inquiry into our circumstances and the problems they confront us with imbues the present with meaning that is linked to both the past and the future. We have seen how Midtgarden looked to historical and sociological sources in order to derive the basis for social criticism internal to Dewey’s democratic vision. The result of both Pappas’ and Midtgarden’s temporal readings of Dewey on this issue gives us a more robust ground on which to build a critical edifice of democratic resistance. The Deweyan view of democracy reconstructed here through these thinkers stands in contrast to Richard Rorty’s reconstruction of Dewey, which ends up endorsing a problematic ethnocentrism. Rorty is unable to provide us with a way of criticizing current practices, and no way to vindicate them either; we are stuck with what we have. Luckily for Rorty, what we have is Liberal Democracy, which he endorses, though he is hard-pressed to offer any strong reason for this endorsement. One problem with such a view is that it falls into the very same trap regarding dualisms that Dewey was so opposed to. Regarding Rorty, Pappas writes, ‘The alternative to the traditional quest for certainty and an Archimedean objective standpoint [which Rorty steadfastly rejects, just as Dewey does] is not that we are just humans talking to each other, trapped in our own language, culture, history, and inherited standards’.89 Rorty backs himself into a corner that produces the implication that all criticisms of one’s own communal practices are completely meaningless. This endpoint is a result of taking contexts to be walled off from other contexts, even if they are not thought of as fixed in and of themselves. It effectively renders conversation, dialogue, debate, critique, etc. impossible across the lines that divide contexts, which is a stance inimical to Dewey’s views about democratic community. Though Rorty errs in his particular conception of our relation to history, inheriting our past and its traditions must remain an important aspect of reading Dewey. We cannot simply accept any and all historical concepts or the prevailing status quo, though if we begin with the fact that human beings are fallible then it is a short step to experimentation in favour of the best outcome, where best is understood through the understanding of publics and their formation in relation to the public good. Such experimentation does not

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entail actually carrying out all experiments in the real world, of course. If we are properly investigating and learning from experience, thought experiments will be able to tell us when certain kinds of actions will have negative results with relation to publics and their problems, using the lessons we have learnt from history in order not to repeat past mistakes. Furthermore, the meaning of best in the context of a ‘best outcome’ is indeterminate, which allows us to remain internally vigilant against our own concepts and conclusions, and allows for the fact that even our starting point of fallibility is/was theoretically incorrect. A critical eye towards history also allows us to use and reinterpret the concepts and categories that we inherit, since these categories themselves are at stake in the political present. Though I am here building on the work of Pappas and Midtgarden by recognizing the fruitful insights they provide regarding Deweyan democracy, they each nevertheless refrain from supplementing Dewey’s view with the kind of critical edge that I want to impart. Midtgarden’s historical derivation of immanent standards of critique strays too close to Hegel and the inability to promote active change in the face of history, which takes centre stage in place of human agents.90 Pappas highlights the place of both temporality and futurity for Dewey in an insightful way, though a mechanism for understanding how those elements of democracy relate to social change is missing. My view of pragmatic resistance specifies the mechanisms of social conflict within history while moving away from the schematic three-stage presentation given by Dewey. In doing so I take up Pappas’ temporally open-ended view of democracy, reorienting it towards the specificities of social conflict. Reorienting immanent critique through sociological and historical sources, along with the complexity of the present moment, means that the very context and meaning of our political terms are at stake in Dewey’s political philosophy. The upshot of this claim is that the constitution of publics is itself a public problem, and a higher order one at that. Consequently, there is an underlying problem of discerning who makes up the public that is, at a more superficial level, trying to solve a specific problem: Call it the public problem of democratic community itself. Recall that publics are brought into being through the recognition and demonstration that there is a connection between certain actions and their consequences that bring people together. Publics are therefore formed as a way to solve the problems posed by those consequences, and involve regulation of those consequences. The officials of different publics care for them and nurture them, administering the regulations necessary to ensure that the problems of that public can be solved. Importantly, these officials are not experts who solve the problems on their own, but merely representatives of those who make up the particular public. Furthermore, publics can only be constituted within their particular contexts, which are themselves constituted through history. Dewey clearly


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recognized the uniqueness of these situations, writing, ‘In no two ages or places is there the same public. Conditions make the consequences of associated action and the knowledge of them different’.91 The task of a democratic community is to inherit and interpret the historical context of its given present in light of the problems apparent within contemporary life as it has come about. If all decisions and values are inferred from context as Dewey argues, then we have to acknowledge the plurality of overlapping contexts and what that overlap does to the inferring of those decisions and values; even humanity itself is a context that is illuminating for us. Though this is a kind of holism, it does not posit a static definition of what the whole must be. It is instead a version of holism that is always being put into question from the inside. The concrete is the local, which we experience and live through up close. For Dewey, ‘The local is the ultimate universal, and as near an absolute as exists’.92 Even though humanity is the concept that could theoretically give us a ‘total’ context, it is so remote from our concrete localized lives that it remains inconceivable. Moreover, it would continually have to be rethought on the basis of the plurality of localized happenings that are constantly taking place, and which we experience up close every day, meaning they are the contexts that most affect us. New experiences necessitate the re-evaluation and redefinition of what we thought we knew, so that the content of any abstract concept of humanity is continually being questioned by concrete localized practices and ways of life that paint it in a new light. Attempts at defining that abstract larger concept are not off limits, but they must be done with the realization that they are merely postulations that will either be reinforced or challenged by localized experiences. Either way, it must never be thought of as a fixed concept; however we define it, it is always in need of justification. No context can be completely exhausted as long as temporality and historicity persist, and so the full context of a given present is always unfinished even though the notion of the ‘whole’ is appealed to. These considerations provide us with the tools to articulate a notion of pragmatic resistance, the goal towards which all of the foregoing reconstruction and analysis has pointed. Pragmatic resistance is action undertaken by a part of society that challenges the constitution of the community of who is able to meaningfully participate in solving public problems. In other words, through action pragmatic resistance asks and answers the question of the firstorder public problem, the public problem of democratic community: who exactly makes up the community of a particular public? The very makeup of a public, including its identity and its meaning, is itself a public problem to be solved on the Deweyan model in democratic fashion. Conceiving of publics this way is an outgrowth of the very apparatus put into place by Dewey

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himself. In this regard my proposal is modest insofar as I am simply making explicit an aspect of his democratic thought that had remained beneath the surface. Additionally, such a claim is meant to contribute to the literature discussed in the previous section, which seeks social critical tools from within Dewey’s philosophy in order to enable it to better respond to the problems of contemporary society. The distinction between these two levels of public problem is a conceptual one that allows for necessary self-reflection when articulating the problems facing a given community. Self-reflection in this case entails that care must be taken to not presuppose a certain image of that community that itself is exclusionary and part of the problem. Recognizing the conceptual distinction between the two orders of public problems forces us to see that when we do articulate specific public problems of the kind Dewey had in mind, we are necessarily and simultaneously ascribing a certain makeup to the community that ought to also be interrogated. The conceptual split provides with the two different sorts of inquiries, one into the concrete problems facing a community and the other the issue of the very makeup of that community itself. The two occur simultaneously because these communities already exist, regardless of whether they are exclusionary or not. We cannot hope to first discover the proper demarcation of a community and only subsequently attend to its more specific problems. We can only begin where we are, meaning that the two are inextricably bound up with one another. I will now return to Dewey’s view in order to make apparent exactly why I think that I am warranted in drawing a distinction between two orders of public problems from a Deweyan perspective. For Dewey publics come together to form states (themselves a kind of public) under the banner of a shared conception of the common good. State-publics then align with one another into a kind of federation (another kind of public), in the name of cooperation and presumably according to a more abstract shared common good.93 His claim does not imply that states or nations are permanent features of our political landscape, but Dewey existed, as do we, in a context in which states and the idea of national identities exist, and so we can utilize the concept even as we seek to redefine what it means.94 Eventually that may mean that the concept disappears or becomes obsolete. Dewey tells us we must work with what you have, even as you work to change what you have. He emphasizes as much, when he writes, ‘To form itself, the public has to break existing political forms’.95 In order to affect such change it must be done from the inside, as there is no perspective external to where we stand; the new comes from the old. Making social and political change a reality requires that we realize that, ‘in political agencies and methods [change occurs] because the social conditions, in generating a new public, have prepared the way for it; the state


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sets a formal seal upon forces already in operation by giving them a defined channel through which to act’.96 The institutionalization of values and ideas is subsequent to new social conditions coming to existence. The alteration of aspects of society according to the investigation into, and alteration of, the common interest is democracy self-correcting, but this self-correction is not just any alteration. Democracy cannot solve any problems if the changes that it introduces do not respond to the actual problems at hand. Dewey writes, ‘The old saying that the cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy is not apt if it means that the evils may be remedied by introducing more machinery of the same kind as that which already exists, or by refining and perfecting that machinery’.97 In order for these ‘evils’ to be remedied, their solutions must not reflect the very same attitudes or structures that produced the evils in the first place. This means that substantive change must occur not only at the level of policy and law, but in attitude and lived experience as well. Though Dewey retained faith in our collective intelligence to be able to see and solve these problems, he nonetheless recognized the obstacles that remained. Unless the conditions allow for such intelligence to be harnessed, then things look quite bleak. As Dewey notes, ‘Until secrecy, prejudice, bias, misrepresentation, and propaganda as well as sheer ignorance are replaced by inquiry and publicity, we have no way of telling how apt for judgment of social policies the existing intelligence of the masses may be. It would certainly go much further than at present’.98 In the face of such a massive obstacle, what is necessary is ‘the improvement of the methods and conditions of debate, discussion and persuasion. That is the problem of the public’.99 Dewey is speaking about the public at large, as the particular public made up of the citizens of a particular society, being able to critically inquire into its own conditions of existence by calling for debate, discussion, and persuasion.100 There has been much recent work in deliberative democracy that looks to Pragmatism in a broad sense.101 Part of my overall claim about the makeup of the public being a public problem is that more than the deliberative apparatus that Dewey advocates for is needed. On its own as a procedural matter deliberation is unable to countenance more extreme kinds of change, the kinds that becomes necessary when debate is ineffective because no one is listening. If the meaning and identity of publics are to be continually put into question, we must move beyond solely thinking about deliberation.102 If an individual is part of a group that is systematically discriminated against in practice, even if not in law, such that her voice is given less weight than that of someone of a different group, then the characteristics of how dialogue is construed will be different for people from different backgrounds. As Lynn Sanders has argued, telling someone who would need to be forceful

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just to be heard and seen by her interlocutors that she must instead defer to the community and to virtues of selflessness is in itself oppressive.103 In attempting to correct for these facets of the real world by emphasizing the epistemic attitudes proper to equality, while at the same time overlooking the affects those circumstances have on those very attitudes, the primacy of deliberation can fail to uphold democracy. My reading of Dewey responds to this shortcoming of deliberation by arguing for a much wider scope of democratic participation that challenges the status quo. Confronting the constitution of the community of public problem solvers may have to be done in ways other than deliberation, if the space of deliberation is structured in a way that excludes certain groups from participating. When this occurs, more disruptive forms of democratic participation must be used, which challenge the existing model and argue for its revision. Diana C. Mutz describes the problem facing contemporary society as the choice between deliberation and participation.104 We might think of this dichotomy as normatively incorrect, in that the two ought not to be opposed to one another. And yet, it is descriptive of the contemporary scene, and illustrates the necessity of prioritizing social conditions in the development of democratic theory. In the sphere of ideal deliberative practices, the two ought not to be in opposition to one another. Yet, when considering the prevailing social conditions the two become incompatible because deliberation does not guarantee meaningful participation. Furthermore, the norms of proper deliberation can even impede participation, depending on the participant. The choice becomes one between being heard at the expense of trying to engage with the formal procedures of deliberation, or engaging with them but being silenced. Since being heard is the desired end, the choice is easy. When Elizabeth Anderson offers a contemporary take on Dewey’s public problems in her essay, ‘The Epistemology of Democracy’, she highlights the notion of public concern.105 Though her analysis and application is helpful in many ways, the question still remains as to how exactly we focus on what an object of public concern is for a given public. Implicitly, it requires that the very notion of that public itself be put into question and subsequently redefined. Anderson emphasizes the distinction between public and private, but, again, there remains the problem of figuring out what issues get categorized as objects of public concern and why. In directing Dewey’s philosophy partially outside of the framework of deliberation and dialogue I am attempting to show how a force from outside of the given public organization is able to alter that organization in the name of the robust equal participation of all. This stance embraces the fact that the makeup of the public is what is always at stake, even implicitly, when any sort of public problem or problem of public concern is at hand. When the public itself is an open question, it is therefore also an open question in what manner certain issues are deemed ‘public’.


