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?
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.
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.