This article was originally published in Social Research, Vol. 7: No. 3: Fall 2010.
One of the difficulties in discussing the notion that it is the media that limits our idea of politics is that we all have an inherent resistance to believing that our own understanding of the political world is artificially limited. Most of us are willing to talk about political propaganda and the way in which political opinions are manipulated as long as that means somebody else’s opinions. We all prefer to think it happens to other people, not to ourselves.
This is true, first, because it is simply unpleasant to think about oneself being propagandized or being in some way manipulated. But the more substantive reason for this resistance is that the way in which we assess the set of information we receive about the world is very self-reinforcing. There is a certain set of information, a set of sources to which we are subjected or which we seek out, that provides us with information about the world and shapes our political world view…
Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first democratic prime minister of Poland, elected after decades of Communist rule, died on October 28.
In a widely popular weekly satirical puppet TV show, The Polish Zoo, which aired in Poland at the beginning of the 1990s, Mazowiecki was a turtle: sluggish and wise. (Among other central political figures were Lech Wałęsa, the president of Poland, as the lion, and a key post-Communist figure, Leszek Miller, as the spider.) Easily recognizable for his slow manner of speaking, Mazowiecki quickly became the symbol of peaceful, and rapid, democratic change.
We are used to thinking that human rights are rights that belong to every person because of their intrinsic value. But is this the only, or at least, the best way of thinking about human rights? In his recent book, Third Person, Roberto Esposito has radically challenged this view. According to him, the triumph of the category of “the person” that, since the end of World War II has accompanied the discourse on human rights, is not the source of its success, but rather of its failure. This is because, in his view, the notion of the person, which has, since the days of Roman law and even more pointedly in its Christian elaboration, indicated the transcendent value of a human being, is incapable of bridging the gap between humanity and the logic of citizenship, precisely because it is what creates such a gap.
By opposing the person, as something artificial and endowed with moral and political significance, to mere humanity in its naturalness, Roman law gave rise to a powerful “dispositif” (p. 9), that is, to a notion that has, throughout its various Western morphologies, always been able to produce very real and tangible effects.
A prominent political theorist, Judith Shklar, once said that the rule of law has become “a self-congratulatory rhetorical device”  used by the politicians, who try to legitimize whatever they do just by uttering the word “the rule of law.” I think we can say the same thing for democracy as well. In Turkey, every political party aims for democracy. Even the military suspended democratic politics with the claim of saving it. The Gezi protests are accepted as an instance of democratic politics, and Erdogan sees himself as the gatekeeper of democratic politics allowing no one in. What I am trying to do here is to provide a perspective from which we can analyze the AKP (the Justice and Development Party) and its relation to democracy on the one hand, and the impact of the Gezi, on the other. In doing this, I will draw on three thinkers and their ideas of democracy, namely Carl Schmitt, Claude Lefort and Jacques Ranciere.
Can Latin America change European political memory? Can a long history of European silence be dealt with from across the Atlantic? The current investigations of Argentine courts into the crimes of the Franco dictatorship have brought these questions to the fore. As we have seen this week, many in Europe are not happy with this Third World « judicial intrusion » under the aegis of universal jurisdiction. …
This lecture to the New School’s General Seminar was originally published on the above date. Given the recent revelations concerning the CIA’s program of torture, we are highlighting Bernstein’s reflections today, Dec. 12, 2014. -J.G.
I. The Abolition of Torture
Human beings are the sorts of being who can undergo devastation: they can be destroyed in their standing as a person, as being possessed of morally inviolable intrinsic worth; they can have their dignity and self-respect destroyed. When one loses her dignity she also loses her trust in the world. Dignity is the representation of self-respect, where self-respect is the stance of one who takes herself to be of intrinsic worth and acts accordingly. …
For Edward J. Snowden and Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley): Heroes of transnational publicity — in gratitude and with admiration.
One strategy for reimagining public sphere theory in the current conjuncture is neo-anarchism. Distrustful of global governance institutions, and of the expert networks entangled with them, this approach looks to anti-systemic movements as agents of transformation. Valorizing the independent militancy of Occupy, WikiLeaks, and the World Social Forum, it affirms efforts to build counterhegemonic centers of opinion and will formation, far removed from circuits of institutionalized power. Aiming to counter the hierarchical logic of administrative rule, it seeks to reconstruct public sphere theory in a way that gives pride of place to autonomous direct action by subaltern counterpublics and “strong” (decision-making) publics in civil society. Where else, after all, are we likely to find democratizing forces that can advance the theory’s ideals under current conditions?