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Questioning the makeup of publics can come in any number of disruptive forms, but the important point is that doing so allows for the status quo to be forcefully rejected. Change does not always have to come through channels already recognized by society’s existing structure, though if it does arise through the institutional setup already in place then so be it. Existing structures cannot be guaranteed to always affect the needed change, and sometimes – perhaps often – the change needed is greater than the institutional setup can allow for, requiring that setup to be externally challenged. That is, through popular resistance that occurs outside of the recognized institutional channels for affecting changes to society. Expanding the scope of ways to challenge the status quo beyond the institutional and deliberative structures of society is in the spirit of Dewey’s thought, as I have tried to show with textual support throughout this chapter.

notes 1. Hildreth, ‘Reconstructing Dewey on Power’, 781. 2. Though the focus of this chapter is Dewey’s political philosophy, I by no means want to imply that I view this domain as separable from the other aspects of his thought. On the contrary, from Dewey’s corpus we get a holistic philosophy that deals with truth, meaning, politics, education, morality, art, logic, and other topics all in an interconnected way. As Dewey notes in a discussion of the relationship between the self and institutions, ‘The old-time separation of politics and morals is abolished at its root’ (Dewey, ‘Reconstruction In Philosophy’, 192). Several scholars have articulated how Dewey’s political philosophy is built upon the foundation of his moral philosophy. See Festenstein, Pragmatism and Political Theory; Pappas, John Dewey’s Ethics: Democracy as Experience. 3. Dewey, Democracy and Education, 9: 93. 4. Dewey, ‘The Public and Its Problems’, 327–28. 5. Ibid., 328. 6. Pappas, John Dewey’s Ethics: Democracy as Experience, 74. 7. Dewey, ‘The Public and Its Problems’, 364, 312–13. 8. Ibid., 245. 9. Ibid., 245–46. 10. Ibid., 252–53. 11. Ibid., 246. 12. Ibid., 247. 13. Ibid., 253. 14. Ibid., 282. 15. Ibid., 246. 16. Ibid., 282. On this point we run into the more ideal elements of Dewey’s theory. His description of how publics come into being is quite clearly only one way

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that they could do so. More specifically, publics are not always organized around the interests of its members. This reality further supports the necessity noted above regarding delving into issues of epistemic injustice, both between and within social groups. My own view in this chapter regarding two orders of public problem, outlined in Section III, is an attempt to provide an outlet for these issues from within Dewey’s own framework of publics and democracy. 17. ‘The public’ invoked here is one particular public of many publics within any given society: the one that revolves around citizenship and official participation in one version of the democratic state form. This public is not in itself more important than any other publics that may exist. 18. This and related passages contain very strong echoes of Rousseau’s description of the General Will’s functioning in The Social Contract; see chapter 2 for an elaboration of this point with regard to Rousseau. 19. Dewey, ‘The Public and Its Problems’, 250. 20. Ibid., 252. 21. ‘Community’ is another site where we run into potential ambiguities and equivocations within Dewey’s own descriptions. Though it may seem that he is using the nouns ‘community’ and ‘public’ interchangeably, community carries less weight; it does not have the conditions attached to it that we find in Dewey’s definition of publics. Instead, community is simply our natural condition of living beside and among one another; it is the starting point for thinking about human beings. One of the goals of Section III below is to make clear the necessity of always interrogating the definitions of community and public that we both find ourselves a part of and that we act to create. 22. Dewey, ‘The Public and Its Problems’, 328. 23. Pappas, John Dewey’s Ethics: Democracy as Experience, 217. 24. Dewey, Democracy and Education, 9: 7–8. 25. Dewey, ‘The Public and Its Problems’, 259–60. 26. See Dewey, ‘Reconstruction In Philosophy’, 192. 27. Dewey, ‘The Public and Its Problems’, 277. 28. Ibid., 278. 29. Dewey, ‘Reconstruction In Philosophy’, 197. 30. Dewey, ‘The Public and Its Problems’, 262. 31. Ibid., 256. 32. Ibid., 327. 33. Ibid., 255. 34. Ibid., 278. 35. Pappas, John Dewey’s Ethics: Democracy as Experience, 71–72. 36. Ibid., 74. 37. Here Dewey essentially prefigures Sartre’s view of freedom and choice but without the ontological baggage. 38. Dewey, ‘Reconstruction In Philosophy’, 197. 39. Ibid., 198. 40. Dewey, ‘The Public and Its Problems’, 331. 41. Ibid., 334. 42. Ibid., 328.


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43. Festenstein, Pragmatism and Political Theory, 88. 44. Midtgarden, ‘Critical Pragmatism’, 505. 45. Hildreth, ‘Reconstructing Dewey on Power’, 780–81. 46. Kadlec, ‘Reconstructing Dewey’; Kadlec, Dewey’s Critical Pragmatism. 47. Rogers, ‘Democracy, Elites and Power’; Kadlec, ‘Reconstructing Dewey’; Kadlec, Dewey’s Critical Pragmatism; Midtgarden, ‘Critical Pragmatism’; Hildreth, ‘Reconstructing Dewey on Power’; Honneth, ‘Democracy as Reflexive Cooperation’. 48. Kadlec, ‘Reconstructing Dewey’, 532. 49. Ibid., 531. 50. Dewey, Experience and Nature, 1:41. 51. Kadlec, ‘Reconstructing Dewey’, 532. 52. Dewey, Experience and Nature, 1:313. 53. Rogers, ‘Democracy, Elites and Power’, 71. 54. Ibid., 72. 55. Ibid., 74. 56. Ibid. 57. Ibid., 71. 58. Ibid., 72. 59. Ibid., 74. 60. Ibid., 76. 61. Ibid., 86. 62. Ibid., 82; Hildreth, ‘Reconstructing Dewey on Power’, 760. 63. See Honneth, ‘Democracy as Reflexive Cooperation’ for a version of Deweyan democracy explicitly characterized as occupying a middle ground in democratic theory between republicanism and proceduralism. I largely agree with Honneth’s characterization of Dewey’s model of democracy as a form of proceduralism rooted in social cooperation; I leave it aside in my discussion since Honneth by and large elides the specific focus of my discussion here, namely power and the problem of elites. He does end with a call for the ‘radical redefinition of what in the future has to count as a cooperative contribution to social reproduction’ Ibid., 780. Connecting Honneth’s point to my own, I would fill out the meaning of this redefinition of cooperation with the ways that acts of resistance in the face of domination seek to reformulate society’s norms and institutions with regard to equality and justice. 64. Hildreth, ‘Reconstructing Dewey on Power’, 789–90. 65. Kadlec, ‘Reconstructing Dewey’, 522n7. 66. Hildreth, ‘Reconstructing Dewey on Power’, 794ff; Kadlec, ‘Reconstructing Dewey’, 536ff; Kadlec, Dewey’s Critical Pragmatism, 46. 67. Dewey, Democracy and Education, 9: 54; Dewey, ‘Reconstruction In Philosophy’, 81. 68. Hildreth, ‘Reconstructing Dewey on Power’, 795; Dewey, ‘Experience and Education’, 19. 69. Dewey uses this example at Dewey, ‘The Public and Its Problems’, 328. 70. Kadlec, ‘Reconstructing Dewey’, 537. 71. Hildreth, ‘Reconstructing Dewey on Power’, 797. 72. Ibid., 798.

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73. Kadlec, ‘Reconstructing Dewey’, 537; Kadlec, Dewey’s Critical Pragmatism, 13. 74. Dewey, Experience and Nature, 1: 5. 75. Pappas, John Dewey’s Ethics: Democracy as Experience, 77. 76. Midtgarden, ‘Critical Pragmatism’, 507. 77. Ibid. 78. Dewey, Lectures in China, 1919–1920, 65. 79. Ibid., 77–78; Midtgarden, ‘Critical Pragmatism’, 509. 80. Midtgarden, ‘Critical Pragmatism’, 515. 81. Ibid. 82. Pappas, John Dewey’s Ethics: Democracy as Experience, 286. 83. This is a point made generally by all of the authors under discussion here, but is especially highlighted at Ibid., 219. 84. Ibid., 72. 85. Ibid., 151. 86. Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, 14: 195. 87. Pappas, John Dewey’s Ethics: Democracy as Experience, 249. 88. Dewey, ‘Reconstruction In Philosophy’, 134. 89. Pappas, John Dewey’s Ethics: Democracy as Experience, 76. See also Ibid., 72. For further discussion of Rorty’s ethnocentrism see Festenstein, Pragmatism and Political Theory, 115–25. 90. This is not to claim that Hegel’s own philosophy or interpretations of it necessarily fall into this trap, a point that is not at issue here and which I make no claim about. I merely want to point out that Dewey’s Hegelian-inspired argument in his China lectures is open to falling into such a trap. 91. Dewey, ‘The Public and Its Problems’, 256. 92. Ibid., 369. 93. Ibid., 262–63, 325. 94. Dewey’s vagueness surrounding the relationships between the relationship between public and state provides an area for constructive criticism of his vision. Festenstein, Pragmatism and Political Theory, 86. 95. Dewey, ‘The Public and Its Problems’, 255. 96. Ibid., 277–78. 97. Ibid., 325. 98. Ibid., 366. 99. Ibid., 365. 100. See Anderson, ‘Democracy, Public Policy, and Lay Assessments of Scientific Testimony’ for a contemporary and specific articulation of this scenario. 101. See Misak, ‘A Culture of Justification’; Talisse, ‘A Farewell to Deweyan Democracy’ for example. Generally speaking, this view shifts the focus from Dewey’s model of democracy to Peirce’s conception of truth as the end of inquiry. With no fixed outcome, working out truth becomes a deliberative practice that, the argument goes, supports a pragmatist epistemological view of democracy. I don’t dispute the interpretations of Peirce found in these arguments, but want to offer a Deweyan alternative that goes beyond deliberation.


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102. See Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference; May, The Political Thought of Jacques Rancière for more extensive critiques of the deliberative model. See also Dryzek, Deliberative Democracy and Beyond for an illuminating discussion of a broader group of concerns about deliberative democracy. 103. Sanders, ‘Against Deliberation’, 347. 104. Mutz, Hearing the Other Side. 105. Anderson, ‘The Epistemology of Democracy’, 10.

