This land is my land, 2

13 03 2016

If both order and freedom are necessary for politics, then how to reconcile them?

Hobbes said, in effect: you choose order, and whatever freedom may exist without disrupting order may, but not must, do so. Rousseau tried to bring the two together by denying that in a democratic society there is any conflict between them—one may speak unironically of being ‘forced to be free’. Locke sought a kind of middle way: you agree to the founding (representative) order which in turn allows for a wide, although not absolute, set of liberties.

These snippets do not, of course, do justice to these men’s thoughts, but do indicate the various ways early modern thinkers thought about how to build and maintain a truly civil society, that is, a society in which men may interact without violence.

Civility in politics, then, is less about manners than about the manner of our engagement with one another.

Now, that manner may also be a political matter: What kind of protest is acceptable? What are the appropriate venues of protest? How does one comport oneself while protesting? Are there forms of protest which are out of bounds? What if the protest overwhelms the phenomenon one is protesting? What if political speech intimidates protesters? What if protesters of political speech intimidate advocates?

Who is in the right and who is in the wrong?

And that question is where we go off the rails, thinking that the answer can be determined outside of politics itself. It can’t.

I tend to go far along with Arendt in positioning violence opposite of politics, but, Hobbesian that I am, I can’t completely deny its role in politics itself. If might makes right (and it does), then violence, as one form of might, can make right.

In the US political system there are supposed to be limits on violence in politics—that is a mythical part of our foundational order—but its use has often succeeded in containing insurgent (and non-violent) political acts. Almost every liberation movement in our country has been met with violence, both official and not, and has had to justify itself as worthy of its freedom to be political, that is, to be included in the political order itself.

That, by the way, is the radical promise of politics: that order can be challenged, upended, re-ordered, without bloodshed. That blood is so often shed demonstrates the practical limits of that promise.

cont.

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14 03 2016
15 03 2016

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