‘Walled States, Waning Sovereignty’ Professor Wendy Brown, CCIG Keynote Lecture

I am affiliated with the wonderfully named ‘power cluster’ in the School of Political Science & Sociology at NUI Galway.  This occasionally makes me feel like a superhero. This intrepid group, somewhere on a scale between the Justice League and the Legion of Doom, meets once a month to discuss work related to our own research interests that has some relation to the notion of power, broadly defined.  This month we are reading the first chapter from Prof. Wendy Brown‘s recent book Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (2010).  The lecture posted here basically covers the same ground.  Her argument is that the proliferation of walls and walling that we are witnessing worldwide, such as ‘The Wall’ separating Israel and Palestine  or the one on the US-Mexico Border, is a feature of contemporary globalization and (paradoxically, despite the theatrical show of physical dominance that such walls might symbolize) signals the waning of sovereignty for the nation-state.  These walls are not built to defend states from other national actors but rather to target nonstate, transnational actors, such as migrants and ‘terrorist’ groups etc.  For Brown, who wishes to differentiate her argument from Agamben (Homo Sacer) and Hardt and Negri (Empire), key to the loss of this national sovereignty are the domination of free-floating global capital and ‘God-sanctioned political violence’.  Rather than being a sign of nation-state dominance, these walls actually represent a deep-seated national anxiety about increasing sovereign impotence and an aspect of  the ‘theater state’ (though she does not mention Geertz here).  What is perhaps most interesting is her discussion of the ‘state of emergency’/’state of exception’, always provisional and temporary, yet a perpetual and seemingly permanent feature of the contemporary world.  This, of course, is well-trodden ground, particularly by (again) Agamben, following Schmitt.  But this is perhaps where I  also part company with Brown and her analysis of the waning of the nation-state, which may be a little over-stated.  Is it not the case that, for Schmitt, this discourse of the state of exception, or more specifically, the capacity or power to declare a state of exception is central to the notion of state sovereignty.  Far from being a sign of a weakened nation-state, is this capacity not a sure sign of the state’s enduring power?  And one which is exercised, when it is exercised (power is a capacity and should not be confused with it’s exercise), often in the face of vocal international opposition, such as in the case of Israel.

In any case, I enjoyed the chapter and hope to finish the book.  Enjoy the talk.

Elizabeth Anderson, “Tom Paine and the Ironies of Social Democracy”

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/gZN0gvOULAI?p=1 width=”480″ height=”305″]

The 2011-12 Dewey Lecture in Law and Philosophy, recorded on February 29, 2012, was presented by Elizabeth Anderson, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Rawls Collegiate Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies, University of Michigan.  The talk is introduced by Martha Nussbaum

Abstract:

Critics of every social insurance proposal in the U.S., including recent health care reform, have called them socialist attacks on private property. To be sure, social insurance is a central pillar of social democracy, and social democratic parties originated in a socialist critique of capitalism. Yet the equation of social insurance with socialism is doubly ironic. The first realistic proposal to abolish poverty by means of universal social insurance was Thomas Paine, who explicitly advanced his scheme as a defense of private property against socialist revolutionaries. And the first actual social insurance scheme was introduced by Otto von Bismarck, who advanced it against the German Social Democratic Party, which opposed his plan. This talk will consider how Paine grounded the justification of social insurance in a neo-Lockean theory of private property rights, and explore the implications of the ironic inversion of social insurance from a bulwark of to a perceived assault on capitalism.