Chapter 5

Subjectivity, Identification, and the Incoherence of Resistance in Rancière

Now that we have discussed how democratic communities can organize themselves with regard to openness to the kind of change brought about through resistance, in this chapter I want to investigate the notion of subjectivity as it relates to the mechanisms of resistance and political action within society. Considerations of subjectivity emerge directly out of the previous chapter’s efforts to make the issue of a community’s constitution a definitional and grounding one for democratic practice through resistance. Now, we can ask how this resistance functions with regard to the community within which it is carried out. I do so by interrogating Rancière’s conception of resistance in order to offer an interpretation of his political thought that highlights the importance of reidentification to both resistance and democratic community. Through an examination of the mechanisms by which resistance constitutes new and equal political subjects, I argue for a novel interpretation of Rancière’s notions of equality, resistance, and subjectivation. Rancière grounds subjectivation in political actors’ dis-identification with the roles that they are assigned by societal status quo. My initial aim is to spell out the silent half of the dichotomy of identification, arguing that through this action there is a simultaneous reidentification with a new vision of a more equal society. Such a society does not yet exist, but could come into existence through successful political action. Political action therefore enacts a re-ordering of the limits of possibility for society as put forth by the status quo. Rancière is clear about the importance of dis-identification and how it functions, though reidentification remains implicit and overlooked in his account. Reading Rancière’s explanation of dis-identification, I posit that the content of reidentification points the way to an enlarged shared common social space that is made possible through resistance to the domination and oppression found within the status quo. Reidentification is important to 159


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thematize within his framework because it can help understand the movement from one societal order to another and the attendant alteration of what Rancière calls the ‘distribution of the sensible’ that such a transformation would entail.1 One critique of Rancière’s conception of politics is that it remains too narrow, and is in need of a supplement.2 On my view, a robust notion of reidentification is able to provide a helpful supplement because it recognizes that undoing hierarchical domination (what Rancière calls ‘politics’) can only be conceptualized and investigated alongside a social order that can be undone (what Rancière calls ‘police’).3 Consequently, Rancière’s conception of politics can be described as narrow because it would be only one half of the view. Though much of the secondary literature on Rancière recognizes the conceptual point that politics and police mutually condition one another, there is a lack of discussion about how to develop this important element of his work. For example, Nick Hewlett gestures towards thinking through the outcomes of politics when he describes democracy as a transforming force, though he does not elaborate on what this might mean beyond the abstract notion of drastic change.4 Even when he grounds Rancière’s thought in ‘radical transformation’ he does not specify how this kind of transformation can be applied to understanding and evaluating the movements between different police orders.5 That is, he does not attempt to conceptualize the other side of politics, which would be the re-ordered police order that is the result of successful resistance, and he is not alone. In the first section I offer accounts of the concepts of order, theory, and ontology within Rancière’s philosophy, which serve as the grounding for the remainder of the chapter. Though Rancière denies that there is, or even could be, any ontology present in his writings, I build my argument upon the idea there is actually a negative ontology at work.6 Rancière’s corpus contains a thematic unity of pushing the limits of the possible within the constraints of the material present. In other words, given those constraints and their avowals of what social formulations they render possible, how can political action bring into being new formulations of what is possible for a society? As I will show, Rancière’s break with Althusser over the latter’s ‘philosophy of order’ undergirds the importance of pushing the boundaries of possibility towards new, and more equal, social arrangements within Rancière’s philosophicopolitical framework. His rejection of the primacy of theoretical order vis-à-vis Althusser then entails the same move politically, resulting in an overall rejection of efforts to theorize societal institutions or orders. Section two provides the details of Rancière’s process of subjectivation, while section three develops the rationale for recognizing the concept of reidentification in Rancière’s work in light of that process. I examine Rancière’s use of the concept of dis-identification, which he makes central to

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his overall framework for politics and subject formation, reading it as only one half of a dichotomy. I ultimately argue that Rancière describes but does not name the reidentification that is at work in his conception of politics. Section four elaborates notions of space and place in order to further develop the conception of reidentification offered in section three. There I argue for the importance of spatiality to politics and resistance, reading political action as the imperative of enlarging the common and shared space of society through the functioning of reidentification. This enlargement ultimately depends on enlarging our perceptions of what is viewed as possible by the prevailing social order. Focusing on spatiality complements Rancière’s language of distribution with language of placement in order to deepen thinking about the outcomes of politics and reidentification. Rancière advocates a robust equality of participation that exceeds the codification of institutions and extends to the ability to actively participate in the continual restructuring of those institutions in order to make them more inclusive. His project is descriptive of the mechanisms of egalitarian movements for social change that resist oppression and domination. The many historical examples he uses that are illustrative of these movements reveal the formal structure of how that resistance happens. Rather than fighting for equality as a goal, he posits equality is something that is acted upon and as the animating force behind resistance. This is proof enough for Rancière that individuals and groups are always capable, at least in principle, of recognizing their own subjection, a view that stands in contrast to Althusser and other thinkers who advocate views of false consciousness and the necessity of a vanguard or Party to move society forward. Although Rancière develops his own unique vocabulary and explicitly distances himself from the orthodox Marxist lineage, his definitions of politics, police, and dissensus reformulate the Marxist debate about reification. In doing so he contributes to a conversation whose participants include Lukács, Gramsci, Adorno, and Honneth, among others: police orders reify (though ossify may be a better word to describe Rancière’s position) and political action undoes reification. Dissensus, carried out by the excluded element of a community claiming its inclusion on the community’s own terms, is effectively the real-world manifestation of immanent critique. Section I: Order, Theory, and Ontology This section clarifies Rancière’s engagement with the notion of order, which connects to the complex issues of theory and ontology in his work. Though by no means synonymous, Rancière often rejects these three terms alongside one another, since in his eyes each is guilty of the same reduction or elimination


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of possibilities. Engagement with these methodological issues is integral for thinking about Rancière’s conception of police orders and go a long way towards illuminating his overall framework of politics. To this end I situate Rancière in relation to Althusser, explore the impact of this relationship on Rancière’s thought, and point towards the consequences of that relationship for political action. In attending to these issues scholars often ask how we ought to situate Rancière’s work with regard to the work of others; in other words, is he working within an already existing theoretical framework or intellectual lineage? Todd May and Jean-Philippe Deranty see Rancière as making contributions to theories of anarchism and the ethics of recognition, respectively; Andrew Schaap reads him via Arendt, while Emmanuel Renault does so via Marx.7 Samuel A. Chambers subsequently argues that these kinds of projects do a disservice to Rancière and the specificities of his projects, insofar as he very consciously evacuates theoretical ties to other philosophers from his work.8 In noting the difficulty of pinning down Rancière intellectually, Deranty notes, He is a thinker deeply influenced by Marx, who has totally rejected Marxist sociology. An existentialist who casts away the notion of self-consciousness. A theorist of postmodern society who reject’s Lyotard’s philosophy of language. A theorist of social domination who criticizes Foucault’s definition of power. A sociologist and a historian focusing his interest on the misery of the world, but critical of Bourdieu’s most famous paradigms. A thinker of recognition who rejects the notion of understanding. A Deleuzian who puts the notion of the subject at the center of his political thought. The list goes on.9

Rancière is very purposeful about these evasions because, as he writes, he ‘is not a political philosopher’.10 Furthermore, he is not a political philosopher because he rejects the entire tradition and project of Western political philosophy, and does so precisely because its theories attempt to impose order where there is none.11 Rancière’s broad rejection of theory and order can be traced back to his split with Althusser in the 70s. In the Foreword to the English translation of Althusser’s Lesson Rancière remarks on his intellectual development, writing, ‘I have not changed when it comes to the principle which guided [the book’s claims and analyses], namely, that only the presumption of a capacity common to all can found both the power of thought and the dynamics of emancipation’.12 At issue is Althusser’s insistence on an intellectual vanguard and the necessity of a dichotomy between science and ideology.13 Beyond the specifics of Althusser’s theories, however, Althusser’s Lesson ‘has its sights trained on the much broader logic by which subversive thoughts are recuperated for the service of order. The principle of this process of recuperation is the idea of domination

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propagated by the very discourses that pretend to critique it’. Althusser’s discourse merely ‘cloaks its consecration of the existing order in the language of revolution’, foreclosing the possibility of transformation and merely reifying the dominant order.14 According to Rancière, the crux of Althusser’s view is that ‘the dominated are dominated because they are ignorant of the laws of domination’.15 Though the specific target of that text is Althusser, Rancière emphasizes that his former teacher is but a single example of an entire logic of order at work in theories of critique.16 This is what leads Rancière to his rejection of the dominant strand of Western political philosophy since Plato, which he views as a tradition dedicated to imposing the same dominating forms of order he finds in Althusser. Against the Althusserian claim that ‘science belongs to intellectuals’, Rancière asserts that ‘men don’t need masters’.17 Deranty elaborates this point, writing that, ‘the dominated do not need masters or leaders to tell them what to think and what to say. Their plight is not due to false consciousness or ignorance, but to a social organization that systematically makes their voices and their achievements invisible and inaudible’.18 Althusser’s theoretical apparatus does nothing more than confirm existing hierarchies: ‘For Althusser, only philosophy as the theory of the scientificity of science is capable of drawing this line of demarcation [between science and ideology], while the common lot of individuals is to be caught in the ideological and imaginary misrecognition of their real conditions of existence’.19 Beginning with his archival work in the wake of the split with Althusser, Rancière has devoted his entire intellectual career to showing that this supposed common lot of individuals is a falsehood. Indeed, he claims that he completely avoids ontological speculation in his writings in favour of explicitly focusing on political action as the central aspect of his work.20 Rancière is driven to let those who resist speak for themselves as a consequence of his rejection of Althusser’s ‘philosophy of order’. The role of the intellectual, pace Althusser, is to speak alongside, not for, others: ‘The role of the philosopher is not to give his/her voice to the silent aspirations of the dominated, but to add his/her voice to theirs, to hear their voices, rather than interpret them, to help them resound, to make them circulate’.21 Furthermore, the philosopher’s role is to do so without reifying a group such as ‘the workers’ by affirming the notion that this collection of individuals speaks in one unified voice.22 As Hewlett notes, Rancière is of the mind that ‘in order to understand thought, and in order to judge its relevance, (which is arguably part of the same process), some discussion is necessary of the material and ideological-intellectual conditions of its production’.23 This stance attempts to consider the difficulties and dangers of reification while not completely jettisoning theoretical insight, and strives at all times to be cognizant of the position of its author.


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Rejecting the dichotomy between science and ideology leads Rancière to repudiate philosophies of order throughout his work, essentially making ‘theory’ synonymous with ‘order’. Additionally, his stance encompasses a rejection of ontological practices, since they are simply practices of order that reduce a proliferation of possibles to only one possible.24 The repudiation of ontology, theory, and ordering practices forms the crux of the connection between this meta-philosophical discussion of Rancière’s work and the investigation of its content in the following sections. Rancière claims that he never intended to offer a theory of politics, instead intending his work to be series of interventions into specific political contexts.25 That is, instead of offering a political ontology, which ‘tries to answer the question of what there is’, Rancière’s position is that, pace Quine, ‘“everything” may not be the only possible answer’.26 Ontology eliminates the very possibility of emancipation because emancipation depends on the articulation of a new horizon of possibility that overturns previous understandings about what there is.27 Ontology therefore separates any critical position from purpose or hope, as it essentially accepts as a fact that there is, and cannot be, any alternative to the present understanding of what exists.28 Rancière is adamant that a place must always remain for a reconfiguration of what we imagine is possible, and so we must be ready to rethink the limits of the possible within society. Deranty emphasizes what is most distinctive about Rancière’s theoretical apparatus when he notes, ‘It is clear that Rancière’s denunciation of philosophy is political through and through, both a debunking from within theory, and a denunciation of the practical political effects of philosophy’s reduction of the political’.29 Accordingly, he describes Rancière’s view as a negative ontology.30 Deranty’s description illustrates that, while Rancière provides examples of politics from throughout history, each shows the unique manner in which the order of a particular society was contested and successfully reformulated.31 They describe situations in which equality is presupposed by the dominated when they challenge the order that upholds their domination. Rancière characterizes this presupposition as the equality of intelligence. This claim has nothing to do with quantitative measures of intelligence, whatever they may be. ‘It does not mean that every manifestation of intelligence is equal to any other. Above all, it means…that the same intelligence makes and understands sentences in general’.32 The equality of intelligence means that we are equal insofar as are all equally capable of giving meaning to the world, and of constructing a meaningful world for ourselves. This capacity is the presupposition of equality, and the specific manifestations of this equal capacity to construct meaningful lives are in no way given in advance. Instead, the content of that meaning making is left open, though bounded by whatever possibilities inhere within given circumstances.

