Saturday, December 04, 2004

Campbell, David and Michael Shapiro (eds.). Moral Spaces. Rethinking Ethics and World Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. (Maria)

This is a project that examines the possibility for a relationship between ethical theory, ethical relations and world politics. In orthodox International Relations (IR) theory (realism, liberalism and their derivatives), ethical concerns are largely ignored and overlooked, that is, ethics and morality are seen as inappropriate in discussion of national interests, questions to security and sovereignty. In the discipline, normative theory is opposed to empirical theory and the guidelines of the former demarcate very clear boundaries for inquiry. The authors of the present volume argue an opposing view, namely, that territoriality, subjectivity and ethics are dependent on each other and inter-connected and thus, moral discourses have to allow for moral spaces of engagement between actors and states. They advocate move beyond a “theory of ethics” and towards an “ethical relation” in which the subject’s responsibility to the other is the basis of reflection. That is, the development of a theory of ethics might end up “eliding the ethical relation” in a way that the “concern with Ethics obscures the contingencies and complexities of the ethical” making “the striving for the rules and principles of justice, especially those that demand impartiality, effects injustice” (x-xi). Ethical inclusion and exclusion both imply a state of interdependence between moral obligations of agents and the spatial orderings of the world. Otherwise, as is practiced by Realism, geographical imaginaries only are maintained at the expense of an ethics of encounter in that “the state model continues to dominate both moral spaces and the mata-ethical thinking of those who analyze global interactions” (xii). More specifically as it pertains to migrants and refugees, an ethics of encounter would suggest an ethics of hospitality toward those who cross state boundaries. Because the refugee unsettles accepted modes of subjectivity, she requires a more sophisticated response away from a commitment to closure or resolution. For the purposes of this summary, I will only concentrate on the essays that were of importance to me and that pertained directly to my own research.

In his essay on “The search for responsibility/community” (pp. 1-28), Daniel Warner explores the relationship between the responsibility an individual has towards others both in a community and outside of it. The essay begins with Weber’s take on the ethics of responsibility built on an image of an individual responsible only to himself and to his perception of his responsibility. Thus is created a picture of the sovereign individual who is ‘by nature’ not bound by any authority. “The condition of being under authority is something that has to be created” (4-5). Weber’s choice for a charismatic leader is Matin Luther, but he is an asocial leader for “he has no understanding of the consequences of his actions for others” (5). Thus, in Weber’s ethic of responsibility judgment for one’s actions remains within the consequences of self-understanding only. Then he moves on to walk about Michael Walzer’s idea that the state and the individual within are inseparable and thus, outside intervention in the internal affairs of the state is unacceptable. What happens then to the individuals when they are expelled beyond the borders of the state? In search of an answer to this question, Warner brings Levinas’ idea that responsibility to the Other necessarily implies an engagement, an actual relation, a response to the call of alterity without necessarily reducing responsibility to the territorial limits of a state. Once we leave the confines of the state, the relationship between community and responsibility, for Warner, becomes crucial, the two are inter-definitional. Against an essential and general understanding of responsibility, there is a need to consider the situational and temporal implications of individualism vs. communitarianism. For Warner, the idea of responsibility re-situates the individual in her relation to the sovereign state. Warner brings forth William Connolly’s idea that the search for a territorial place is itself a highly problematic and probably irresolvable search. For Connolly, after Nietzsche, there is a very real separation between the physical sense of home and feeling at home. “We are necessarily strangers to ourselves, we do not comprehend ourselves, we have to misunderstand ourselves, for us the law ‘East furthest from himself’ applies to all eternity – we are not ‘men of knowledge’ with respect to ourselves” (19). For Realism, the concept of a politics of place limits itself to the confines of the sovereign state and there are few moral dilemmas that cannot be resolved within the confines of the nation-state, now become “a community wherein the desire for self-knowledge can be most easily integrated and fulfilled” (18). The possibility for exclusion is here possible only within the confines of a definite home space. However the latter, for Nietzsche, is beyond the territorial implications of territorial belonging as the human condition is defined by an inherent state of homelessness. That is, community cannot do away with homesickness as cannot responsibility with its dependence on “existential resentment” in the search for identity/agent. Furthermore, Connolly refers to an “an-arche – being without first principle – and the constitution of subject in relation to Other through heteronomouus and not autonomous responsibility” (21), the latter being Weber’s ethics of responsibility. In conclusion there is, contrary to what orthodox IR would suggest, in the relationships between subjects and states a constant refiguring of subjectivity, a contestation in the spaces between self and Other that is always implied in a relationship of responsibility. For Warner, contrary to Weber and Walzer, it is “in the workings out of the dimensions of response to the Other, that responsibility becomes meaningful and moral spaces opened” (23).

