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On the Emergence of the Political

Paul Eisenstein and Todd McGowan

Publication Year: 2013

In a radical reconsideration of political theory and politics, Paul Eisenstein and Todd McGowan explore the notion of rupture or radical tearing apart in both history and theory through the sweep of Western philosophy from Plato to Kierkegaard and beyond. The authors use contemporary literature and film to elucidate political theory, examining works by such writers are Dave Eggers, John Irving, and Toni Morrison, as well as films by directors from Sergei Eisenstein to David Fincher.

Paul Eisenstein and Todd McGowan find that a rupture or radical break is repeatedly invoked at the beginning of every philosophical system. In this rupture, many of our most cherished political values—equality, solidarity, and the idea of freedom—emerge. But the lack of a sustained commitment to this radical tearing apart has repeatedly foreshortened, distorted, or perverted those same values. Most political philosophy may have marginalized these radical breaks with the past. But Eisenstein and McGowan demonstrate that Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, and Slavoj Žižek have consistently brought rupture to the fore as an organizing principle for political thought. This insight holds great pertinence to our current world situation. Seeing the possibilities for an extended dialogue and sustained political change, Eisenstein and McGowan argue for a more systematic engagement with these theorists.

Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: NUP

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-13

Thanks to Jennifer Friedlander, Robert Rushing, and Slavoj Zizek for the generous readings that they provided. Without their help and guidance, the book would have lacked what has become essential. We are also grateful for the insights and feedback of colleagues with whom the ideas in this...

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Introduction: The Theory of Rupture

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pp. 3-36

Political philosophy, from Plato onward, has occupied itself with the distribution of power. Different political philosophers allocate power in various ways according to their respective ideas about the proper arrangement of society. Plato places the philosopher-kings in charge; Aristotle prizes an aristocratic government; Hobbes insists on the foundational power of the sovereign; Rousseau theorizes...

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Chapter One. Belief

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pp. 37-62

Prior to the events of September 11,2001, and the rise of a visibly militant, Islamic fundamentalism, debates regarding the relationship of God and religion to politics contained positions that by and large disagreed only on the role of religion in a democratic society. Even as some liberals joined the call for a return to religion-it was Al Gore who, in 1999, rejected what he called the false...

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Chapter Two. Universality

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pp. 63-86

The question of the existence of universals has haunted Western philosophy throughout its history. While almost no one doubts the existence of particular beings, the idea of the universal-an identity or quality shared by multiple particular beings-sparks widely divergent views. Plato argues for the existence of universal forms both of values (like justice) and of objects (like tables), wherea...

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Chapter Three. Solidarity

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pp. 87-108

When Ronald Reagan was president of the United States in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, he expressed the wish that Martians would invade the earth. Only with a common enemy, he thought, could a genuine solidarity take hold between the Cold War enemies whose animus threatened to render the planet uninhabitable. This was a Freudian moment for Reagan. It is Freud's...

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Chapter Four. Equality

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pp. 109-136

The great modern critic of equality is Friedrich Nietzsche. Because Nietzsche locates value in separation, he views equality as the erasure of all value. One creates value by separating oneself from the masses and by going alone, and the idea of equality always brings one back to the level of the masses. As an equal among many, the subject loses the value that would distinguish it as an individual..

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Chapter Five. Freedom

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pp. 137-162

Freedom functions as the watchword of contemporary neoliberalism and even more generally of today's global capitalism. Whenever the nations aligned in the neoliberal consensus want to intervene elsewhere in the world, the justification almost necessarily involves a reference to this privileged signifier. When the United States, for instance, wanted to justify the March 20, 2003, invasion of...

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Chapter Six. Singularity

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pp. 163-186

From the 1960s to the 1980s, the idea of singularity had a leading role in French philosophy. In response to the totalizing aspirations of existentialism, structuralism, and Marxism, a series of thinkers began to rethink political contestation in terms of affirming singularity against the ruling structure rather than revolutionizing the structure. For these thinkers, singularity was not individuality...

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Chapter Seven. The Inhuman

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pp. 187-216

The rupture between the animal and the human appears today as the most difficult version of rupture to defend. More and more, this barrier appears to be no barrier at all-or at least an almost infinitely malleable one. From animal rights activists and biologists to philosophers and sociologists, challenges to the rupture of the human from its animality have become commonplace. Yet the emergence...

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Conclusion. Theorizing from the Rubble

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pp. 217-230

The idea of rupture as the source of political values has a growing number of champions in contemporary thought. Though different thinkers have a variety of terms for what we call rupture, the idea itself has become widespread. As we argued at the outset, it appears most evidently in the event of Alain Badiou, the gesture...


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pp. 231-282


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pp. 283-294

E-ISBN-13: 9780810166301
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810128514

Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1
Series Title: NUP