In 2007, the King of Bhutan “gave” democracy to his people. Using this story as a point of departure, this article interrogates the complicated humanitarian notion of democracy as a gift in thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, Claude Lefort, and Jacques Rancière. After bringing out the paradoxes in the King of Bhutan’s abdication, DeGooyer speculates to what degree a protest against the Bhutanese state might model a new formulation of democracy, one that cannot be reduced to a consensualist scheme of sovereign sacrifice. While DeGooyer concludes that we cannot fully abandon an economy of rights as “giving and taking,” a new discussion of the rhetorical structure of rights emerges. Continue reading →
In this interview, Yale political scientist and anthropologist James C. Scott talks about the evolution of his work on the state from the perspective of those who try to avoid it. The author of Weapons of the Weak, Seeing like a State, and The Art of Not Being Governed—to cite some of Scott’s major books—discusses the major intellectual influences on his work, from Pierre Clastres to Ernest Gellner, his views of the mainstream sociology of the state, and what distinguishes his work from subaltern studies, as well as the contemporary forms that the refusal of state government can take. In discussing his work, Scott also provides a window onto a personal and intellectual voyage that has led him to develop a unique view of modernity and social development. Continue reading →
This review article explores the incisive critiques of contemporary humanitarianism advanced in Meister’s After Evil and Weizman’s The Least of All Possible Evils. Read jointly, the two books allow us to move beyond generic invocations of ethics and liberal visions of international law, in order to explore deeply problematic dimensions of the politics of human rights. Meister’s analysis of “human rights discourse” reveals a technology of time that infinitely postpones justice in the name of a pacifying transition, while Weizman’s chronicling of the spatial strategies of humanitarianism shows us how the calculated lessening of evil is one of the foremost figures of neo-colonial and neo-imperial violence today. Continue reading →
How does narrative affect, and how is it affected by, the development and promotion of human rights? This article analyzes three schools of thought: (1) sympathetic narratives have, over significant arcs of time, cultivated our sensibilities, expanded our range of felt moral responsibility, and fundamentally altered the social function of empathy; (2) sympathetic narratives fail to promote human dignity because they allow the experience of emotional response to substitute for the experience of moral responsibility; and (3) neither of these general claims is useful; instead we should track the cultural functions of particular narrative forms in specific legal/organizational contexts. Continue reading →
A project that enables us to put words back into the void that trauma leaves behind.
In the weeks after the attacks of September 11, 2001, it has become easy to forget, large parts of the world were grappling sympathetically with the victims of the spectacular destruction of the World Trade Center and other devastation of that day. A spontaneous outpouring of compassion and empathy was palpable during those early days, both within the United States and outside its borders. ‘‘We are all Americans,’’ the French and Italian dailies famously declared.