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Rancière’s theory, then, does not ‘prove’ that we are all equal. It shows, however, that it has never been possible, despite myriad attempts, to prove that we are not. Rancière’s readings of political philosophy are thus supposed to show the many failed attempts to exhaustively account for order, though they don’t substitute a new theory of the same kind. Hewlett argues that, in reacting against order in this way, Rancière pushes back too much against Althusser and as a result ends up unable to offer any positive view of how we should think about police orders being better or worse. He writes, ‘When one looks at the detail of [Rancière’s] definition of politics, appealing as an idea though this ephemeral disorder of egalitarian revolt may be, Rancière’s own system often becomes a philosophy of exception or even a philosophy of disorder’.33 Hewlett’s critique partially hits its target given that Rancière admits that instances of successful politics are rare.34 Similarly, Jodi Dean argues that Rancière’s politics of resistance ends up as nothing more than mere fantasy, unable to actually gain any leverage towards making a given situation any different.35 As Rancière himself makes clear in describing his entire philosophicopolitical framework, ‘Cut off from revolutionary practice, there is no revolutionary theory that is not turned into its opposite’.36 While Dean’s criticism comes from a frustration with Rancière’s work that is understandable considering the opaque way that he sometimes makes his case, her worry can be mitigated through interpretations that use his framework as a ground for further reflections on concepts about which he remains silent. The implication is not, however, that we are faced with a philosophy of disorder. Considering Rancière’s negative ontology, we see that he does not valorize disorder for its own sake, or believe that disorder itself is where we actually find equality. It is true that the presupposition of equality dis-orders the current oppressive ordering of society. It does not, however, fetishize that disorder, and cannot avoid the necessity of constructing a new order that is less oppressive than the previous one. The purpose of this section has been to outline Rancière’s reaction against ‘philosophies or order’, first articulated in rejecting Althusser’s Marxism, because this reaction is the underlying presupposition of the rest of his philosophical output and the framework that unifies his disparate texts. ‘Order’ broadly construed becomes ‘police order’ more specifically, and politics is the democratic (dis-ordering and an-archic) disruption of that order. Ontology aims to be a fundamental mode of ordering, insofar as it is exhaustive in its ordering of that which exists. Ontology, in other words, defines the limits of the possible. Conversely, politics manifests new iterations of the possibilities of society and community through its dis-ordering and subsequent re-ordering. We can interpret this movement as a negative ontology because of the necessary re-ordering of society through a different police order subsequent to


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successful instances of politics. Rancière knows that there can be no absence of order: there can be no ‘pure politics’.37 In acknowledging the inability to eradicate order he implicitly also acknowledges the necessity of ontological thinking. Politics, however, undoes order in ways that are not predictable in advance. Since the future manifestations of order that are subsequent to acts of politics are both necessary and unknown in advance, we can characterize Rancière’s as having a negative political ontology. Section II: Dis-Identification and the Appearance of Subjects This section outlines Rancière’s notion of subjectivation. It is an active process, and so not an event that simply occurs: political actors enact it and bring subjects into being. Rancière describes the process of subjectivation as the construction of cases of equality.38 The construction of these cases entails that those who are excluded from a certain societal understanding of roles make a case for their inclusion based upon their equality, during which they aim to show the contingency of equality. This sort of political action occurs when the excluded group highlights a logical gap or a tension between theory and practice, and this gap is the wrong that lies at the heart of the distribution of roles within the police order. Subjectivation happens through the articulation of this wrong.39 Rancière consistently refers to those to whom the wrong has been committed the part that has no part.40 Those individuals who make up this part that has no part are outcasts in a certain sense, in that Rancière describes the term as, ‘the name of those who are denied an identity in a given order of policy [police]’.41 Furthermore, as outcasts they are in-between, as ‘the place of a political subject is an interval or a gap: being together to the extent that we are in-between – between names, identities, cultures, and so on’.42 Subjectivation is therefore dis-identification or declassification, which ‘inscribes a subject name as being different from any identified part of the community’.43 Those whose part it is to have no part make their claim to inclusion by pointing out the contradiction within the current distribution vis-à-vis their particular role, dis-identifying with the police order by acting on their equality. Rancière often cites the case of Olympe de Gouges as exemplary. Regarding the exclusion of women from the so-called universality of the rights afforded to men and citizens, she asserted that if women could be deserving of the scaffold and could be hung for treason, then they were equally deserving of a place in the assembly, as both connoted public personhood. Describing her actions, Rancière writes,

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The point was precisely that equal-born women were not equal citizens. They could neither vote nor be elected. The reason for their proscription was, as usual, that they could not fit the purity of political life. They allegedly belonged to private, domestic life. And the common good of the community had to be kept apart from the activities, feelings, and interests of private life. Olympe de Gouge’s argumentation precisely showed that the border separating bare life and political life could not be so clearly drawn. There was at least one point at which ‘bare life’ proved to be ‘political’: there were women sentenced to death, as enemies of the revolution. If they could lose their ‘bare life’ out of a public judgment based on political reasons, this meant that even their bare life – their life doomed to death – was political. If, under the guillotine, they were as equal, so to speak, ‘as men’, they had the right to the while of equality, including equal participation to political life.44

Subjectivity is relational because of the impossibility of any individual existing completely outside of all police orders or societal organization, since politics can only ever act against police and in relation to it. The process of the formation of subjectivity is ‘the formation of a one that is not a self but is the relation of a self to an other’.45 Disruptions of the police order are constitutive of politics. Rancière describes these disruptions by writing that they are, ‘a matter of subjects or, rather, modes of subjectification [sic]. By subjectification I mean the production through a series of actions of a body and a capacity for enunciation not previously identifiable within a given field of experience, whose identification is thus part of the reconfiguration of the field of experience’.46 This reconfiguration gives a new identity to the ‘we’ that is understood by a police order, who are those who have a part. The political actions of politics on the part of the excluded restage the meaning and identity of the ‘we’ of the police order.47 It is the construction and implementation of new modes of seeing that are able to make sense of the inclusion of those who were previously excluded from equal standing, such that society is able to recognize a new ‘we’. A police order is organized through certain principles that strive for a harmonious whole in which every member of society has a specific part. The status quo, legal apparatus, and the common everyday assumptions of those within society are all included in this organization, which extends as deep as our everyday experiences and their sensations. Political action calls into question the disparity within the police order between its totalizing rhetoric and its exclusionary practices by forcing a counting, which is really a recounting, of who is a recognized part of the social order. The recounting of who counts is how new equal subjects are made. The recounting also reconstructs the given distribution of the sensible and the notion of our common sense and understanding. When the excluded make their declaration they affect the space of speech and reasons such that what counts as speech and what counts as


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reasons within that space are altered. What is at stake in these actions is who and what counts as visible and audible within the common sensations and perceptions of society’s ordering. It is a struggle over the ‘we’ who counts, and over who gets to be made part of the ‘we’ in a particular distribution of the sensible such that those who do play a part are seen and heard as a legitimate part of the social order.48 Acts of dis-identification in the process of subjectivation yield a divided conception of the subject because there is always the potential for those on the inside to end up on the outside, depending on the organization of the police order and its distribution of the sensible. In each case of political action we can see examples of such divided subjects insofar as they belong to two worlds: the police order and its constitutive outside. The very essence of equality, writes Rancière, ‘is in fact not so much to unify as to declassify, to undo the supposed naturalness or orders and replace it with the controversial figures of division’.49 This process, which Rancière also refers to as democracy, is the dialogue of a divided community.50 Political action that declares a wrong is democratic action, since democracy, instead of being a state form, is the lack of essential grounding to rule, or the qualification of all to rule.51 Democracy is, then, the condition of possibility for all political action and subjectivation to take place. Subjectivation takes place within this space of the division of a community, acted out by marginalized subjects who are denied meaningful participation by the police order. That is, they dis-identify with the role they are given in the distribution of the sensible as a part that plays no part. In asserting their capacity for participation, their political action is a verification of their equality. Within any given police order, the only lens through which subjects can be seen is through what that police order renders sensible. Yet, there are different perspectives from within that lens, and the different points of view bring out the tension with that order regarding inclusion and participation in the commons. These different perspectives reveal the fracture in the social whole that is constructed along the lines of the dominant perspective. It is the definition of the common sense of a community that is at stake when the fracture is brought into the open. Section III: The Case for Reidentification The previous section outlined, in Rancière’s own words and on his terms, how subjects appear through the acts of politics. Clarifying the place and importance of reidentification in light of the foregoing outline and within Rancière’s thought more generally will allow for further reflection on the transformation from one police order to another. Rancière does not devote

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many pages to discussing the outcomes of these transformations, though they are nevertheless always implied by his thoughts on the workings of politics. Giving voice to the process of reidentification that I see occurring makes such an implication clear. Rancière’s definition of politics only refers to the interruptions of the police order, which are incomprehensible from the point of view of the status quo. As we have seen, an order of some kind is the condition of possibility for the existence of politics in the first place, since politics can only ever undo.52 Since there can be no ‘pure politics’, a politics without police, there is always some police order functioning.53 Consequently, there is always a status quo and some particular ordering of the sensible world that we inhabit. This by no means implies the necessary existence of a state or a government; even a state of nature is properly thought of as a police order within Rancière’s terminology.54 The reason behind this broad articulation is that, as Saul Newman notes, ‘Domination and hierarchy cannot be confined to the state, but are in fact located in all sorts of social relationships – indeed, domination is a particular logic of social organization, in which people are confined to certain roles such as “worker”, or “delinquent”, or “illegal immigrant”, or “woman”, to which are attributed certain social identities’.55 Given that we are never without police orders, we ought to think about what makes for better or worse police orders within which to live our lives.56 Rancière is clear that not all police orders are the same. How does a society move from one of these orders to a different, and hopefully better and more equal, order? Investigating the space within police orders first requires outlining the notion and importance of reidentification.57 In speaking about identity and identification I do not intend anything ontologically static. It is possible to identify with something without having it become a part of one’s identity in some deep sense of the term. My notion of reidentification remains grounded in the negative ontology that I outlined above, and so I make no claims about positive ontological identity.58 As the previous section makes clear, the centrepiece of Rancière’s conception of subjectivation is dis-identification, without any corresponding notion of reidentification. Rancière explicitly claims that subjects do not exist prior to the declaration of a wrong, writing, ‘before the wrong that its name exposes, the proletariat [e.g.] has no existence as a real part of society’.59 I take this claim to mean that the existing police order cannot make sense of those who are excluded by it, since it sees its own order as harmonious from its own perspective. In such a scenario, by counting and giving an account of themselves, and demanding to be seen and heard, political actors force the police order to take notice of them in some way. Though these actors demand recognition in some sense, successful political action is not defined by the police order simply recognizing these subjects for who they are. A straightforward philosophy of recognition like this would, on Rancière’s view, remove


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agency from those who resist and return it to the exclusionary order – exactly what he is attempting to avoid.60 Instead, collective activity grounded in the presupposition of equality actually brings new political subjects into being, so the recognized subjects are not the same subjects who were being excluded prior to politics happening.61 In other words, it is through their acting as if the situation were different, as if they were already recognized as having equal standing, that they are potentially able to achieve it.62 According to Rancière, dis-identification ‘inscribes a subject name as being different from any identified part of the community’.63 While it invokes equality, it is not an appeal to it. Rather, equality is the underlying condition of possibility for dis-identification in the first place: ‘The only universal in politics is equality. But we must add that equality is not a value given in the essence of Humanity or Reason. Equality exists, and makes universal values exist, to the extent that it is enacted. Equality is not a value to which one appeals; it is a universal that must be supposed, verified and demonstrated in each case’.64 Successfully presupposing, verifying, and demonstrating equality removes social identities produced by relations of domination.65 In order to make the case for reidentification it will help to consider the particular manifestation of dis-identification described by Rancière in Proletarian Nights. Glossing a letter from the joiner (a type of carpenter) Gauny to his friend Bergier, Rancière writes of ‘the revelation of a different world and the initiation of a new kind of relationship between beings’ that had occurred in Gauny and friends’ exchanges with other workers.66 Their mission in these interactions was ‘no different from the universal conspiration in which the poets of the time sense the gestation of the new world’.67 Their actions manifest a rejection of the intellectual division of labour, insofar as they refuse to act as workers are supposed to act. They instead act as thinkers, ‘wrench[ing] themselves out of an identity formed by domination and assert[ing] themselves as inhabitants with full rights of a common world’.68 These were individuals who ‘performed the truly radical act of breaking down the time-honored barrier separating those who carried out useful labor from those who pondered aesthetics’.69 Rancière’s archival research on nineteenth-century French workers focuses on the claim that there were many workers who did not in fact take pride in and identify with their profession, contrary to what many historians had previously assumed. Against that presupposition Rancière saw that in the many letters and writings that he unearthed in archives he could see their dis-identification with the occupational identity that had been prescribed to them by the prevailing distribution of the sensible.70 My contention is that in these same writings we see something else as well, which is that, in and through their rejection of one world and its logic of order that Rancière so perceptively highlights, Gauny and his friends do something else as well: they

