Monday, September 7, 2009

Judith Butler, Day 3

Judith Butler taught a class entitled ETHICS AND POLITICS AFTER THE SUBJECT. The first half of the classes were focused on Hannah Arendt: performativity, politics, political theory (sovereignty, zionism), "Questions of Judgement."

Some business before we being today's class: Tomorrow we will be discussing with Larry Rickels and Avital Ronell some of Arendt's moral philosophy and some of Heidegger's essay What Is Thinking? We'll talk a bit about gender as well by way of an interview Arendt did in 1964 - she seems to be suggesting that philosophy is a masculine activity.
(EiJ, 277) Foremost among the larger issues at stake in the Eichmann trial was the assumption current in all modern legal systems that intent to do wrong is necessary for the commission of a crime. On nothing, perhaps, has civilized jurisprudence prided itself more than on this taking into account of the subjective factor. Where this intent is absent, where, for whatever reasons, even reasons of moral insanity, the ability to distinguish between right and wrong is impaired, we feel no crime has been committed. We refuse, and consider as barbaric, the propositions "that a great crime offends nature, so that the very earth cries out for vengeance; that evil violates a natural harmony which only retribution can restore; that a wronged collectivity owes a duty to the moral order to punish the criminal" (Yosal Rogat). And yet I think it is undeniable that it was precisely on the ground of these long-forgotten propositions that Eichmann was brought to justice to begin with, and that they were, in fact, the supreme justification for the death penalty.
She's arguing here for a distinction between justice (as vengeance in the archaic sense by bringing him to trial and issuing a death sentence) and judgement
  • It seems she should be understood as opposing vengeance as justice and advocating that with the Eichmann trial we confront the unprecedented nature of the crime and then develop a notion of justice based not on vengeance but on judgement
  • She called it, not murder but, administrative murder - what needs to appear here is something not enclosed but capable of being spoken of in the pursuit of justice based on judgement
  • Even if it were the case that the Israeli court said that "We must be seen by all to be exacting our vengeance..." this is one way we could interpret this summoning of voices during the Epilogue to EiJ. If we were to understand it thus, we could then see that what was really occurring was that administrative noise was being overcoded on top of an archaic pursuit of vengeance called justice in the Eichmann case as an act of nation building.
  • But there is this voicing in the text... Arendt as judge, an equivocation of what's being said? She's ventriloquizing the judge.
Is there a justification that is possible when considering death-dealing, rather than murder or execution?

There is a textual theatre at play in this book. At one point Arendt scripts for the judge and at another point she's using her own voice to ventriloquize and then dropping that again to allow the script to continue

It's true: she draws parallels between Israel and Nazi Germany, however, Nazi Germany had certain forms of bureaucratic administration and control such that political judgement was not possible.
  • She refuses that this is a German problem, nor is it only a Jewish problem - it's not limited to this or that nation; this is an administrative problem endemic within Modernity
  • A broader problem of technical administration, a transnational problem
  • The Little Picture and Critique of Instrumental Reason - these are some arguments from the Frankfurt School
About Arendt's treatment of the Bible: she came from a lineage of German Jewry that gave preference to the messianic tradition rather than the Talmud because the former was seen as a more Reason-able religion whereas the latter was seen as old-fashioned.

Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship from Responsibility and Judgment
(26-7) To return to my personal reflections on who should be qualified to discuss such matters: is it those who have standards and norms which do not fit the experienc, or those who have nothing to fall back upon but their experience, an experience, moreover, unpatterned by preconceived concepts? How can you think, and even more important in our context, how can you judge without holding on to preconceived standards, norms, and general rules under which the particular cases and instances can be subsumed? Or to put it differently, what happens to the human faculty of judgement when it is faced with occurrences that spell the breakdown of all customary standards and hence are unprecedented in the sense that they are not foreseen in the general rules, not even as exceptions from such rules? A valid answer to these questions would have to start with an analysis of the still very mysterious nature of human judgement, of what can and what it cannot achieve. For only if we assume that there exists a human faculty which enables us to judge rationally without being carried away by either emotion or self-interest, and which at the same time functions spontaneously, that is to say, is not bound by standards and rules under which particular cases are simply subsumed, but on the contrary, produces its own principles by virtue of the judging activity itself; only under this assumption can we risk ourselves on this very slippery moral ground with some hope of finding a firm footing.
Foucault and I (Butler) would be turning in our graves at the suggestion that one might judge in this manner: based on pre-existing norms and not being carried away by emotion and self-interest...!
(41) They [the Nazis] acted under conditions in which every moral act was illegal and every legal act was a crime. Hence, the rather optimistic view of human nature, which speaks so clearly from the verdict not only of the judges in the Jerusalem trial but of all postwar trials, presupposes an independent human faculty, unsupported by law and public opinion, that judges in full spontaneity every deed and intent anew whenever the occasion arises. Perhaps we do possess such a faculty and are lawgivers, every single one of us, whenever we act: but this was not the opinion of the judges. Despite all the rhetoric, they meant hardly more than that a feeling for such things has been inbred in us for so many centuries that it could not suddenly have been lost. And this, I think, is very doubtful in view of the evidence we possess, and also in view of the fact that year in, year out, one "unlawful" order followed the other, all of them not haphazardly demanding just any crimes that were unconnected with each other, but building up with utter consistency and care the so-called new order. This "new order" was exactly what it said it was -- not only gruesomely novel, but also and above all, an order.
Why can't we appeal to a deep-seated morality latent within the individual? (Mengzi did) Why spontaneity? It seems to have something to do with freedom.
  • If this is judgement, then who is entitled to judgement? We don't say, "I will judge freely and so not be held accountable to Law."
  • There seems to be some form of sovereignty present here - to judge is to judge freely, it is the action of freedom in judgement. This is from Kant's Third Critique - all of us free and smart
  • Arendt looks to Kant to understand freedom, Foucault also did this in his What Is Enlightenment? he sees Kant as Prussia
  • The whole problem of culture is that when the law is criminal it is criminal to be moral
(34) For the simple truth of the matter is that only those who withdrew from public life altogether, who refused political responsibility of any sort, could avoid becoming implicated in crimes, that is, could avoid legal and moral responsibility. In the tumultuous discussion of moral issues which has been going on ever since the defeat of Nazi Germany, and the disclosure of the total complicity in crimes of all ranks of official society, that is of the total collapse of normal moral standards....
She's trying to escape relativism, that we are all responsible, she doesn't think that external circumstances should dictate.


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