09 October 2010

Book: Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy

Bonnie Honig, "Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy" (Princeton University Press, August 2009):


Publisher's description: "This book intervenes in contemporary debates about the threat posed to democratic life by political emergencies. Must emergency necessarily enhance and centralize top-down forms of sovereignty? Those who oppose executive branch enhancement often turn instead to law, insisting on the sovereignty of the rule of law or demanding that law rather than force be used to resolve conflicts with enemies. But are these the only options? Or are there more democratic ways to respond to invocations of emergency politics? Looking at how emergencies in the past and present have shaped the development of democracy, Bonnie Honig argues that democratic politics are always a struggle to weigh the value of necessities – food, security, and housing – against the achievement of a richer life across the full range of human aspirations. Emphasizing the connections between mere life and more life, emergence and emergency, Honig argues that emergencies call us to attend anew to a neglected paradox of democratic politics: that we need good citizens with aspirational ideals to make good politics while we need good politics to infuse citizens with idealism. Honig takes a broad approach to emergency, considering immigration politics, new rights claims, contemporary food politics and the infrastructure of consumption, and the limits of law during the Red Scare of the early twentieth century. Taking its bearings from Moses Mendelssohn, Franz Rosenzweig, and other Jewish thinkers, this is a major contribution to modern thought about the challenges and risks of democratic orientation and action in response to emergency."

Excerpts: "In chapter 4, where I analyze the idea of 'miracle,' Schmitt's metaphor for the state of exception, I ask whether these identifications are themselves remnants of earlier debates in political theology about the status of the extraordinary – god and miracle or divine agency – in the ordinary human world. [...] Schmitt and Agamben's 'state of exception,' I think it is fair to say, has captured the imagination of contemporary political theory. In this chapter, I seek to loosen its hold on our imagination by pluralizing the particular political theology on which Schmitt's account is based and from which it draws sustenance."

Endorsements: "What a compelling idea to take Franz Rosenzweig as an original political thinker and antagonist to Carl Schmitt. In this book, Bonnie Honig shows that political theory and Judaism can be read differently, not simply to deconstruct them but in order to reshape democratic theory beyond its paradox." (Adriana Cavarero, University of Verona)

"This is an exciting book. Its fresh and bold approach to such long-studied questions of politics as founding, membership, legitimation, rights, liberation, cosmopolitanism, exception, discretion, and law invites a fundamental shift in perspective that substantially advances political science." (Jill Frank, University of South Carolina)

Bonnie Honig is Sarah Rebecca Roland Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University and Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago.

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