Whether in characterizing Catharine MacKinnon's theory of gender as itself pornographic or in identifying liberalism as unable to make good on its promises, Wendy Brown pursues a central question: how does a sense of woundedness become the basis for a sense of identity? Brown argues that efforts to outlaw hate speech and pornography powerfully legitimize the state: such apparently well-intentioned attempts harm victims further by portraying them as so helpless as to be in continuing need of governmental protection. "Whether one (...) is dealing with the state, the Mafia, parents, pimps, police, or husbands," writes Brown, "the heavy price of institutionalized protection is always a measure of dependence and agreement to abide by the protector's rules." True democracy, she insists, requires sharing power, not regulation by it; freedom, not protection.Refusing any facile identification with one political position or another, Brown applies her argument to a panoply of topics, from the basis of litigiousness in political life to the appearance on the academic Left of themes of revenge and a thwarted will to power. These and other provocations in contemporary political thought and political life provide an occasion for rethinking the value of several of the last two centuries' most compelling theoretical critiques of modern political life, including the positions of Nietzsche, Marx, Weber, and Foucault. (shrink)
Tolerance is generally regarded as an unqualified achievement of the modern West. Emerging in early modern Europe to defuse violent religious conflict and reduce persecution, tolerance today is hailed as a key to decreasing conflict across a wide range of other dividing lines-- cultural, racial, ethnic, and sexual. But, as political theorist Wendy Brown argues in Regulating Aversion, tolerance also has dark and troubling undercurrents. Dislike, disapproval, and regulation lurk at the heart of tolerance. To tolerate is not to affirm (...) but to conditionally allow what is unwanted or deviant. And, although presented as an alternative to violence, tolerance can play a part in justifying violence--dramatically so in the war in Iraq and the War on Terror. Wielded, especially since 9/11, as a way of distinguishing a civilized West from a barbaric Islam, tolerance is paradoxically underwriting Western imperialism. Brown's analysis of the history and contemporary life of tolerance reveals it in a startlingly unfamiliar guise. Heavy with norms and consolidating the dominance of the powerful, tolerance sustains the abjection of the tolerated and equates the intolerant with the barbaric. Examining the operation of tolerance in contexts as different as the War on Terror, campaigns for gay rights, and the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance, Brown traces the operation of tolerance in contemporary struggles over identity, citizenship, and civilization. (shrink)
Neoliberalism and neoconservatism are two distinct political rationalities in the contemporary United States. They have few overlapping formal characteristics, and even appear contradictory in many respects. Yet they converge not only in the current presidential administration but also in their de-democratizing effects. Their respective devaluation of political liberty, equality, substantive citizenship, and the rule of law in favor of governance according to market criteria on the one side, and valorization of state power for putatively moral ends on the other, undermines (...) both the culture and institutions of constitutional democracy. Above all, the two rationalities work symbiotically to produce a subject relatively indifferent to veracity and accountability in government and to political freedom and equality among the citizenry. (shrink)
Does it transform conflicts into productive tensions, or does it perpetuate underlying power relations? To what extent does tolerance hide its involvement with power and act as a form of depoliticization?
'Is politics gendered? Wendy Brown things so, and argues for this point with elegance, imagination and pungent phrases. Brown's book is challenging, provocative and...original; it does force us to question the degree to which gender controls our politics.'-THE REVIEW OF POLITICS.
On the 24th June 2015, Feminist Legal Studies and the London School of Economics Law Department hosted an afternoon event with Professor Wendy Brown, Class of 1936 First Professor of Political Science, University of California. Professor Brown kindly agreed to discuss her scholarship on feminist theory, and its relationship to both the law and neoliberalism. The event included an interview by Dr Katie Cruz and a Q&A session, which are presented here in an edited version of the transcript. Sumi Madhock, (...) Professor of Gender Studies, LSE chaired the interview and discussion and introduced Professor Brown’s work. Katie Cruz asked Wendy Brown to reflect upon topics that span her scholarship and activism, including the state of critical, feminist, and Left approaches to rights, neoliberalism, despair and utopianism, and the future of feminist theory and practice in the context of neoliberalism and current debates about intersectionality. Participants in the discussion asked questions on a wide range of issues, including the limits of feminist engagement with law as a tool for social change, the dominance of neoliberalism, imperialist feminism, Islamophobia, secularism, and our attachment to the figure of homo politicus. (shrink)
Across the Euro-Atlantic world, political leaders have been mobilizing their bases with nativism, racism, xenophobia, and paeans to “traditional values,” in brazen bids for electoral support. How are we to understand this move to the mainstream of political policies and platforms that lurked only on the far fringes through most of the postwar era? Does it herald a new wave of authoritarianism? Is liberal democracy itself in crisis? In this volume, three distinguished scholars draw on critical theory to address our (...) current predicament. Wendy Brown, Peter E. Gordon, and Max Pensky share a conviction that critical theory retains the power to illuminate the forces producing the current political constellation as well as possible paths away from it. Brown explains how “freedom” has become a rallying cry for manifestly un-emancipatory movements; Gordon dismantles the idea that fascism is rooted in the susceptible psychology of individual citizens and reflects instead on the broader cultural and historical circumstances that lend it force; and Pensky brings together the unlikely pair of Tocqueville and Adorno to explore how democracies can buckle under internal pressure. These incisive essays do not seek to smooth over the irrationality of the contemporary world, and they do not offer the false comforts of an easy return to liberal democratic values. Rather, the three authors draw on their deep engagements with nineteenth–and twentieth–century thought to investigate the historical and political contradictions that have brought about this moment, offering fiery and urgent responses to the demands of the day. (shrink)