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posit another possible world. As they, on the one hand, undo the hierarchical relationship between worker and thinker, on the other, they reformulate their own subject position as ‘worker-thinker’. In other words, they do not want to become thinkers as defined by the current order, but create a new subject position that had been denied by that order. Hewlett describes the most important worker-subjects for Rancière as ‘the aspirant, self-taught and articulate amongst [them], who imitated the more privileged’.71 By dis-identifying with their societally defined role of worker, these worker-thinkers also reidentified with a world and a form of subjectivity that was meant to be cut off from them, but reformulated it in a new way that did not yet exist. The articulation of this novel subject is the creation of a new mode of sensibility and perception; it is a matter of perceiving otherwise. These radical actions are moves in the construction of a new identity that comes into being through politics. The creation of new subjects is a process that Rancière describes as, ‘the formation of a one that is not a self but is the relation of a self to an other’.72 This relational other is acknowledged by Rancière but goes unspecified. My contention is that the relation involved in subjectivation is the reidentification with a new world that occurs simultaneously with the disidentification with the current police order, and thus affects a transformation of the police order. Reidentification can be further illuminated through Rancière’s concept of dissensus. Echoing dis-identification, it is Rancière’s term for the interruption of the police order by politics. This interruption sees two different modes of human life come together in a conflict through which new spaces of identity are forged. It is the opposite of consensus, and occurs when the wrong of exclusion is brought out into the open by the actions of those who are excluded. It does not, however, refer to a confrontation between interests, opinions, or values. Instead, ‘it is the demonstration of a gap in the sensible itself. Political demonstration makes visible that which had no reason to be seen; it places one world in another’.73 When dissensus takes place, those who are unseen act in such a way as to ‘make visible the fact that they belong to a shared world that others do not see’.74 This does not mean that their actions make the unseen seen or the unheard heard, implying the pulling back of a veil to reveal what was already there. This would make the same mistake as recognizing pre-existing identities would. Instead, new forms of visibility and audibility are constructed through political action, and new possibilities of what can be seen and heard are constituted. Dissensus founds a new community because it redefines the parameters that mark the limits of the existing community by performing their redefinition.75 A new community brings with it a new sense of what is given and presupposed within a police order. Beyond the legal or judicial world, this goes as deep as our sense of perception of the world around us.


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Acts of dissensus reveal a tension between the organizing principles of a society and the status of certain members or groups who exist within that society. These acts point out a logical gap and a tension between theory and practice within society. Saul Newman helpfully describes dissensus by writing, ‘the discursive “stage” upon which politics takes place is therefore an inconsistency within the structure of universality, between its promise and its actualization’.76 Constructing such a stage also constructs a case of equality, which entails the excluded making a case for their inclusion and showing the contingency of equality; that is, there is no in principle justification for their exclusion.77 Acts of dissensus certainly reject and dis-identify with the status quo and its unequal distribution of roles in favour of an identity actively asserted as equal. As Todd May writes regarding those involved in Civil Rights era sit-ins, ‘they made it clear that they were there to order lunch like other people, and that they expected to be served’.78 Rancière describes these types of actors as are those ‘who move at the borders between classes’.79 Similarly, Deranty writes that they are subjects between identities, and are contradictory subjects because they are simultaneously ‘defined sociologically as dominated and democratically as equal’.80 Their dis-identification with their status quo–assigned identity is simultaneously also a reidentification with another world, a world that this reidentification helps to actually constitute. Reidentification along the lines that I am describing it actually stems from Rancière’s own rejection of ontology and philosophies of order. If all possible identities and subject positions are known in advance, as Rancière interprets the tradition of Western political philosophy to require, then such a redistribution of roles would be impossible. Against that tradition, he defines the speech and actions of the workerthinkers as an ‘encounter with the impossible’.81 The singularity of the discourses of dissensus lies in the fact that the actors involved do not concede that their destiny as workers, women, Blacks, or any group that is considered a part that has no part, must be accepted as fully determined. This is what Rancière means by the phrase ‘the contingency of equality’, which is performed when these actors redefine what can be conceived of as possible and impossible. Actions like this undergird Rancière’s claim that, from the beginning, he has insisted upon a ‘topography of the possible’ in the face of those who would deterministically posit a fixed destiny for workers or any other excluded class.82 In other words, that which is thought of as impossible by a given police order and its distribution of the sensible can always be interrupted by dissensus, wherein political actors question the demarcation between the possible and impossible and transform that police order. Reconfiguring identity is the practice of equality, which is what ‘people are afforded when they are taken seriously, as valid partners in dialogue, as people who

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make sense’.83 In other words, people whose speech and actions are coherent and understandable. Situated in terms of reidentification and the reformulation of what is conceived as possible through the creation of new forms of subjectivity, Rancière’s politics connects to his rejection of ontology more broadly. Though he emphasizes dis-identification, his very own descriptions of acts of dis-identity reveal that there is an underlying simultaneous movement of identification that occurs and grounds the formulation of a new police order based on a more comprehensive definition of equality. The focus on reidentification can bring the goals of individual instances of transformation into relief by looking at how reidentification takes place in particular instances. Emancipation is the goal of forming a new identity, and the articulation of this identity through the ‘as if’ of reidentification spells out the content of the new police order and demands that it be constructed. Section IV: Transforming the Spaces and Places of Politics Now that I have shown, on the one hand, how and why Rancière focuses on dis-identification as it relates to politics, and on the other, how I see reidentification also occurring, I want to turn to the notions of place and space. In this section I will show how they are useful for framing the interpretation of Rancière that I am putting forth, deepening our understanding of how reidentification functions. In interpreting political action as the drive to enlarge the common and shared space of society through reidentification I have highlighted the importance of spatiality, since such enlargement depends on enlarging our perceptions of possibility within society. Focusing on spatiality complements Rancière’s language of distribution with the language of placement in order to deepen thinking about the outcomes of politics and reidentification. I use space and place not as metaphors but as real-world concepts that refer to the materiality and concrete realities of the sensible and experienced world. May emphasizes the spatiality of democracy or politics in the title of his recent essay, ‘Democracy Is Where We Make It’.84 This is an apt turn of phrase because it highlights, first, the agency on the part of those political actors engaging in political action. Second, it brings into relief the idea of spatiality when it comes to resistance. Those who are without a part in a given police order occupy a place that has no place. We may be tempted to say that they are mis-placed, but that would be to ignore the fact that the re-ordering of society through politics does not simply give new space to an old subject, but that new subjects are actually created through the demands that are being


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made. Any new police order that comes into existence as a result of politics, then, is populated by new subject positions throughout. Rather than ‘mis-placed’, a better term is ‘dis-placed’ because it refers not merely to a subject being in the wrong place, but more broadly connotes that there is something amiss with regard to how the common space of society at large is constituted. The emphasis is not on the physical space that one occupies, but on spatiality and how space is perceived and ordered. To put it another way, displacement refers to the possibilities admitted as actual by a given order, challenges to which open up avenues to conceive of new possibilities of spatial perception. Hans Lindahl has recently developed a concept that he calls the ‘alegal’ to describe those actions that are neither properly legal nor illegal, but that challenge the very distinction.85 Lindahl concretizes the problem within the framework of globalization and what he calls postnationalism. In doing so, he is able to pick out a particular frame of reference within which Rancière’s thought can be put to work. Articulating the logic of globalized legal structures, Lindahl refers to acts that challenge the distinction between legal and illegal as, ‘forms of behavior that intimate a place that has no place within the distribution of legal places a collective calls its own, yet ought to in some way’.86 These actions mirror Rancière’s descriptions of politics, and ‘bring into play, additionally, the tension between law as an actual or posited distribution of ought-places and possible law – an alternate way of ordering legal space’.87 In other words, these actions reveal alternative realities as well as point towards societal transformation that would make those possibilities actual. Politics is the reidentification of being placed anew within a reformulated order, and of re-placing oneself within redefined sensible space. Thus, we can talk about being mis-placed: identified as being outside the current order when the given subject is actually included by it; this amounts to a mere misunderstanding. We can also talk about being dis-placed: these are the outsiders, the excluded, which Rancière refers to as the ‘part that has no part’; through the re-ordering of the police order and the articulation of new subject positions this group can become included within a new police order. The latter of these two situations entails a reformulation of how we see and perceive our existence in the spatial world, or our spatiality. Rancière’s descriptions of distributions of the sensible highlight the importance of spatiality. One way to put them is that they are the ways that experience is carved up and perceived by subjects within a given society. As Rancière explains, ‘I call the distribution of the sensible the system of selfevident facts of sense perception that simultaneously discloses the existence of something in common and the delimitations that define the respective parts and positions within it’.88 Elsewhere, he describes it as ‘a generally implicit law that defines the forms of partaking by first defining the modes of

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perception in which they are inscribed’.89 He also describes aesthetic acts as ‘configurations of experience that create new modes of sense perception and induce novel forms of political subjectivity’.90 This final point is especially important. Reconfiguring experience and making space for new ways of perceiving existence and the social world pave the way for the instantiation of new forms of political subjectivity. We can further see how new political subjectivities come into being with regard to spatiality through Rancière’s idea of police. At one point, Rancière describes police orders as orders of the visible.91 At another, he refers to it as ‘the symbolic constitution of the social’.92 If the police order is an order of the visible (and the audible) then a political act is an aesthetic act that interrupts that order and even posits a new one in its place. Resistance occurs and subjectivation takes place in and through the remapping of what is visible and audible by the police order. Subjectivation starts with resistance to the foundational wrong that is constitutive of the current organization of the police order. This fundamental wrong is the key to understanding why Rancière does not posit a natural or pre-political subject. Articulating the meaning of the wrong will help to provide an account of the stage upon which subjectivation occurs, as well as how we are to conceive of the type of subject that comes into being there, subjects that are made through the resistance inherent in political action, which is to say, resistance in the name of equality. Insofar as reidentification posits a new world, it posits a reconfigured idea of what the shared common space of society can be, doing so through the transformation of the one currently in existence. In other words, the new common space outlined through reidentification is not utopian theorizing, but is a societal re-ordering directly connected to the material realities of the present. I do not use ‘shared common space of society’ as synonym for ‘public sphere’ as it is defined in various philosophical debates. Articulating the shared common space of society is not a matter of distinguishing between the public and the private; it is the underlying space that determines the possibilities for how the public/private distinction is drawn in the first place. It therefore has affinities with Rancière’s definition of the distribution of the sensible. I choose ‘shared common space of society’ for two reasons. First, I want to emphasize the shared and common nature of this space, which is elided when referring only to distributions. Second, if we are referring to distributions and redistributions then we lack a quantitative measure of the change from one to the other; we can talk about enlarging a shared common space in a way that we can’t with redistribution. Enlarging the shared common space of society both quantitatively enlarges and qualitatively alters society in the way that accords with Rancière’s descriptions of how distributions of the sensible are redistributed. Furthermore, the enlargement of our shared common social space retains the need to perceive differently, which Rancière emphasizes.


