After the Referendum: What’s Left?

Sorry Closed

There is nothing to celebrate today. The vote by a small (but significant) majority of people in the UK to leave the EU is not a victory for working people, for migrants, for socialists or left activists of any stripe. It could have been: if Labour and the main trade unions had seized the moment and set out a strong, principled, anti-racist and anti-capitalist case for leaving the EU. They didn’t, and the moribund radical left was so fragmented and disorganised, that it’s interventions had little or no bearing on the debate. As a result charlatans such as Nigel Farage are able to portray themselves as champions of “ordinary people” standing up to the “elites and fat cats”. Race and…

Europe at the Crossroads

Earthlights

Brexit campaigners would have us abdicate at the global level, all potential for the re-establishment of political and social self-determination over the economy. We, by contrast, should take our fight for the soul of economic liberalism to Europe. Order in Chaos Even as it is wholly ill-informed, the Brexit debate is dominated by a battle for facts. In the one corner, those determined to catapult the UK out of the Union have been evermore inventive (mendacious) in their pursuit of figures that ‘demonstrate’ the unbearable strains of integration upon the UK population Exchequer. In the other, Vote Remain’s assertion that a no vote will lead to economic shock is better backed up by reputable research, but the campaign is nonetheless…

Brexit as Nostalgia for Empire 

Zong Massacre

The run up to the EU referendum has shown Britain for what it is. Woodwork: the washed-up bracken of the British Empire, and the ugly flotsam of its legacy of racism. This week Jo Cox, a pro-immigration Labour MP was brutally murdered by a man who shouted Britain First as he killed her and who gave his name in court on being charged with her murder as “Death to traitors. Freedom for Britain”. Jo Cox was killed a week before the referendum on Britain’s EU membership and following months of campaigning which has been dominated by the topic of migration. This referendum has not felt like an exercise in democracy. There is something painfully undemocratic about denying EU citizens from…

Hans-Georg Gadamer: Hermeneutics

brown-v-board

Key Concept Hermeneutics concerns itself with the philosophy of interpretation, initially oriented toward the interpretation of texts. Indeed, though its origins lay in Greek antiquity, ‘advances in the formulation of methods of interpretation had to await the Reformation and the attack on the Church’s authority to interpret the bible.’1 Thus, hermeneutics was a branch of theology that dealt specifically with the interpretation of holy scriptures but has since expanded beyond textual interpretation to encompass the interpretation of verbal (speech) and non-verbal (conduct) expressions. The use of Gadamerian hermeneutics in legal interpretation is well documented. Indeed, Gadamer regarded law as having ‘exemplary significance’ in developing his Post-Romantic interpretation that moved beyond methodological variations of attempting to determine authorial (specifically here, legislative)…

‘Internalised homophobia’: The exception or the paradigm?

Omar Mateen

Shortly after the 11 June anti-LGBT massacre, it became clear that the perpetrator, Omar Mateen, had a gay profile of his own. Commentary poured out associating Mateen with internalised homophobia. What shall we make of that diagnosis? It’s not necessarily wrong. Given our long and complex histories of sexual taboo, psychological explanations for gays aggressing others as gays are certainly plausible enough. Throughout much of the media, however, ‘internalised homophobia’ is recited not to enhance the public’s insight into the politics, but to write politics out of the analysis altogether. If the killer was gay himself, it seems, then maybe his crime wasn’t really about politics. Far from surpassing the age-old medical model of non-normative heterosexualities as disease (memorably documented by…

Focus on the Funk: Review

woman

Between 20–23 May 2016, a community of academics, activists and artists met at Birkbeck School of Law under an invitation to ‘Focus on the Funk.’ Over three days, the likes of Gayatri Spivak, Alicia Garza, Nina Power and Lewis Gordon all took up the task of trying to think through ‘the funk’. We felt fortunate to have attracted such a cast of speakers, considering how unappealing the prospect of joining a law school threatening to ‘get funky’ must have appeared upon first reading. ‘Law’ and ‘Funk’ are understandably imagined as diametric opposites; the transgression implicit in bringing them together being what initially excited us as organisers. Funk most immediately invokes a genre of music, yet the notion of ‘the funk’ transcends…

Jacques Derrida: Deconstruction

The last word on the word (artist Annie Voight)

