EssaysIn DepthLiberal Democracy in Question

Human Rights Without Persons? A Review Essay of Third Person

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.

READ MORE →
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Gezi Resistance: Re-claiming Democracy

A prominent political theorist, Judith Shklar, once said that the rule of law has become “a self-congratulatory rhetorical device” [1] 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.

READ MORE →
EssaysImaginal PoliticsLiberal Democracy in Question

Can Europe Learn from Latin America about History and Justice?

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. …

READ MORE →
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Torture and Dignity

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. …

READ MORE →
EssaysIn DepthLiberal Democracy in Question

Against Anarchism

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?

READ MORE →
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Ten Theses on Constitutional Change in Turkey

1. This, the current Constitution of the Republic of Turkey is no longer the same constitution, the Constitution of 1982. Yes, even partial, but sequential or re-iterated rounds of amendment can produce a new constitutional regime or material constitution. This is what happened in Turkey through amendment rounds in 1987, 1995, 2001, and 2004. It was under European pressure in the first decade of the 21st century that the demand for formal constitutional replacement was adopted by Turkish political actors, supposedly in the place of the method of sequential amendments. Was the idea of an entirely new, civilian constitution wrong? No, for two reasons. The first is the problem of legitimacy, caused by tainted origins. This problem undermines the necessarily preservationist review function of the Constitutional Court. The second is the problem of freezing. Some features of constitutions, though formally changeable, are never sufficiently altered in reform, because incumbents significantly benefit from them.

READ MORE →
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Thought-Defying Evil

In the summer of 1945 Melvin Lasky, who was stationed in Germany with the American occupation forces, visited Karl Jaspers. Lasky, a correspondent for the Partisan review, mentioned the name of Hannah Arendt. Jaspers had lost contact with Arendt since 1938 and was stunned to discover that she was still alive. He asked Lasky if he could write to her through the American military post. This was the beginning of a renewed a correspondence that had begun in 1926 when Hannah was Jaspers’ student. Their friendship deepened over the years with many personal visits. Their correspondence, which lasted until 1969, reads like an epistolary novel where the full humanity and the intellectual vigor of each is intimately revealed. The correspondence ultimately included exchanges with their spouses, Gertude Jaspers and Hienrich Blücher. One of the most charming letters is dated November 18, 1945 where Hannah, who started sending food packages to the Jaspers, instructed Gertude about how to fry American bacon. “Put the slices in a moderately hot pan and fry over a low flame. Keep pouring the fat until the slices are crisp. Then nothing can go wrong with either the fat or the bacon” (Arendt and Jasper 1992: 24). But from the beginning Jaspers and Arendt exchanged their views on much more weighty topics.

READ MORE →