Chapter 5

Dissensus acts as a division that is inserted into our common sense. ‘Common’ here has a double meaning: both its colloquial connotation regarding something that we have in common or share, and the sense of what constitutes the common space of society, which is our common world as members of the community. It refers to how the givens of the social world are perceived. Since dissensus interrupts these givens and puts them into question, Rancière describes it as, ‘a dispute over what is given and about the frame within which we see something as given’.93 Disputes of this nature are the essence of politics. They call into question what we think of as the common social world that we all inhabit, as well as who is seen as inhabiting that world and for what reasons. When our common sense is ruptured it must be subsequently reformed. When politics is successful and this reformation occurs, our perception of what is common has been reconstituted. Insofar as it has been enlarged, new possibilities that were previously unacknowledged have been recognized. The redefinition and expansion of the shared common space of society is based upon political actors’ reidentification with a new common public world through their political acts. Though political action dis-identifies with and undoes the existing public order, it necessarily also identifies with a not-yetexisting reformulated and more equal police order. As May rightly emphasizes, Rancière’s notion of politics is reactive, in that politics can only react against the existing police order, whatever it may be.94 Though the prevailing police order conditions the possibilities that can be imagined against it by political actors, it is not so exhaustive as to make the reorganization of that order impossible. Though I refrain from the specific vocabulary of debates surrounding the public sphere, there is an undeniably public element to our shared common space. As Rancière describes politics, it ‘is a process of struggle against this privatization [of the public sphere], the process of enlarging this sphere’, which entails ‘struggling against the distribution of the public and private that shores up the twofold domination of the oligarchy in the State and in society’.95 The struggle described here echoes the quantitatively spatial component of ‘shared common space’. The goal of enlarging this space entails resistance against the law of private interest, as well as the struggle to assert the public character of spaces, relations, and institutions that get designated as private by the police order.96 That is, when democracy occurs, it struggles against the privatization of public life; it enlarges the shared common space of society, which is intrinsically public. All told, politics is an act of perceiving otherwise that, as David Panagia notes, ‘marks a moment of unrepresentability that is constitutive of democratic politics per se; not, that is, because it is democracy’s essence but because dissensus opens the possibility of a rearrangement of associational

Subjectivity, Identification, and the Incoherence of Resistance in Rancière


life’.97 The goal of politics is the reconfiguration of our common space, and when successful, it enlarges that space. In other words, we see a transformation in the very makeup and definition of what is common. The process of creating new political subjects entails the reconstruction of this space, altering definitions of who and what are capable of being seen and heard within it.98 The new stage calls into question and redefines what counts as speech and as reasons, as well as what counts as the constitution of the people. Put differently, new subjects are possible because the common sense perception of who belongs to society has been replaced. Politics demands the redefinition of the organization of the police order so that the excluded remainder can be incorporated into it. Crucially, such inclusion also entails the reconfiguration of those who were already visible subjects within the police order. Since subjectivity is relational their identities also change, and they are now partially defined against a new form of subjectivity. Such a process puts into question any articulation of the how the ‘public’ is delineated by rearticulating the subjectivities of all of its members. The legal realm is one important facet of the transformation of what counts as public. As Lindahl notes, ‘collective self-legislation is a privileged (but by no means the only) medium by which modern political communities order themselves’.99 Though Rancière is not usually thought of as a legal thinker, this element of public life is crucial for thinking about transformation. It is important to remember, however, that the legal by no means exhausts the reach of the police order, even though legal victories are often involved in large-scale changes to the police order. To return to May’s example of sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement, we can see how the eventual passage of civil rights legislation was one of the effects brought about by these political actions. Obviously, such legislation barely begins to solve the problems of domination and oppression. Legislation does, however, form one major part of the ordering and distribution of societal roles. Indeed, one of Rancière’s most important examples revolves the standing in court of members of the proletariat.100 A lack of legal standing is at least one way that certain members of a society are made into second-class citizens. Despite the fact that it is only one facet of any police order, legal recognition can serve a symbolic role, since law is one of the very few explicit and concrete manifestations of the police order. The law therefore provides an excellent initial mapping of the sensible terrain in any given police order, and can serve as a focal point for political struggle.101 Police orders seek full harmony without remainder, while politics as resistance manifests the gap in that harmony and renders it false. As it does so, resistance posits a new form of harmony in the form of a new police order and a new articulation of common public space. Those involved in political action identify with this new


Chapter 5

formulation through their actions even though it does not yet exist, and may not come to exist if their actions are halted. While it is true that dissensus presupposes equality, it is an abstract notion of equality that cannot stand on its own. As Kirstie McClure points out, the content, the ‘what’ of equality, is contextual and historical, and can only be defined within specific times and places.102 In political action the equality that is being asserted is tied to concrete actions and exclusions, as there are specific material and/or legal gains being fought for in each specific instance of politics. The subjects who carry out these actions encounter the limits of the possible, hoping to redefine what possible can mean: they are attempting to articulate new criteria on which they will be judged as citizens. Furthermore, they formulate a new definition of how society ought to be organized, and in effect are redefining the status quo. In doing so, they articulate the very transformation that would take place. Each instance of politics is a specific polemical intervention at a particular point in time. Such instances of ‘paradoxical contemporaneity’ each appear in exemplary ways as interruptions of the contemporary status quo, only fully recognizable in retrospect. In each of these historical moments, the force that interrupts the status quo insists on the public nature of, for example, domestic violence or industrial conditions.103 By making issues public that had previously not been so, the stage is set for a re-ordering of the police; for a new distribution of the sensible that yields new kinds of social bonds. We ought to conceive of such a re-ordering in terms of the transformation to better policing. When political actors act ‘as if’ they are already included equally in the police order, they create new access to public, civic space.104 They identify with a redefined and re-ordered public space that has not yet been achieved. Sometimes these moments are fleeting, but Rancière is up front about how rare politics actually is and acknowledges that radical change is not often achieved. The idea that we ought to consistently be critical of the possibilities proclaimed by the police orders that we inhabit is grounded at least in part in the idea that Rancière has a negative political ontology. He does not intend to provide a proof of the equality of all, but instead only proves the contingency of ruling principles and societal hierarchies. Since order itself can never be eradicated, we know that there will always be police orders. The point is that whatever the content of a police order, its justification can be successfully challenged, since the justification for the founding of an order is only ever possible retrospectively.105 Lindahl is again helpful here. He writes, ‘By definition, acts that create legal orders cannot themselves be a part thereof’.106 Furthermore, ‘the founding acts of legal order are themselves neither legal nor illegal because both terms of this binary distinction already presuppose a legal order as the

Subjectivity, Identification, and the Incoherence of Resistance in Rancière


condition for their intelligibility’.107 Though Lindahl is specifically referencing legal orders, the claim holds more broadly for order in general as well. By definition, any order has built into it the distinction between that which belongs and that which does not, a distinction only made possible by the existence of that very order in the first place. Lindahl’s view echoes Rancière’s, for which democracy itself means the rule of those who by definition have no right to rule.108 Democracy is not a specific justification for rule, but is a rule without such a foundation or principle, and so is a ‘qualification without qualification’.109 In this chapter I have attempted to do four things with regard to Rancière’s work. First, to give an overview of the difficulties surrounding order, theory, and ontology; second, to outline Rancière’s process of subjectivation; third, to argue for the necessity of the concept of reidentification within that process; and fourth, to argue for the relevance of notions of space and place for thinking about new transformation within society, insofar as they help us to see how politics involves the imperative to consistently challenge the limits of possibility for the common shared space of society and our perception of it. In doing so, I follow Deranty in positing a negative ontology in Rancière’s work, which provides leverage for the idea that we ought to consistently test and push the limits of the definition of the public space of society without positing its content in advance. Emphasizing the importance of reidentification forces us to articulate exactly what kind of more equal redistribution of the sensible or a reordered society would look like given the specificities and complexities of a given situation. Reidentification leads to a better understanding of how the imperative to enlarge the common shared space of society is constituted. Reidentification provides a foothold for interrogating the ways that specific police orders should be re-ordered. We know that Rancière admits that successful politics is rare, but this is a descriptive historical claim. Yet it is the basis for the critique that, because politics is ‘fleeting’, we are doomed to failure.110 I believe that this stance underestimates the resources that Rancière provides us with. He sets the stage for further thinking about comparisons between police orders, as well as the different kinds of transformations that are possible from one to the other – and for pushing the limits of those possibilities. My view is that none of Rancière’s claims proscribe the integration of this line of thought into his framework, and is furthermore encouraged by them. Moving forward in this way entails both evaluating police orders and always remembering that the current situation can be improved by making it more equal and more just. So while it is true that we can at best remain agnostic about whether there can be some final stage in the pursuit of equality, some utopia waiting for us to make into reality, we can alleviate this


Chapter 5

possible loss through the recognition that real change is much closer at hand, if we act. Focusing on the rarity of politics also elides the fact that successful instances of politics and societal redefinition may well be the culmination of many smaller efforts of change that went unrewarded in the short term yet contributed to the long-term structural change that politics evinces. These are the contributions to politics that are only recognizable retrospectively as we spell out the narrative of history of the present. Rancière uses the phrase ‘polemical interventions’ to describe his work, alerting us to the spirit of critique founded on equality that ties his corpus together.111 The question that animates his interventions is, ‘where are we?’ That is, how do we see our situation in the here and now? How do we map our situation, and how can we reconsider how we do that very mapping? How can we change the here and now?112 In other words, how can we articulate the demands for, and construct, a new map, and with it new transformations of spatiality and iterations of our common perception?

Notes 1. I use the term ‘transformation’ to split the difference between ‘reform’, which remains too connected to both institutions and the status quo for Rancière’s liking; and ‘revolution’, which entails too much of a break with the present. For Rancière a distribution of the sensible is ‘a relation between occupations and equipment, between being in a specific space and time, performing specific activities, and being endowed with capacities of seeing, saying, and doing that “fit” those activities. A distribution of the sensible is a matrix that defines a set of relations between sense and sense: that is, between a form of sensory experience and an interpretation which makes sense of it. It ties an occupation to a presupposition’ Rancière, ‘The Method of Equality: An Answer to Some Questions’, 275. For more details regarding Rancière’s discussion of distributions of the sensible, see Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, 9, 12; Rancière, ‘Ten Theses on Politics’, 36. 2. Hewlett, Badiou, Balibar, Rancière, 100; Dean, ‘Politics without Politics’, 31, 35. 3. Building on Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, ‘police’ names any social order, mode of classification, or hierarchy within society, referring to any societal organizing principle that assigns roles or parts to individuals as members of that society. It is the term for the ‘general order that arranges that tangible reality in which bodies are distributed in community…an order of bodies that defines allocation of ways of doing, ways of being, and ways of saying…it is an order of the visible’; politics is an interruption of that order Rancière, Disagreement, 28–29. There can be, therefore, no politics without police and no police without the possibility of politics. 4. Hewlett, Badiou, Balibar, Ranciere, 108. 5. Ibid., 143.

Subjectivity, Identification, and the Incoherence of Resistance in Rancière


6. I borrow this description from Deranty, ‘Rancière and Contemporary Political Ontology’, 30. 7. May, The Political Thought of Jacques Rancière; May, ‘Democracy Is Where We Make It’; May, ‘Rancière and Anarchism’; Deranty, ‘Jacques Rancière’s Contribution to The Ethics of Recognition’; Deranty, ‘Rancière and Contemporary Political Ontology’; Schaap, ‘Enacting the Right to Have Rights’; Schaap, ‘Hannah Arendt and the Philosophical Repression of Politics’; Renault, ‘The Many Marx of Jacques Rancière’. 8. Chambers, The Lessons of Rancière, 45. 9. Deranty, ‘Jacques Rancière’s Contribution to The Ethics of Recognition’, 136. 10. Deranty, ‘Rancière and Contemporary Political Ontology’, 10. 11. Rancière, Disagreement, xii. 12. Rancière, Althusser’s Lesson, xvii. The common capacity to affect emancipation is what makes the transformation of police orders possible in the first place. Rancière thematizes emancipation throughout his work, most notably in Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster. 13. See Montag, ‘Introduction to Althusser’s “Student Problems”’ for a deeper discussion of Rancière’s specific objections to certain elements of Althusser’s thought. Brown, ‘Althusser’s Lesson, Rancière’s Error, and the Real Movement of History’ argues that Rancière misses his intended target through a misreading of Althusser. I take no stance here on that point and only wish to highlight the position from which Rancière was distancing himself, whether or not Althusser is truly representative of that stance. 14. Rancière, Althusser’s Lesson, 124. 15. Ibid., xvi. 16. For a broader list of the targets of Rancière’s critique, see Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, 25–49; Rancière, Disagreement. 17. Rancière, Althusser’s Lesson, 47, 90. 18. Deranty, ‘Introduction: A Journey In Equality’, 6. 19. Bosteels, ‘Reviewing Rancière: Or, the Persistence of Discrepancies’, 27. 20. Rancière, ‘A Few Remarks on the Method of Jacques Rancière’, 117, 120. 21. Deranty, ‘Rancière and Contemporary Political Ontology’, 1. 22. Rancière, Staging the People, 29–31; Rancière, Proletarian Nights, xxv–xxvi, xxviii. 23. Hewlett, Badiou, Balibar, Ranciere, 22. 24. Ieven, ‘Heteroreductives – Rancière’s Disagreement with Ontology’, 50. Rancière claims that he doesn’t even know what ontological thinking would look like (Rancière, ‘A Few Remarks on the Method of Jacques Rancière’, 117). At the other end of the spectrum from Rancière’s own denial of theory or ontology are interpretations that attribute to him a robust political ontology. The latter view is articulated most strongly by Dillon and somewhat less strongly by Hewlett (Dillon, ‘(De)void of Politics?’ 6–7; Hewlett, Badiou, Balibar, Ranciere, 106.) Each claims that Rancière’s extensive use of examples from antiquity through modernity to contemporary times results in a timeless, ahistorical, and ontological structure of politics.


