On the Legacy of September 11

The aftermath of the War on Terror rages on despite bipartisan assurances that “major combat operations are over” and that “the war is coming to a close.” This ongoing conflict has produced, and continues to produce, prodigious human casualties and economic hemorrhaging. Tim Luke’s words regarding September 11, 2001, are in many ways as timely today as they were nearly fourteen years ago.

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The Kurdish Question: The Black Holes of Democracy

The Kurdish Question is a continuation of violence, protest, and repression that persist from the unfinished national state-building of the early twentieth-century Europe. This article compares it with similar but more successful ones in the Nordic countries. The Kurdish Question depends on the democratization of Turkish society. There are black holes on both sides of the conflict that absorb efforts to build democratic institutions. Enlightenment critique of absolutism in Europe established the supremacy of the social over the political order. The republic represents the will of the people. Koselleck argued that this idea potentially drifts towards totalitarianism and brutalities: those who do not obey are excluded to the point of losing their human worth. This is the heart of the Kurdish Question in Turkey today. In democracy different groups defend their interests in political movements that attempt to rule by law. In the Kurdish Question negotiable interests have been identified and reforms are on the way. The problem is that symbolic black holes absorb efforts to negotiate into the requirement of unity and consequent inability to deal with difference. On the Turkish side, the unity is imposed by the secular and modern nationalism itself. On the Kurdish side it consists of a silence about differences in the Kurd society, which is still largely tribal but with a large population outside the clan system.

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When Freedom of Expression Says “No”: The Case against Academic Boycott

It is this article’s assertion that calls for academic boycott contradict with the classic rationales of the right to free expression and with the peculiar features of the right to academic freedom. Freedom of expression is about developing a dialogue between two opposing opinions, wherein each claims to be the right one. Calls for academic boycott promote monologues rather than dialogues, thus creating the illusion that they represent the truth because they are not challenged. Moreover, protecting the right to academic freedom of individual academics is necessary for their fulfillment as researchers who can respect academic standards exclusively rather than institutional mandates. The self-fulfillment for an individual academic is enacted through the ability to convey messages that can compete against other views.

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On the Liturgical Critique of Modernity

Catherine Pickstock’s “Liturgy and Modernity,” from Telos 113 (Fall 1998), is an effort to find an alternative to liberal individualism and social fragmentation in modernity. Pickstock finds this alternative in liturgy: a liturgical critique of modernity where “liturgy” functions as a thoroughly political category. Liturgy is specially equipped to confront modernity due to its nature as ritual behavior (and therefore universal among humans). Yet the liturgical is to be favored over “ritual” for two reasons. First, ritual has already been relegated to its own “delimited sphere” in modernity, where it is viewed as a private superstructural category. Furthermore, ritual in the modern mind is regarded merely as “mechanical repetitions divorced from any informing narrative.” Liturgy, on the other hand, responds to the former challenge by its nature as “a pattern of social action” (not a delimited sphere) and responds to the latter by its foundation in a “privileged transcendent signifier.”

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Marrano Universalism: Benjamin, Derrida, and Buck‑Morss on the Condition of Universal Exile

The following paper was presented at the 2015 Telos Conference, held on February 13–15, 2015, in New York City. For additional details about the conference, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

In my short essay, I would like to outline a new strategy of the universalization of history, which emerges from the analysis of modern Jewish practice of philosophizing. I call it a Marrano strategy, by building an analogy between the religious practices of the late-medieval Sephardic Jewry, which was forced to convert to Christianity but kept Judaism “undercover,” and the philosophical intervention of modern Jewish thinkers who spoke the seemingly universal idiom of Western philosophy but, at the same time, impregnated it “secretly” with motives deriving from their “particular” background.[1] Yet, they did not do it in order to abolish the universalist perspective, but to transform it; for the last heirs of this “Marrano” line, Walter Benjamin and Jacques Derrida, the proper universalism amounts to an after-Babel project of mending the broken whole from within, horizontally, without assuming the lofty position of a general meta-language, but through the effort of multi-linguality.

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Telos 171 (Summer 2015): Politics and Values: The Middle East and China

Telos 171 (Summer 2015) is now available for purchase in our store.

Standard accounts of American politics invoke an oscillation between idealist and realist inclinations. The idealists appeal to principles, which they identify as fundamental to the American polity, especially those enshrined in the founding documents: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, transformed into a broad democratization agenda. Of course, revisionist critics have no difficulty in pointing out the failure of that agenda, i.e., the extent to which the empirical history of the country fell far short of realizing its ideals. Yet even that critique, smugly put forward to debunk naïve idealism, in some basic ways is itself indebted to the same idealism, insofar as the complaint of insufficient democratization also implies a call for more democracy, the very core of the idealist program. This is why neo-conservatives and their left-liberal adversaries always had more in common than met the eye (as was abundantly clear to traditional conservatives).

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