The most profound challenges provoked by the suicidal and murderous assault on the Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, have been made to prevailing accounts of political judgement.
What are we to make of these dramatic acts of violence? On what grounds were we able to make sense of them, to fit them into established expectations about how the world was unfolding after the turn of the millennium? On what grounds were we able to respond to them as challenges to prevailing accounts of legitimate political action: as acts of violence that, while contravening most people's sense of the general illegitimacy of violence, nevertheless occurred in a world in which most people's lives ultimately rest on a willingness, sometimes tacit, sometimes explicit, to deploy violence on an even greater scale than we saw on one stunning day in September? On what grounds were we encouraged to make sense of them by the narratives that, after a day or so of frantic conceptual scrambling, began to cohere in the official briefings and newsrooms? On what grounds are we now able to reflect on our ability to respond to the place of violence in contemporary political life given the capacities for violence and counter-violence expressed in this specific series of events?
Many responses to such questions have been offered by political actors and commentators across the spectrum of established political and ethical debates. Thankfully, not all have been as crude as those used to justify the military action taken by the Bush, Blair and many other governments. Nor, also thankfully, has it been easy to attain credibility by articulating equally crude indictments of these governments' violent responses to violence. Unless one has been entirely blind to the conflicting and conflictual patterns of contemporary world events, or prepared to accept the extraordinary self-righteousness expressed both in these specific events and in most of the official reactions to them, our responses to all this violence necessarily draws us into some very difficult questions about the grounds on which we now make political judgements, or have our judgements made for us by