The criminal is political: real existing liberalism and the construction of the criminal

Dissertation, University of Sussex (2018)
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The familiar irony of ‘real existing socialism’ is that it never was. Socialist ideals were used to legitimise regimes that fell far short of realising those ideals – indeed, that violently repressed anyone who tried to realise them. This thesis investigates how the derogatory and depoliticizing concept of the criminal has historically allowed, and continues to allow, liberal ideals to operate in a worryingly similar manner. Across the political spectrum, ‘criminal’ is used as a slur. That which is criminal is assumed to be bad, and what is more, to be bad in a way that is not politically interesting. I show how this serves to prevent deep dissent from the status quo, and particularly from the existing, unjust order of property, from registering as dissent at all. Feminists have long argued that the exclusion of what is deemed ‘personal’ from the sphere of the political is itself a political move. I propose that the construction of ‘the criminal’ as a category opposed to the political constitutes a similar barrier to emancipatory social transformation. I suggest, further, that under conditions of ‘real existing liberalism’, some kinds of conflict with the law have the potential not only to manifest but also to forge ‘resistant subjectivities’. I conclude that political philosophy, insofar as its purpose is emancipatory, should be more interested in the perspectives of criminals than it hitherto has been.



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Koshka Duff
Nottingham University

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Two treatises of government.John Locke - 1947 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Peter Laslett.
Internal and External Reasons.Bernard Williams - 1979 - In Ross Harrison (ed.), Rational action: studies in philosophy and social science. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 101-113.
White Ignorance.Charles Mills - 2007 - In Shannon Sullivan & Nancy Tuana (eds.), Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance. State Univ of New York Pr. pp. 11-38.
“Ideal Theory” as Ideology.Charles W. Mills - 2005 - Hypatia 20 (3):165-184.

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