The Virtues of Exit: On Resistance and Quitting Politics

The Virtues of Exit: On Resistance and Quitting Politics

The Virtues of Exit: On Resistance and Quitting Politics

The Virtues of Exit: On Resistance and Quitting Politics

Synopsis

Successful democracies rely on an active citizenry. They require citizens to participate by voting, serving on juries, and running for office. But what happens when those citizens purposefully opt out of politics? Exit--the act of leaving--is often thought of as purely instinctual, a part of the human "fight or flight" response, or, alternatively, motivated by an antiparticipatory, self-centered impulse. However, in this eye-opening book, Jennet Kirkpatrick argues that the concept of exit deserves closer scrutiny. She names and examines several examples of political withdrawal, from Thoreau decamping to Walden to slaves fleeing to the North before the Civil War. In doing so, Kirkpatrick not only explores what happens when people make the decision to remove themselves but also expands our understanding of exit as a political act, illustrating how political systems change in the aftermath of actual or threatened departure. Moreover, she reframes the decision to refuse to play along--whether as a fugitive slave, a dissident who is exiled but whose influence remains, or a government in exile--as one that shapes political discourse, historically and today.

Excerpt

Leaving has long been a part of the human experience. Early texts like the Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer’s Odyssey, and the biblical story of Exodus tell of a heroic individual or people who depart from their native lands on an epic journey of hardship, loss, discovery, and triumph. Though these tales have been with us for some time, the study of leaving and its relation to politics is comparatively new. in die early twentieth century, Walter Bradford Cannon argued that fleeing was a primal, physiological reaction when confronted with a perceived threat, the fight-or-flight response. the Holocaust—an existential threat more calamitous than anything Cannon could have imagined—exposed the need to leave a country when faced with mass violence. Numerous stories of escape and failed escape from Nazi Germany reveal that in some political contexts, leaving is quite simply the only way to survive.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, Albert Hirschman argued that exit was a fundamental political concept and that, along with voice and loyalty, it explained political and economic change. Hirschman elevated exit, giving it a more positive, productive character. For Hirschman, individuals exited by choice, not because of fear, when they confronted a failing polity, organization, product, or public good. Perceiving failure, negligence, or a breakdown, rational individuals took themselves or their business elsewhere; they voted with their feet. in the early twenty-first century, talk of exit has broken free of academic circles. Debates about globalization and porous national borders, the so-called Brexit of Great Britain from the European Union, the problem of the brain drain, and the migrant and refugee crisis in Europe reveal popular concern about exit in our contemporary world.

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