Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy
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This book intervenes in contemporary debates about the threat posed to democratic life by political emergencies. Must emergency necessarily enhance and centralize top-down forms of sovereignty? Those who oppose executive branch enhancement often turn instead to law, insisting on the sovereignty of the rule of law or demanding that law rather than force be used to resolve conflicts with enemies. But are these the only options? Or are there more democratic ways to respond to invocations of emergency politics? Looking at how emergencies in the past and present have shaped the development of democracy, Bonnie Honig argues that democracies must resist emergency's pull to focus on life's necessities (food, security, and bare essentials) because these tend to privatize and isolate citizens rather than bring us together on behalf of hopeful futures. Emphasizing the connections between mere life and more life, emergence and emergency, Honig argues that emergencies call us to attend anew to a neglected paradox of democratic politics: that we need good citizens with aspirational ideals to make good politics while we need good politics to infuse citizens with idealism.
Honig takes a broad approach to emergency, considering immigration politics, new rights claims, contemporary food politics and the infrastructure of consumption, and the limits of law during the Red Scare of the early twentieth century. Taking its bearings from Moses Mendelssohn, Franz Rosenzweig, and other Jewish thinkers, this is a major contribution to modern thought about the challenges and risks of democratic orientation and action in response to emergency.
will of all, the people from the blind multitude, the true lawgiver from the charlatan, significantly durable institutions from those whose durability is a function of mere good fortune or successful violent imposition or, even further, the true political theoretician from the pride-ridden philosopher or blind factionalist, then the will or judgment of the people who are not yet (or no longer) a people remains crucial. There is no getting away from the need in a democracy for the people to
conditions of successful general willing called for by Rousseau (defined and sheltered territory, small population, relative equality, civic religion) are, from Benhabib’s perspective, simply not a substitute for such a standard, nor for that matter are they relevant to us in late modernity. Caught up in the search for an independent normative standard to which Rousseau was not himself committed, conceiving of the paradox as a binary conflict not a vicious circle, and seeking a solution to the
thus actively protecting the distance from monarchical power that was a condition of their successful selfgovernance.75 Arendt is often referred to as a theorist of beginnings. She repeatedly emphasizes the inaugural powers of action but her resort to something like Aristotle’s infinite sequence to praise the American Revolution suggests a different notion of beginning than the ab initio variety with which she is usually associated (for good reason by many of her readers, including this one)
there I should have been obligated to deport him. . . . I should have done as I did in the case of Emma Goldman, whose case stood wholly on that one word. She said she was an anarchist and I deported her and I should have done the same in his case. But I found on reading further [the record of Flores-Magon’s interview] his meaning of the word did not tally with the definitions of anarchism as anyone who has investigated the subject knows; and because it did not tally, I came to the conclusion
improve the Labor Departments services to black labor. His innovations were short-lived. They were swept aside when he was pushed into the defense of proceduralism—as we all are— by the demands of emergency and demonological politics, which made survival as mere life rather than the more life of world-building a priority. Or, better: In the context of demonological politics, proceduralization is world-building, albeit what is built is a barer world than we might otherwise seek. In the