Key Concept Deconstruction by its very nature defies institutionalization in an authoritative definition. The concept was first outlined by Derrida in Of Grammatology where he explored the interplay between language and the construction of meaning. From this early work, and later works in which he has attempted to explain deconstruction to others, most notably the Letter to a Japanese Friend, it is possible to provide a basic explanation of what deconstruction is commonly understood to mean. Three key features emerge from Derrida’s work as making deconstruction possible. These are, first, the inherent desire to have a centre, or focal point, to structure understanding (logocentrism); second, the reduction of meaning to set definitions that are committed to writing (nothing beyond the…

Livability: Notes on the Thought of Judith Butler

Figure Divided – William Scott

Key Concept Livability is a term increasingly detectable in Judith Butler’s work from the early 2000’s onwards. The concept emerges as intimately caught up with Butler’s discussion of grievability and her wider question of “how can we have more viable and livable lives?”, which in many ways ties together her whole corpus of writing.1 Thus, while a concept explicitly used only in her more recent work, concerns with livability, and the drive to challenge restrictive possibilities for livable life, characterise all of Butler’s work. Engagement with livability in the sense of asking critical questions about which lives are viable and flourishing in particular socio-political contexts is a fundamentally political activity, and one which, for Butler, holds possibilities to direct towards…

The Rise of Luxury Communism

Techno-anarchism

In a post-capitalist world how will we establish a system which provides for the needs of all? The solution to this in a world with mechanized labor is clear: luxury communism The failing of the American liberal lies not in his or her message, which purports to be one that is anti-oppression and anti-capitalism. The failing of the American liberal in recent times has become one which must be expanded well past the traditional thinking of a non-radicalized populace. The liberal encourages in his passivity a state and capital system which allows for the expansion of a system he proposes to be opposed to. The passive act of being governed by voting rather than exercising self-governance can be heard in…

Critique, Contradiction and the Law: Brit Crit History – The 1986 CLC

1986

In 1986, people were wearing shoulder pads, watching Neighbours, and listening to Bananarama. Spain and Portugal had just joined the EEC (there was no EU), the London Stock Market had its big bang (massive deregulation), computers looked like the one below, and Margaret Thatcher was at the height of her powers, declaring a year later that ‘… there is no such thing as society …’ 1986 was also the year of the first major Critical Legal Conference (CLC). Archive documents kindly released by Kent Law School show details of the first discussions, committee meetings, and organisational questions, and that it eventually went under the title ‘Law, Critique and Social Transformation’. One text in particular stands out entitled ‘… on Critique, Contradiction and the Law’ and…

Human Rights for Martians

Young migrants and refugees at a fence in the Moria detention center on the Greek island of Lesbos, on April 16, 2016 (AFP Photo/Aris Messinis) SRC

The human rights movement can be seen as the ongoing but failing struggle to close the gap between the abstract man of the Declarations and the empirical human being. Has it succeeded? Yes and no. 2015 and 2016 have been marked by the heart-breaking images of a moving humanity of refugees and immigrants who leave the battlefronts of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya to come to Europe, their imaginary Arcadia. More than one million people have braved the rough waters of the Aegean and Libyan seas with the bulk landing on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Agathonissi, Farmakonissi and Lemnos. On the way to the islands, thousands have lost their lives. Photographs of drowned dead bodies lying on the…

zionisms

zion

… this is, in part, a plea to the left to stop saying ‘Zionist’. Two days ago, the news was full of Jeremy Corbyn’s recent decision to suspend Labour MP Naz Shah while her alleged antisemitism is investigated. Two years ago, before she became an MP and during the height of the most recent Israeli aggression in Gaza, Shah wrote a Facebook post suggesting Israel should be relocated to the US and that Israelis transportation costs would be minimal compared to the current military support provided to Israel by the US. Last week, the news was full of the election of Malia Bouattia, the new president of the National Union of Students. She, too, was accused by some of antisemitism…

Who we are or what we could become? Musing on a remark of Judith Butler’s

Who we are or what we could become

How should queer politics respond to the attachment some people feel to a stable gender identity? This is the question Judith Butler poses in discussion with Sara Ahmed in the current issue of Sexualities. Butler asks: If ‘queer’ means that we are generally people whose gender and sexuality is ‘unfixed’ then what room is there in a queer movement for those who understand themselves as requiring – and wanting – a clear gender category within a binary frame? … some people very much require a clear name and gender, and struggle for recognition on the basis of that clear name and gender. It is a fundamental issue of how to establish and insist upon those forms of address that make life…

