Political Theory for Mortals: Shades of Justice, Images of Death

Political Theory for Mortals: Shades of Justice, Images of Death

Political Theory for Mortals: Shades of Justice, Images of Death

Political Theory for Mortals: Shades of Justice, Images of Death

Synopsis

Despite an abundance of violence occurring in political contexts, no liberal political theorist since Thomas Hobbes has talked directly and coherently about death. John E. Seery does. He contends that liberalism desperately needs a theoretical framework in which to discuss pressing matters of human mortality. Among the contemporary political issues that cry out for theoretical articulation, Seery suggests, are abortion politics, ethnic cleansing, suicide assistance, national reparations, environmental degradation, and capital punishment. Seery offers a new conception of social contract theory as a framework for confronting death issues. He urges us to look to an older tradition of descent into an underworld, wherein classic theorists consulted poetically with the dead and acquired from them political insight and direction. In this lively book, Seery excavates the infernal tradition by rereading the politics of death in Platonism, early Christianity, and contemporary feminism. Building on those traditions, he proposes a new, constructive image of death that can serve democratic theory productively. Reconsidered from the "land of the shades," social contractarian theory is sufficiently altered that, for example, a pro-life Christian and a pro-choice secularist might be able to strike common ground upon which to discuss abortion politics.

Excerpt

In Plato's cave, there is no word to designate death, and no dream or image to intimate its unspeakableness. Death is there, in the cave, as excess, and forgetfully; it arrives from outside into the words of the philosopher as that which reduces him in advance to silence; or, it enters him the better to set him adrift in the futility of a semblance of immortality, making of him a mere shade, the perpetuation of shadow.

Ironical death: Socrates's, perhaps--the death which death takes away with it and renders thus as discrete as unreal. And if the "possibility" of writing is linked to the "possibility" of irony, then we understand why the one and the other are always disappointing: it is impossible to lay claim to either; both exclude all mastery.

--Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster . . .

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