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  • Introduction to 11.2
  • Jodi Dean and Michael J. Shapiro

What ethical and political demands does the fact of torture place on those in whose name or for whose sake it is exercised? How might these demands be understood and addressed so as to dismantle the regimes of knowability, visibility, and responsibility that support the excessive violence of the sovereign that they contest? And in what ways are these regimes those in which modern freedom is implicated so as to be nearly inconceivable outside them? These are some of the concerns animating the contributions to Issue 11.2, an issue preoccupied with political violence.

"We are all torturers now." So begins Timothy Kaufman-Osborn's analysis of judgments of accountability for the events transpiring at the Abu Ghraib prison camp. Kaufman-Osborn rejects this claim for Americans' collective responsibility for torture, arguing that such an expansive view is no more plausible than its obverse, the narrowing of accountability to those most immediately involved. Each occludes the history of the United States' transformation into a "security state," a history Kaufman-Osborn indexes via expansions in executive power, the disintegration of spatial distinctions between domestic and foreign, and the erosion of temporal distinctions between what is ordinary and what is an emergency. As a security state, he points out, the U.S.is poorly understood within the terms of liberalism. In face, precisely because of the erosion liberal legalism, the language of popular sovereignty is remarkably ill-chosen, facilitating the self-same illusion of national unity used to mobilize support for the war on terror. To counter this dangerous, undifferentiated "we," Kaufman-Osborn advocates "complicitous accountability," a notion of responsibility informed by feminist theorizing of the enfoldment together of actions.

Erica Weitzman targets the violence underpinning a different conception of ethics, Emmanuel Levinas's philosophy of infinite responsibility to the demand of the other. Concerned with the political heart of Levinas's ethics, the "strange violence" of his rejection of any philosophy of action, Weitzman attends to the way that, for Levinas, justice arises with the violation of the ethical as such. The third pulls open the binary face-to-face relation, troubling the absolute relation to the other as it introduces conflicting and competing claims and responsibilities. Politics, then, is a problem of the other others. The result of this complete separation of ethical from political relations, Weitzman argues, is, on the one hand, a psychotic hyperresponsibility and, on the other, "a real remobilization of the most destructive forms of totalization." She concludes that far from offering a philosophy of alterity, Levinas ultimately erases alterity altogether.

For Michael Dillon, the moment of modern freedom, a moment and freedom ushered in by Machiavelli, is intimately allied with the violence of "cruelty well-used." Emphasizing the setting of the Schmittian decision in contingency and undecideability, Dillon reads Machiavelli to develop the concept of factical freedom. Factical freedom extends not from rights but from the openness of time, from time without warrant, a time Machiavelli figures as fortuna and more contemporary thinkers theorize in terms of radical ontological contingency. The contingent conditions of factical freedom render it a strategic predicament, a problem of action and signification in a continuously emergent situation. Dillon's "dark political allegory for our own times" confronts directly the implications of factical freedom: "if factical freedom is essentially strategical, and the essence of strategy is violence, to be factically free is to be violent—strategically." Insofar as the conditions requiring strategy cannot be certain or guaranteed, it is impossible to calculate how much cruelty or killing is necessary to secure freedom. Factical freedom is thus ultimately aporetic. This aporia, Dillon emphasizes, is also an opening, an opening to the future and its promise of redemption from the guilt associated with the exercise of violence. The messianic prospect of divine, expiating violence freely exercised for the sake of freedom thus intertwines evental politics with violence. The very ongoing "emergent emergency of factical freedom itself" is modernity's Machiavellian moment.

Colin Wright considers evental politics from a different (more optimistic?) angle. Analyzing two approaches to extra-legal violence, approaches the superficial proximity of which belies more significant differences, he rejects current attempts...

Additional Information

ISSN
1092-311X
Print ISSN
2572-6633
Launched on MUSE
2008-06-19
Open Access
No
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