Universal Basic Income and the Politics of Production

workers-1

Of late there have been a growing number of people who take seriously the promise of Unconditional Basic Income (“UBI”) policy programs. Roughly, these advocates propose that UBI can allay the harms and legitimate social anxiety caused by cycles of un- and under-employment thereby making persons less susceptible to predatory employers. In addition to addressing labour unrest in economies beset by precarious work, these kinds of advocates say the policy can somewhat stoke consumption while unleashing the creativity required to make more diverse kinds of public and private goods. All in all, it is said UBI is emancipatory for it can reduce poverty in the Global North and promote human flourishing. It would be foolish and unnecessarily reactionary to dismiss…

Reading Christian Human Rights in Latin America

The Flower Carrier by Diego Rivera (1935)

Samuel Moyn’s most recent book, Christian Human Rights (University of Pennsylvania University Press 2015), tells the story of the relationship between European Human Rights and Christianity, both during the interwar period and after World War II. Among other things, Moyn argues that Catholicism met human rights once the Church abandoned its prior authoritarian corporatist commitments of the early 1930s and drifted towards human dignity and personalism to counter the threat that Nazism and Communism posed for the survival of Catholicism in European soil. This argument sheds light over the question of how antiliberal Catholicism, as explained in Rerum Novarum (1891) or Quadragesimo Anno (1931), came to embrace the idea of “rights”, a concept allegedly based in individual liberalism. Personalism, the…

Eye in the Sky: drones, the (human) ticking-time bomb scenario and law’s inhumanity

eye-in-the-sky

“The law is here to protect YOU” — Legal adviser of the UK military, Eye in the Sky Eye in the Sky is (unintentionally) a film about law’s profound inhumanity. (*Moderate spoilers to follow, proceed with caution.) Colonel Katherine Powell (Hellen Mirren) commands from the UK a mission to capture a number of high-ranking Al-Shabaab militants in Kenya. Amongst them there are two British citizens, but one of them is somehow ‘special’: she is a white, beautiful young woman with a ‘troubled’ childhood, who converted to Islam and was radicalised through her husband. At a certain level, Eye in the Sky is about killing a white woman in a headscarf. As is the case with young women who choose to…

The Left in Power? Notes on Syriza’s Rise, Fall, and (Possible) Second Rise

A man withdraws money from an ATM in downtown Athens on July 4, 2015. A referendum to decide whether or not Greece is to accept the bailout conditions proposed jointly by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank will take place on July 5. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

The left in power? Four enticing words. The most important thing here, however, is the question mark at the end. For what does the left mean today as ideology and vision, as organization and party, as movement and government? No single or simple answer exists. We have no recipe or textbook to pick from the shelf, adjust to the Greek situation, and apply. Recent debates about Greece in the international left have been characterized by a somewhat infantile leftism, which has turned the “Grexit”–a return to the drachma and even an exit from the EU altogether – into the litmus test of radicalism. A “left-meter” has been created: anyone who does not accept the Grexit as the holy grail of left ideology…

Taxing Citizens: Hegel On Having the Right Attitude

Hegel's Philosophy of Right

We hear a lot about tax, and about how people dislike paying it. But while there’s general agreement that there is a big difference between tax evasion (illegal:  breaching the law to escape paying tax) and tax avoidance (minimising one’s tax liabilities in a legal way), there seems to be a lot of confusion about what one’s duties are in relation to tax. Is it enough to not break the law? Here I am going to argue that it isn’t. I expect this will chime with a lot of people’s intuitions, and I want to support and justify these. I want to go a bit further than that, however: it’s my contention that we have to have the right attitude to…

Impolite Conversations around the ‘War on Waste’

war on waste

I have few food-related memories of my childhood in Italy. One of these is certainly represented by my parents nudging me to eat all the food that was in my plate: no questions asked. It was the end of the 80s, and households in the Global North were for the first time seeing pictures of undernourished African kids in remote and ‘exotic’ places. “Think of how many children are dying in Biafra! You cannot waste food that would save them!” they were telling me, revealing that UNICEF and other aid organizations were properly doing their job in diverting my parents’ attention from local social inequality and creating the image of Africa as the stereotype of a poor, violent and underdeveloped…