Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy

Princeton University Press
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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.

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About the author

Bonnie Honig is the Sarah Rebecca Roland Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University and a senior research professor at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago. Her books include Democracy and the Foreigner (Princeton) and Political Theory and the Displacement of Politics.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Aug 24, 2009
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Pages
224
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ISBN
9781400830961
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Political
Political Science / International Relations / General
Political Science / Political Freedom
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Democracy
Political Science / Political Process / General
Political Science / Political Process / Leadership
Political Science / Terrorism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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In the contemporary world of neoliberalism, efficiency is treated as the vehicle of political and economic health. State bureaucracy, but not corporate bureaucracy, is seen as inefficient, and privatization is seen as a magic cure for social ills. In Public Things: Democracy in Disrepair, Bonnie Honig asks whether democracy is possible in the absence of public services, spaces, and utilities. In other words, if neoliberalism leaves to democracy merely electoral majoritarianism and procedures of deliberation while divesting democratic states of their ownership of public things, what will the impact be? Following Tocqueville who extolled the virtues of "pursuing in common the objects of common desires," Honig focuses not on the demos but on the objects of democratic life. Democracy, as she points out, postulates public things--infrastructure, monuments, libraries--that citizens use, care for, repair, and are gathered up by. To be "gathered up", refers to the work of D.W. Winnicott, the object relations psychoanalyst who popularized the idea of "transitional objects"--the toys, teddy bears or favorite blankets by way of which infants come to understand themselves as unified selves with an inside and an outside in relation to others. The wager of Public Things is that the work transitional objects do for infants is analogously performed for democratic citizens by public things, which press us into object relations with others and with ourselves. Public Things attends also to the historically racial character of public things: public lands taken from indigenous peoples, access to public goods restricted to white majorities. Drawing on Hannah Arendt, who saw how things fabricated by humans lend stability to the human world. Honig shows how Arendt and Winnicott--both theorists of livenesss--underline the material and psychological conditions necessary for object permanence and the reparative work needed for a more egalitarian democracy.
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