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25. Rancière, ‘A Few Remarks on the Method of Jacques Rancière’, 114–15. 26. Ieven, ‘Heteroreductives – Rancière’s Disagreement with Ontology’, 57. 27. Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator, 32. 28. Ibid., 40. See May, ‘Thinking the Break’ for a related exploration of hope in Rancière. 29. Deranty, ‘Rancière and Contemporary Political Ontology’, 33. 30. Ibid., 30. Though I agree with Deranty’s characterization of Rancière’s ontology as negative, I should also note that I do not follow his ascription of a third political term in addition to police and politics – the political – to Rancière (Deranty, ‘Jacques Rancière’s Contribution to The Ethics of Recognition’, 144; Deranty, ‘Rancière and Contemporary Political Ontology’, 6). See Chambers, The Lessons of Rancière, 32–33 for elaboration of this point. See also Rancière, ‘Comment and Responses’, 8, where he distances himself from the term. 31. For the example of the Aventine, see Rancière, Disagreement, 32; for Olympe de Gouges, see Rancière, ‘Does Democracy Mean Something?’ 57; Rancière, ‘Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?’ 303–4; for the proletariat, see Rancière, Disagreement, 39. 32. Rancière, ‘The Thinking of Dissensus: Politics and Aesthetics’, 14.See also Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, 45–73; May, The Political Thought of Jacques Rancière, 57–58; Russell and Montin, ‘The Rationality of Political Disagreement’. 33. Hewlett, Badiou, Balibar, Ranciere, 113. 34. Rancière, Disagreement, 17. 35. Dean, ‘Politics without Politics’, 31. 36. Rancière, Althusser’s Lesson, 154. 37. Chambers, The Lessons of Rancière, 49. 38. Rancière, ‘Politics, Re-Identification, Subjectivization’, 66. 39. I take Rancière’s claim that it is constitutive of police orders to have a founding wrong to be an inheritance of Marx, though he departs from the Marxian view by stripping it of its dialectical character. That is, there is no eventual resolving of the contradiction within the idea of the police order, only within particular police orders. The founding of each new order brings with it its own contradictions that are left to political action to bring to the fore and potentially resolve. 40. Rancière, ‘Ten Theses on Politics’, 36, for example. 41. Rancière, ‘Politics, Re-Identification, Subjectivization’, 66. 42. Ibid., 67–68. 43. Rancière, Disagreement, 37. 44. Rancière, ‘Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?’ 2004, 303–04. 45. Rancière, ‘Politics, Re-Identification, Subjectivization’, 66. 46. Rancière, Disagreement, 35. 47. Rancière, ‘A Few Remarks on the Method of Jacques Rancière’, 121. 48. Ibid., 116. 49. Rancière, On the Shores of Politics, 32. 50. Ibid., 83, 103. 51. Rancière, Disagreement, 101.

Subjectivity, Identification, and the Incoherence of Resistance in Rancière


52. Ibid., 30. Additionally, Rancière is at odds with Foucault on this point, who sees the political proliferating throughout the societal order. For Rancière, not all actions are political – indeed, most are not. 53. Ibid., 31; Rancière, Staging the People, 3. 54. The fact that Rancière neglects to make the state a central element of his view is the starting point for some of Alain Badiou’s objections; police orders are ineradicable because the term encompasses all modes and forms of social organization: an anarchist utopia is no less a police order than a totalitarian state. See Badiou, Metapolitics; Badiou, ‘The Lessons of Jacques Rancière: Knowledge and Power After the Storm’. 55. Newman, ‘Post-Anarchism and Radical Politics Today’, 59. 56. There are hints of this recognition at Rancière, Disagreement, 28–29. 57. Chambers does note that, given that Rancière claims that we only know oligarchic orders, they ought to be a focus (Chambers, ‘Police and Oligarchy’, 62, 67). 58. I thank Todd May for this point. 59. Rancière, Disagreement, 39. 60. Deranty has given an account of Rancière’s place and contributions to understanding recognition in Deranty, ‘Jacques Rancière’s Contribution to The Ethics of Recognition.’ Rancière himself concedes that his view is in some sense one of recognition, though he still takes great pains to distance himself from Axel Honneth’s view; see Honneth et al., Recognition or Disagreement for the details of their disagreement. For my purposes here what is important is that there is a political subject that comes into existence through politics that did not exist prior. 61. Rancière also differs greatly from Althusser in his account of subject formation. See Althusser, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’. 62. See Rancière, ‘The Aesthetic Dimension’, 8; Russell and Montin, ‘The Rationality of Political Disagreement’. 63. Rancière, Disagreement, 37. 64. Rancière, ‘Politics, Re-Identification, Subjectivization’, 65. 65. Renault, ‘The Many Marx of Jacques Rancière’, 183. 66. Rancière, Proletarian Nights, 116. 67. Ibid., 115. 68. Ibid., ix. 69. Ibid., xxvii. 70. Hewlett, Badiou, Balibar, Ranciere, 87. 71. Ibid. 72. Rancière, ‘Politics, Re-Identification, Subjectivization’, 66. 73. Rancière, ‘Ten Theses on Politics’, 38. 74. Ibid. 75. Ibid. 76. Newman, ‘Post-Anarchism and Radical Politics Today’, 60. 77. Rancière, ‘Politics, Re-Identification, Subjectivization’, 66. 78. May, ‘Wrong, Disagreement, Subjectification’, 72. 79. Rancière, Proletarian Nights, xxvii.


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80. Deranty, ‘Rancière and Contemporary Political Ontology’, 8. 81. Rancière, Staging the People, 30. 82. Rancière, Althusser’s Lesson, xvi. 83. Deranty, ‘Introduction: A Journey In Equality’, 11. 84. May, ‘Democracy Is Where We Make It’. 85. Lindahl, ‘Border Crossings by Immigrants’; Lindahl, ‘A-Legality’; Lindahl, Fault Lines of Globalization. 86. Lindahl, ‘A-Legality’, 31. 87. Ibid., 43. 88. Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, 12. 89. Rancière, ‘Ten Theses on Politics’, 36. 90. Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, 9. 91. Rancière, Disagreement, 29. 92. Rancière, ‘Ten Theses on Politics’, 36. 93. Rancière, ‘Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?’ 2010, 69. 94. May, ‘Thinking the Break’, 259. 95. Rancière, Hatred Of Democracy, 55. 96. Ibid., 56–57. 97. Panagia, ‘Thinking with and against “Ten Theses”’, 6. 98. Rancière, Staging the People, 10. 99. Lindahl, ‘Border Crossings by Immigrants’, 120. 100. Rancière, Disagreement, 39. 101. Deranty, ‘Rancière and Contemporary Political Ontology’, 27, 29. 102. McClure, ‘Disconnections, Connections, and Questions’, 29–30. 103. Ibid. 104. Labelle, ‘Two Refoundation Projects of Democracy in Contemporary French Philosophy’, 91. It is interesting to note that in the abstract to this essay, Labelle uses ‘invasion of the public space’ instead of ‘access to civic space’. The former would perhaps be more accurate, given Rancière’s insistence on the polemical nature of politics. 105. Rancière, ‘A Few Remarks on the Method of Jacques Rancière’, 119. 106. Lindahl, ‘Border Crossings by Immigrants’, 124. 107. Ibid., 125. 108. Rancière, Disagreement, 71. 109. Rancière, ‘Does Democracy Mean Something?’ 51. 110. Hewlett, Badiou, Balibar, Ranciere, 104, 106; Dean, ‘Politics without Politics’, 31. 111. Rancière, ‘A Few Remarks on the Method of Jacques Rancière’, 116. 112. Ibid., 115.


This book has attempted to juxtapose three contemporary resistance movements and four political theories in the hope that they are mutually illuminating. More than a simple preference, the claim is that there is an important connection between the actual practices of resistance movements and the ways that political philosophy constructs theories of the state, institutions, or social order more generally. Democratic and egalitarian political philosophies, insofar as they provide theoretical apparatuses meant to instantiate those ideals, cannot account for some set of future developments as they might occur in the real world. This is not because they are doing philosophy wrong, or because they are confused. It is simply because we have no reason to think that society will not see large-scale changes in attitudes, identities, and values that would require modification of our theoretical stances. In at least some minimal sense, then, I am consciously positioning philosophy as beginning from within our historically embedded existence, unable to transcend it even through the production of formal theories. This was one of the similarities noted in the introduction between the four thinkers analysed here. It is also not a novel stance, nor one in any way confined to these thinkers. Indeed, political philosophers from Hume to Rawls have considered the circumstances of justice when constructing their theories. I am attempting to go beyond this recognition to illustrate how there remains an additional theoretical element that can be brought to light even within theories that consider contingent historical facts at their outset. In this book I give four examples of such interpretative reconstructions that bring out how resistance appears within the conceptual apparatus of a democratic egalitarian political philosophy. These four instances of such interpretations do not imply or prove something about the inevitable outcomes of political philosophies generally, or even about those invested in democracy and 185

186 Conclusion

equality. My goals here are certainly more modest than that. On the one hand, these interpretations say something about Rousseau, Marx, Dewey, and Rancière – they do not prove anything beyond themselves. On the other hand, they are products of the motivation to take seriously within political philosophy all of the myriad ways that politics manifests itself in the world we live in: resistance on the part of a marginalized population against its dominators within the status quo is one of those ways. Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and the Arab Spring are all still ongoing in a multitude of ways. Additionally, they are ongoing in different ways and to different degrees. They all have significant histories that led up to the specific events that came together at a certain time and in a certain way to set in motion the series of occurrences that came to be referred to by those proper names. That is all to say, we remain aware that these movements are as singular as the contingencies that came together to produce them. While I have highlighted general themes surrounding democratic discourse articulation and the mechanisms of popular founding with regard to the movements discussed, the point is not to derive from certain practices a general schema under which future practices can be subsumed. I have focused on these beginning moments in which the three movements coalesced into a larger specific public discourse, and have not attempted to give an exhaustive account of their histories and current manifestations. This is the case for practical reasons, certainly. Additionally, however, how we go about demarcating moments within history, and subsequently interpreting those moments, is open to revision as new ideas and new evidence emerge. Just as there is something to be gained from looking back at events from a sober distance, there is also something to be gained from peering at them from up close, or looking outward from within them. And so while we might for good reason want to wait a certain amount of time in order to gain critical distance, there is also something important engaging with these aspects of society quickly and as they arise, and making attempts to learn lessons from them that only specific sites of action can tell us. The two approaches are in no way mutually exclusive, and are in fact mutually beneficial. The generalities noted above with regard to the movements themselves are indeed read off of the actions and discourses identified here. What I have tried to do, first, is highlight some complexities inherent within different resistance movements that, despite certain thematic parallels, historical, political, and social particularities dictate all sorts of vexed adaptations of theoretical principles. Second, and in conjunction with the previous point, I have tried to show four ways that political theories of democracy and equality are internally divided precisely because of their democratic and egalitarian emphasis. This division gives rise to the necessity to consider resistance as an important part of democratic and egalitarian political philosophy.



It also, I believe, points us towards a consideration of manifestations of resistance in the real world in order to sharpen our understanding of how, why, and where resistance happens. If we are going to be attentive to how resistance theoretically makes itself apparent, we also ought to be attentive to how practices resist theory more generally. We ought not to abandon theory for a focus on merely describing practices, of course. But the distinction between theory and practice is not the same as the one between normative and descriptive – practices of resistance have normative valence as well. It is actually the articulation of those normative valences found within practices of resistance that, I argue, political philosophy should consider, because these normative elements beneath the surface can enhance our theorizing. Importantly, though, they can challenge and resist the totalization and abstraction of a theoretical apparatus of the politics. This sort of synthesis between resistance-minded democratic egalitarian political philosophy and a consideration of resistance movements has given rise, in this book, to a conception of resistance that revolves first of all around the notion of the common interest. As I have outlined it, common interest is at the heart of what divides the conceptual apparatus of the political philosophies taken up here. It also plays an important role in my interpretations of the resistance movements discussed in chapter 1. What it does not do is ground a theory of resistance. In the introduction I noted reasons why a theory of resistance would be counterproductive for trying to relate resistance movements to philosophy. Throughout the book I have made every attempt to retain that premise and carry it through. As a consequence, the book itself serves as a way into a further conversation about political philosophy’s democratic and egalitarian goals or ideals, and their connection with different sorts of manifestations of those ideals in the global world in which we live. One general goal is to foster an even-sided conversation between how ideals are theorized and how they are actually lived and fought for. Even non-ideal theory is, after all, theory. This book has been an attempt to come at that conversation from a particular way by placing side by side an account of resistance movements and various ways that resistance manifests itself theoretically. The former are inspired by the latter, and the latter’s inevitability are implied by the former. This project remains ongoing. We must be consistently attentive to the grassroots and the way its political movements develop, coalesce, and emerge into larger conversations. Their goals and the ways they express them can be instructive for how we think theoretically about our political ideals, and will push them to develop in new directions. This is true not only for events of great magnitude, but for small-scale localized endeavour too. Doing so will only enrich political philosophy and aid in designing democratic institutions that are better able to address the needs of those who feel their voices stifled.