Here lies the vocation of those who preserve our understanding of past theories, who sharpen our sense of the subtle, complex interplay between political experience and thought, and who preserve our memory of the agonizing efforts of intellect to restate the possibilities and threats posed by political dilemmas of the past. —Sheldon S. Wolin, “Political Theory as a Vocation”In the same way in which the great transformation of the first industrial revolution destroyed the social and political structures as well as (...) the legal categories of the ancien regime, terms such as sovereignty, right, nation, people, democracy, and general will by now refer to a reality that no longer has anything to do with what these concepts used to designate—and those who continue to use these concepts uncritically literally do not know what they are talking about. —Giorgio Agamben, Means without Ends: Notes on PoliticsLooking obliquely at the edges of things, where they come together with other things, can tell you as much about them, often, as can looking at them directly, intently, straight on. —Clifford Geertz, “The Near East in the Far East”. (shrink)
In recent decades, left political projects in the United States have taken a strong legalistic turn. From affirmative action to protection against sexual harassment, from indigenous peoples’ rights to gay marriage, the struggle to eliminate subordination or exclusion and to achieve substantive equality has been waged through courts and legislation. At the same time, critiques of legalism have generally come to be regarded by liberal and left reformers as politically irrelevant at best, politically disunifying and disorienting at worst. This conjunction (...) of a turn toward left legalism with a turn away from critique has hardened an intellectually defensive, brittle, and unreflective left sensibility at a moment when precisely the opposite is needed. Certainly, the left can engage strategically with the law, but if it does not also track the effects of this engagement—effects that often exceed or even redound against its explicit aims—it will unwittingly foster political institutions and doctrines strikingly at odds with its own values. Brown and Halley have assembled essays from diverse contributors—law professors, philosophers, political theorists, and literary critics—united chiefly by their willingness to think critically from the left about left legal projects. The essays themselves vary by topic, by theoretical approach, and by conclusion. While some contributors attempt to rework particular left legal projects, others insist upon abandoning or replacing those projects. Still others leave open the question of what is to be done as they devote their critical attention to understanding what we are doing. Above all, Left Legalism/Left Critique is a rare contemporary argument and model for the intellectually exhilarating and politically enriching dimensions of left critique—dimensions that persist even, and perhaps especially, when critique is unsure of the intellectual and political possibilities it may produce. Contributors: Lauren Berlant, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, Drucilla Cornell, Richard T. Ford, Katherine M. Franke, Janet Halley, Mark Kelman, David Kennedy, Duncan Kennedy, Gillian Lester, Michael Warner. (shrink)
"Is it meaningful to call oneself a democrat? And if so, how do you interpret the word?" -/- In responding to this question, eight iconoclastic thinkers prove the rich potential of democracy, along with its critical weaknesses, and reconceive the practice to accommodate new political and cultural realities. Giorgio Agamben traces the tense history of constitutions and their coexistence with various governments. Alain Badiou contrasts current democratic practice with democratic communism. Daniel Bensaid ponders the institutionalization of democracy, while Wendy Brown (...) discusses the democratization of society under neoliberalism. Jean-Luc Nancy measures the difference between democracy as a form of rule and as a human end, and Jacques Rancière highlights its egalitarian nature. Kristin Ross identifies hierarchical relationships within democratic practice, and Slavoj Zizek complicates the distinction between those who desire to own the state and those who wish to do without it. -/- Concentrating on the classical roots of democracy and its changing meaning over time and within different contexts, these essays uniquely defend what is left of the left-wing tradition after the fall of Soviet communism. They confront disincentives to active democratic participation that have caused voter turnout to decline in western countries, and they address electoral indifference by invoking and reviving the tradition of citizen involvement. Passionately written and theoretically rich, this collection speaks to all facets of modern political and democratic debate. (shrink)
This article is a translation into Spanish of Wendy Brown's article “Suffering rights as paradoxes,” originally published in Constellations in 2000. In this paper, the author considers the difficult relation between selected feminist ambitions and rights discourse in the United States. This translation is part of the dossier “Feminist Political Theory: Tensions, Dilemmas and Debates,” published in Las Torres de Lucca, International Journal of Political Philosophy in July 2020.
Encontrando un gran placer en la paradoja, el teórico social nacido en Jamaica Stuart Hall cuenta esta historia de la “desintegración” de la identidad inglesa después de la guerra, en la época poscolonial.
This lecture reflects on the difficulties of democracy in Erik Olin Wright’s democratic socialist vision, one he elaborates in How to Be an Anti-capitalist in the 21st Century and Envisioning Real Utopias. It rejects the notion that radical democratic projects in cities, workplaces, and cooperatives can simply be scaled up for purposes of national or postnational political rule. It reflects on selected requirements of democracy apart from democratic governing institutions and practices: from democratic political culture, to education and accountability, to (...) handling globalized powers and problems such as finance, capital, and the climate crisis. The lecture concludes ambivalently, suggesting that democracy may be both necessary and impossible in realizing a politically free, socially just, and ecologically sustainable future. (shrink)