This is a write-up of the meeting of the Political Theory Research Group, 15th March 2017.
In what ways do theories of property and the social contract affect an individual’s freedom? Are members of a reasonably just society morally obliged to contribute to its economic system even in ways they might not want to, and within structures they might not agree with?
These are the questions that stand at the centre of Karl Widerquist’s exploration of freedom in capitalist societies, laid out in his book Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income – A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No. Continue reading
“Tetanus of the Imagination”: Violence, Imagination and Memory. Soldiers’ Testimonies of the Algerian War of Decolonisation. 1954-1962, in Les Temps moderns and Esprit
For this week’s seminar, Hugh McDonnell presented a paper on the testimonies of soldiers during the Algerian War of Decolonisation, 1954-1962. In this paper, Hugh seeks to capture the relationship between violence, imagination, and memory, with a particular focus on how imagination helps make sense of violence, but also how it is impeded, breaks down, and facilitates violence. He draws on two influential journals of the time, which reproduced these testimonies and played an important role in providing an alternative narrative to the general French disengagement with the cruelties committed in Algeria. For this, Hugh identifies two central strategies, firstly, mobilisation of imagination by connecting the occurrences in Algeria with the painful memory of German occupation for the French population during World War II. Secondly, the production of imagination, by actively analysing and challenging the institutionalisation of a culture where violence became normalised. Hugh is thus able to build a complex picture of the various instances of imagination surrounding the Algerian war on the French side, and thus the limitation and potential of imagination and memory in responding to violence.
The ensuing discussion covered a wide variety of topics and drew attention to many of the insights this paper provides. Questions focused among other things on the broader context of the testimonies considered in the paper and the role of testimony more generally. Further, on the story about imagination it may provide beyond the concrete context of the Algerian war. Lastly, the discussion considered wider methodological questions about approaches to history and the value of comparative analysis.
Written by Gisli Vogler
Hugh McDonnell is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, working on the Greyzone project.
This week’s PTRG session discussed ‘The Tory Consequences of Whig Foundations’ by Chandran Kukathas. In this paper, Chandran defends David Hume’s critique of social contract theory and demonstrates the broader implications this has for certain strands of liberalism today. He begins with a historical account of the emergence of the modern nation state before discussing attempts at its justification by social contract theorists. What unites the disparate theories provided by thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant is the idea that the legitimacy of the state comes from its embodying the abstract, collective will of the citizens who comprise it. Chandran contrasts this with the approach taken by Hume who rejects the idea of such a will and bases the endurance of the state on its ability to satisfy particular interests. This latter perspective is beneficial in outlining a more realist account of politics which acknowledges the sectional nature of society as a contest between competing interests. In attempting to justify the state in terms of the collective will of the governed, social contract theory can serve to obscure the particular interests which underpin the governance and institutions of the state. Continue reading