Feminism, the Public and the Private

By Joan B. Landes | Go to book overview

17
Impartiality and the Civic Public: Some Implications of Feminist Critiques of Moral and Political Theory

Iris Marion Young

Many writers seeking emancipatory frameworks for challenging both liberal individualist political theory and the continuing encroachment of bureaucracy on everday life, claim to find a starting-point in unrealized ideals of modern political theory. John Keane, for example, suggests that recent political movements of women, oppressed sexual and ethnic minorities, environmentalists, and so on, return to the contract tradition of legitimacy against the legalistic authority of contemporary state and private bureaucracies. Like many others, Keane looks specifically to Rousseau's unrealized ideals of freedom and cooperative politics.

According to Rousseau, individualism could no longer be seen as consisting in emancipation through mere competitive opposition to others; its authentic and legitimate form could be constituted only through the communicative intersubjective enrichment of each bodily individual's qualities and achievements to the point of uniqueness and incomparability. Only through political life could the individual become this specific, irreplaceable individual 'called' or destined to realize its own incomparable capacities.1

There are plausible reasons for claiming that emancipatory politics should define itself as realizing the potential of modern political ideals that have been suppressed by capitalism and bureaucratic institutions. No contemporary emancipatory politics wishes to reject the rule of law as opposed to whim or custom, or fails to embrace a commitment to preserving and deepening civil liberties. A commitment to a democratic society, moreover, can plausibly look upon modern political theory and practice as beginning

____________________
Chapter 3 in Seyla Benhabib and Drucilla Cornell (eds.), Feminism as Critique ( University of Minnesota Press, 1987). Copyright © University of Minnesota Press 1987. Reprinted by permission of the University of Minnesota Press and Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

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