Democracy and the Foreigner

Democracy and the Foreigner

Democracy and the Foreigner

Democracy and the Foreigner


"What should we do about foreigners? Should we try to make them more like us or keep them at bay to protect our democracy, our culture, our well-being? This dilemma underlies age-old debates about immigration, citizenship, and national identity that are strikingly relevant today. In Democracy and the Foreigner, Bonnie Honig reverses the question and asks instead: What problems might foreigners solve for us? Hers is not a conventional approach. Instead of lauding the achievements of individual foreigners, she probes a much larger issue - the symbolic politics of foreignness. In doing so she shows not only how our debates over foreignness help shore up our national or democratic identities, but how anxieties endemic to liberal democracy themselves animate ambivalence toward foreignness." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Would it still make sense to speak of democracy when it
would no longer be a question … of country,
nation, even of state or citizen?

–Jacques Derrida

What is a foreigner? A [wo]man who makes
you think you are at home.

–Edmond Jabes

Switching the Question

“How should we solve the problem of foreignness?” The question underlies contemporary discussions of democracy and citizenship. Proposed solutions vary. Political theorists deliberate about whether or to what extent social unity is necessary to sustain social democracy. Courts rule on the extent of government’s obligations to its noncitizen residents. Economists debate the costs and benefits of immigration. Sociologists argue about the (in)effectiveness of multilingual education. But, notwithstanding their differences, participants in contemporary debates about foreignness all reinscribe foreignness as a “problem” that needs to be solved by way of new knowledge, facts, or politics. In so doing, they reiterate the question that has dominated political theory for centuries.

In classical political thought, foreignness is generally taken to signify a threat of corruption that must be kept out or contained for the sake . . .

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