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Achcar, Gilbert, 22 active equality, 40–41 ACT UP!, 41 Ali, Ben, 21, 23, 27 ‘All Lives Matter,’ 31, 45 Al-Shami, Leila, 54 Althusser, Louis, 95n99 Alvarez, Anita, 51 Anderson, Elizabeth, 153 Anderson, Tanisha, 43 Arab Spring, 10, 13, 15, 19, 28, 37, 42, 44, 53, 186; commitment to non-violence by protesters, 23; events and discourse specific to, 21–25; paradox of conflating democracy and neoliberalism, 22; split between the power and the people, 23; vocabularies of democracy and revolution, 21–22. See also Black Lives Matter Chicago; Occupy Wall Street Assata’s Daughters, 51 Azzellini, Dario, 20, 35 Balibar, Etienne, 97 Baptist, Edward E., 34 Bayat, Asef, 53

Beckert, Sven, 34 Benhabib, Seyla, 111–12 Bertram, Christopher, 94n76 Black Lives Matter Chicago, 3, 10, 51, 55, 186. See also Arab Spring; Occupy Wall Street Black Lives Matter movement, 13, 28–29, 36–38, 41, 43–45, 50–51; discourse of, 30–31; events and discourse specific to, 30–35; law enforcement and, 30–31; national profile of, 32; relationship between economic interests and racism, 33–34; threat of significant economic sanctions, 33 Black Youth Project 100, 51 Block The Boat protest, 28 Bloomberg, Mayor, 47 Bois, George Zimmerman Du, 30, 32, 38 Bouazizi, Mohammed, 15, 21, 48 Brown, Michael, 32, 35, 43 Buechler, Steven M., 19 Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, 54 Butler, Jonathan, 32–33 Butler, Judith, 40 207

208 Index

Castro, Fidel, 11n4 Caygill, Howard, 1–2, 35 Chambers, Samuel A., 162 Chatelain, Marcia, 42–43 Chomsky, Noam, 29 Chou, Mark, 55 Chretien, Todd, 27–28 Civil Rights Movement, 177 The Clash Of Civilizations and the Remaking Of World Order (Samuel Huntington), 23 Clinton, Hillary, 55 Communism, 99–100, 114–16 cosmopolitanism, 25 Crawford III, John, 46 Cuban Revolution, 11n4 Cullors, Patrisse, 38 Cusseaux, Michelle, 43 Dabashi, Hamid, 21–22, 37, 53 Dean, Jodi, 165 Debt Collective, 26, 29 democracy, 21, 30, 50; Arab context for a discussion of, 23; autoimmune capacity, 24; direct, 29; ideals of, 25–26; neoliberalism and, 22; performative redefinition of, 53; sacrosanct idea of, 22; in the United States, 25–26 democratic legitimacy, 52, 56 Deranty, Jean-Philippe, 162 Derrida, Jacques, 92n15 Dewey’s philosophy, 8–10, 154n2, 186; conception of democracy, 132–40, 142, 152, 156n63; Democracy and Education, 136; democratic values, 132; Experience and Nature, 140; framework of democracy, 130; holism, 143, 146; ‘ideal’ of democracy, 146; idea of community, 136; issues of power and resistance, 140;

Lectures in China, 1919–1920, 144–45; notion of experience, 140; problem facing contemporary society, 153; The Public and Its Problems, 129; public problems, 129, 131, 153; relation between community and democracy, 136; self-reflection, 151; social and political philosophy, 130, 139; society, 136–38; values of society, 132; view regarding power and elites, 143; views on democracy and publics, 132–38, 146, 149–51, 155n17 Discourse on Inequality, 63–64 discourses of political resistance, 19–35, 45 Fahmy, Khaled, 21 Fanon, Frantz, 24 Festenstein, Matthew, 138 Filiu, Jean-Pierre, 23, 37 Foxx, Kim, 51 Fraser, Nancy, 7, 9 French Revolution, 6 Garner, Eric, 43 Garrard, Graeme, 95n92 Garza, Alicia, 43 Geuss, Raymond, 39 Gordon, Lewis R., 30 Graeber, David, 29 Grief, Mark, 47 Gurley, Akai, 46 Hall, Maya, 43 Harvey, David, 56 Hegel, Friedrich, 100, 104 Hewlett, Nick, 160, 163, 165, 171 Hildreth, R.W., 142–43 Honneth, Axel, 144 Huntington, Samuel, 23


imagination, 49 ISIS, 54 Kadlec, Alison, 140, 142–43 Kelly, Christopher, 91n1 Kukla, Rebecca, 91n2, 93n52, 95n91 Legion of Black Collegians, 32 legitimacy, 49 Lindahl, Hans, 174, 179–80 Lindsay, Treva B., 43 Lippmann, Walter, 141–42 Locke, John, 67, 73–74, 99, 104; on resistance, 66; Second Treatise of Government, 66; social contract, 66 Ludwig Feuerbach, 104–5, 109–10, 118, 122 Martin, Trayvon, 30, 38, 43 Marxism, 97–98 Marx’s philosophy, 8, 10, 97, 186; accounts of nature, production, capitalism, and history, 108; alienation defined, 112, 122; alienation of labour, 107; analysis of the bourgeois capitalism, 112–14; on Aristotle’s formulation of the human animal, 103–4; Communist society, 119; conceptions of species-being, rights, and democracy, 98; Critique of the Gotha Programme, 108; dichotomy between natural and social, 99, 101–10; dichotomy between political and human emancipation, 99, 110–16; Eurocentric and teleological view of history, 100; Feuerbach’s crude materialism, 105, 118; Feuerbach’s discussion of human essence, 104;


The German Ideology, 113, 119; Gotha Program, 114–15, 121; Grundrisse, 103–4, 108; human existence defined, 98, 102; ideal of Communism, 100–101, 121, 126n80; idea of freedom, 119, 121; On the Jewish Question, 113; man’s inorganic body, 107–8; Manuscripts of 1844, 102–3; notion of civil society, 111–14; pre-history and history, 118; reform of consciousness, 100; religion, 112; Robinsonades, 103; social emancipation and activities of resistance, 116; species-being, description of, 110, 113, 115–16, 118–19; teleological view of history, 110; Theses on Feuerbach, 104 Massad, Joseph, 22 May, Trodd, 40, 162, 172 McClure, Kirstie, 178 McDonald, Laquan, 51 McGinty, Tim, 51 McKenna, Natasha, 43 Megill, Kenneth A., 119 Michelman, Frank, 49 Midtgarden, Torjus, 143–45, 148 Mulhall, Stephen, 106 Mumford, Louis, 130 Mutz, Diana C., 153 Neuhouser, Frederick, 84 Newman, Saul, 172 O’Bannon, Ed, 34 Occupy Homes Bernal, 26 Occupy Oakland, 27 Occupy Wall Street, 10, 13, 25, 37, 40–41, 44, 46–47, 55, 186; discourses, 25–26; events and discourse specific to, 25–30;

210 Index

proliferation and spread of, 27; solidarity in, 26–27. See also Arab Spring; Black Lives Matter Chicago online activism. See social media, role in social movements Palestinian human rights struggle, 28 Pappas, Gregory, 133, 137, 144, 146–48 ‘people, notion of, 48 political opportunity theory, 17 political philosophy, 2, 4–5, 13–15, 185, 187; resistance movements, 13–15. See also Dewey’s philosophy; Marx’s philosophy; Rancière’s philosophy public sphere of society, 15 Rancière’s philosophy, 9–10, 186; dis-identification, 159–60, 166–68; negative ontology, 165; notion of order, theory, and ontology, 161–66; notions of place and space, 173–80; ‘polemical interventions,’ 180; police orders, conception of, 162, 175, 177, 180n3; politics, conception of, 160; process of subjectivation, 160–61; reaction against ‘philosophies or order,’ 165; reidentification, 159–61, 168–73; rejection of Althusser’s ‘philosophy of order,’ 163; resistance, conception of, 159; shared common space of society, 175–77; subjectivation, conception of, 159– 60, 166, 168–69, 171, 175, 179 re-articulation of the People, 15–16, 44–56 resistance movements, 3–4, 13–15, 187; differences in terms of principles, 15.

See also Arab Spring; Black Lives Matter Chicago; Occupy Wall Street Rice, Tamer, 43, 46, 51 Rogers, Melvin L., 141 Rolling Jubilee, 26, 41 Romney, Mitt, 46 Rorty, Richard, 148 Rosser, Aura, 43 Rousseau’s philosophy, 7–8, 10, 63, 103, 186; aesthetic dimension, 96n109; concept of the natural, 67–77; Considerations on the Government of Poland, 65; criteria for legitimacy, 77; description of Emile, 84–85, 88–89, 91n4, 95n92; Discourse on Inequality, 63–65, 69, 86; discussion of natural world, 64–65; equality, accounts of, 65–66; freedom meaning, 75–76; General Will, tensions of, 77–87, 90, 94n61, 94n76, 100; human being and society, accounts of, 64; humanity, defined, 71; humanity’s progression, 68–69; human perfectionism, account of, 83; ideal of popular sovereignty, 67; mythical sense of the natural, 69–71, 74, 90; natural equality of human beings, 70; ‘natural man,’ meaning of, 70; notion of the Just and the Unjust, 74; plan for the constitution of Poland, 93n42; possibility of resistance, 87–91; process of identity-formation, 85–86; sanctioning resistance, 64; ‘Savage man,’ 68, 76–77; size of a particular nation and governance, 86;



On the Social Contract, 63–64, 76–87, 90; split between the natural and the social, 69, 71–72; story of societal revolutions, 73; story of the invention of private property, 71; taxonomy of the different kinds of laws, 83; version of the social contract, 65 Ruge, Arnold, 100 Sanders, Bernie, 46, 55 Sanders, Lynn, 152–53 Say Her Name campaign, 43 Schaap, Andrew, 162 self-immolation, 48 semantic spaces, notion of, 15 Shklar, Judith, 66 Sitrin, Marina, 20, 35 social media, role in social movements, 16, 35–38; connection between online and offline activity, 37; Facebook, 36, 38; momentum and success of, 36–37; presence and power of, 38; Twitter, 36, 38 social movements: changing attitudes towards identities, 17; changing structures in the political sphere and, 17;

demand aspect in, 39–44; initial collective grievance model, 17–18; mass media coverage of, 18; political opportunity theory, 17; political outcomes and, 16; re-articulation of the people, 15–16, 44–56; reasons for action, 40; resource mobilization framework, 16–17; semantic challenges, 44; shift in discourses and, 19–35; slogans, 20; in terms of general grievances or collective social strains, 16; theories of, 16–19; use of technology and social media, 20, 35–38. See also Arab Spring; Black Lives Matter Chicago; Occupy Wall Street Tekin, Serdar, 49 Thomas Hobbes, 73–74, 99, 104, 106–7 Western political theory, 48 Wokler, Robert, 75, 84 Wolff, Jonathan, 97 Wolin, Sheldon, 141 The Wretched of the Earth, 24 Yassin-Kassab, Robin, 54

About the Author

Adam Burgos is a postdoctoral fellow in Philosophy at Bucknell University. He received his PhD in philosophy from Vanderbilt University, and has previously published on Ernesto Laclau and Jacques Rancière. His research is in social and political philosophy, particularly with regard to issues of democracy, legitimacy, and contestation.