In Chapter Two (pp. 29-56), David Campbell continues the argument with a call for a deterritorialization of responsibility (theory) called for by the deterritorialization of states. For Campbell as well as for Levinas, responsibility comes before the very possibility of responsibility, that is, it is inherent in “being.” The totalities of modern political discourse are exposed for their failure to address the specific implications that any ethical theory needs to have for reality. Political totalitarianism thus allows for the privileging of certain groups over others and for the justification of subsequent use of violence in erasing difference and opposition. Being as a responsibility to alterity refigures subjectivity in relationship to alterity. Interesting here is to note that such a conception of responsibility puts into the question the very possibility of subjectivity outside of responsibility. Thus, Levinasian ethics suggests that “the ethical “I” is subjectivity precisely insofar as it kneels before the other, sacrificing its own liberty to the more primordial call of the other” (33). It seems to me here that Levinas is almost calling for a universal responsibility grounded in a very particular obligation to the other. Interestingly, it is through the other, through him who is alien, that man is not alienated. Thus Levinas bets on antihumanism because it “clears the space for subjectivity positing itself in abnegation, in sacrifice, in a substitution which precedes the will” (35). Humanism, for Levinas, fails to address alterity because it is not sufficiently human, even though his philosophy is situated within the logic of an individual, one-to-one relationships with the Other (36). No matter how inhumane and violent relationships between people can be, Levinas maintains that the self cannot opt out of a relationship with the other, it has no choice but to care, even in a politics of warfare. The entry of a third party poses a dilemma for Levinas and now the ethical relationship is complicated by the fact that the third, as an other, makes the self part of alterity too. “When others enter, each of them external to myself, problems arise. Who is closest to me? Who is the Other?” (37). Levinas brings the idea of proximity, both spatial, cultural, political and temporal one, that is, the entry of the third party makes ethical relationship with the other a political one, implicated within the relationship with the state. Interestingly, that allows Levinas to overlook the instances of injustice and violence that the state imposes not only on others but also on its own subjects. Here, in reference to the Palestinians Levinas admits that there are, indeed, those who are wrong and alterity is thus made into enmity. That idea poses an interesting question regarding the degrees to which the state can be challenged in defense of our ethical responsibility to alterity. In order to supplement Levinas’ thought, Campbell refers to Derrida and to the ethical basis for deconstruction in its orientation toward the call of the other, thus defying all attempts at totalization (by uncovering the mystical foundations of authority). Yes, there is a need for a decision that would combat any attempt at domination. Derrida’s concept of undecidability comes as a prerequisite for responsibility in that it allows for the possibility of a decision without the need to establish a monopoly or a closure on justice. Justice extends beyond the law; as the “pre-original, an-archic relation to the other, it challenges the unproblematic nature of any commitment to a decision and to non-violence (44). Thus, “the instant of decision is madness” where one must necessarily provide an account of the decision in order to combat theoretical as well as political violence and domination (45). The failure to do so confines ethics and theory within homogeneous territories of dichotomous, rather than a responsible, relationship to alterity. Derrida invokes the concept of “aporia,” an undecidable and ungrounded political space allowing for a moment of political hesitation implied in every decision. The specific prescriptions for action following introduce a double imperative: on one hand, there is the foreigner who need be integrated and on the other hand, there is always the need to recognize his alterity (49). The need to speak and act, for Derrida, is inherent in the reality of this “double contradictory imperative” (50). What is important for Derrida is that politics respond to the call by the other not by trying to eradicate and destroy his being, but by embracing and fighting on behalf of alterity. He calls for a politics that “will demand – and thus do more than simply permit – the decision to resist domination, exploitation, oppression, and all other conditions that seek to contain and eliminate alterity” (51). The importance of deconstruction, in the end, lies in its promise to fight both ontological and political totalitarianism through its “affirmation of alterity deterritorializes responsibility and pluralizes the possibility for ethics and politics over and beyond (yet still including) the state” (51).

To follow: the summary of one more chapter dealing with the relationship between states and refugees.

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