Emergency Politics

Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy

Bonnie Honig
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7strv
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  • Book Info
    Emergency Politics
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3096-1
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. Introduction Surviving
    (pp. 1-11)

    In response to emergency, some political and legal theorists have focused on moral-political questions of justification: What may we do in response to emergency? The question, now again a mainstay of democratic and legal theorizing, seems to point toward justification: What justifies the suspension of civil liberties? Under what conditions can sovereign power declare emergency, legally suspend law, or, less radically, implement and normalize extraordinary measures to protect or defend democracy from destruction by its enemies? When is it permissible to torture, detain without habeas corpus rights, deport, use rendition, or invade another country? Such questions are not unimportant, not...

  6. Chapter One Beginnings THE PEOPLE, THE MULTITUDE, AND THE PARADOX OF POLITICS
    (pp. 12-39)

    The paradox that induces pessimism in Ryszard Kapuściński is the paradox of founding. At a democratic regime’s beginning, especially when that beginning emerges out of violent war or dictatorship, there may be agreement on what is opposed (a brutal dictator or the state of nature), but rarely is there agreement or clarity on what the new regime should look like. In postrevolutionary Iran, the liberals’ vision of the future lost out first, then the republicans’. These losses were not foreordained. The revolution might have gone on another way. But it did not. Kapuściński says this is because “the majority wanted...

  7. Chapter Two Emergence READING NEW RIGHTS IN THE PARADOX OF POLITICS
    (pp. 40-64)

    When Immanuel Kant developed his late reflections on cosmopolitan right, he did so by way of a critique of a fellow Enlightenment thinker, Moses Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn formed half of the interreligious friendship with Lessing that the latter fictionalized and made famous inNathan, the Wise. The issue for Kant was Mendelssohn’s claim that “the human race . . . never took a few steps forward without soon afterwards, and with redoubled speed, sliding back to its previous position.”¹ Individual persons might progress morally, Mendelssohn had explained, but the species as a whole does not.

    Contra Mendelssohn, Kant claimed that the...

  8. Chapter Three Decision THE PARADOXICAL DEPENDENCE OF THE RULE OF LAW
    (pp. 65-86)

    The subject of this chapter, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor Louis Post, was trying to inaugurate a new time when he was caught up short by the emergency politics of the First Red Scare. In this chapter, I look at what Post did and at how his story has been recounted by legal historians. Post, in my view, had the ambitious aim of recasting the role and function of executive power itself. He lost. Part of this loss is apparent in the one thing he is most famous for: He is now said to have anticipated the law when he...

  9. Chapter Four Orientation MIRACLE AND METAPHOR IN THE PARADOXICAL STATE OF EXCEPTION
    (pp. 87-111)

    When traveling through Italy, Goethe observed a trial and took note of its peculiar timekeeping practices. A man seated at a desk held in his hand a glass sand bottle, a timepiece. It was not immediately clear what his purpose was. But Goethe soon noticed that when the prosecutor spoke the man kept the bottle lying on its side with its sands inert but whenever the defense began to speak the man would turn the bottle upright and restart its sand flow. When the state spoke, time stopped. The defense, however, was subject to time.¹

    The story accords well with...

  10. Chapter Five Proximity PARADOXES OF LAW AND POLITICS IN THE NEW EUROPE
    (pp. 112-138)

    InAnother Cosmopolitanism, Seyla Benhabib promotes the idea that recent developments in international institutionalism evidence the growth of what she calls cosmopolitan norms. She turns to an emergency to set the stage: Genocide serves as her synecdoche for several new legislative and normative trends in human rights, especially in Europe. Noting the lack of appropriate institutions with which to try Adolf Eichmann in 1961, Benhabib presses upon her readers the need to support international tribunals now. But the lens and mood set by Eichmann and genocide set us up to relate in a certain way—in a mode of dependence...

  11. Aftermath
    (pp. 139-142)

    The above quotation from Kapuściński’s book on the Iranian revolution captures one version of the “lucky break” in which the everydayness of life is overcome or decentered and something great happens. But in the end, this particular event was more “break” than “lucky,” a democratic rupture that lacked staying power. Kapuściński’s passage, which seeks to describe the melancholy mood of the aftermath of revolution, is itself melancholic. Ordinary life reasserts itself, with a bit of a vengeance, as it were, and the thrilling moment of non-egoic life is over. Here the melancholy tone is added to by the reader’s knowledge...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 143-180)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-192)
  14. Index
    (pp. 193-197)