NEW BOOK — Rethinking Political Judgement: Arendt and Existentialism

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Maša Mrovlje

How can we reinvigorate the human capacity for political judgement as a practical activity capable of addressing the uncertainties of our post-foundational world?

In the face of pervasive injustice and suffering that continuously confound our moral expectations, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and seek solace in despair. More often than not, our judgements and actions seem obliterated under the weight of larger forces and processes, to the point of making the most steadfast pursuit of moral ideals end in disaster. These quandaries foreground political judgement as a topic of fundamental existential import, pertaining to the meaning of our lives and our relationship to the world and others. While political judgement has of late assumed increasing prominence in political theory, the questions of its concrete, human reality and significance remain obscured under the preoccupation with proper standards or grounds. It is now more than fifty years since another generation of thinkers has awarded these questions the status of utmost philosophical relevance. Responding to their own horizon of betrayed hopes for universal human emancipation, twentieth-century philosophies of existence approached the dilemmas of political judgement as they are lived, in the ambiguity of a particular historical situation that cannot be congealed in an abstract system of rules. In our present era of uncertainty and disillusion, this book seeks to reclaim their voice, focusing in particular on the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and Hannah Arendt. In their perspective it discerns a valuable prism through which to take up the contemporary impasse of political judgement devoid of metaphysical guarantees.

The book has just been published by Edinburgh University Press. You can encourage your university library to order a copy by forwarding your subject librarian a copy of this flyer: https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/book-rethinking-political-judgement-hb.html.

The Importance of Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus and Arendt

The book delves into the four thinkers’ awareness of the moral and political crisis in modernity and their vigilant assumption of the situated, worldly condition of political judgement and action. Highly attentive to the complexity of political affairs, the four thinkers shy away from the quest for a new set of valid yardsticks and rules. Instead, they delve into the experiential reality of political judgement, seeking to rethink it on the model of aesthetic or narrative sensibility. The existential aesthetic sensibility foregrounds political judgement as a reflective practice that must confront the particularity and plurality of the world without prefabricated standards of thought. The purpose of the book is to explore how the existential narrative-inspired attentiveness to illuminating worldly reality can strengthen our capacity to engage the untameable world in political action. Sartre’s and Beauvoir’s aesthetic accounts of judgement are distinct for confronting individuals with their responsibility for the world and the difficult moral dilemmas involved in engaging the oppressive structures in political action. Camus’s and Arendt’s narrative sensibilities, in turn, offer worthy attempts to creatively face up to these difficulties and point to the possibilities of fighting for greater freedom within, rather than outside or above, the bounds of our plural political existence. The book illustrates the prescient political significance of existentialists’ narrative imagination on two contemporary perplexities of political judgement: the problem of dirty hands and the challenge of transitional justice. This engagement reveals the critical, resistant potential of worldly judgement in its ability to stimulate our capacities of coming to terms with and creatively confronting the tragedies of political action, rather than simply yielding to them as a necessary course of political life.

 Approach of the book:

  • The book does not seek to construct a new theory of political judgement that could determine the “right” answers and deliver us from the ambiguity of political affairs, but focuses on the activity of judging as a paramount political
  • It builds on recent insights into the ethical and political relevance of narrative form and opens new vistas of inquiry in the fields of ethics of narrative and politics of recognition.
  • It illustrates the political significance of the existential narrative imagination on concrete examples that challenge and perplex our capacity to judge politically.
  • It combines textual and conceptual analysis with a narrative approach, drawing on literary sensibility to enrich the flow of theoretical argumentation.

PIR learning and teaching

The book will be of interest to research students and academics working within the disciplinary fields of political theory, philosophy, international politics, and intellectual history. It will be also be of interest in several PIR courses, including Political Thinkers, Critical Theory and Cinema, War and Justice, Democracy & its Discontents, and Film and Existentialism.

 

About the author — Maša Mrovlje completed her PhD at the University of St Andrews and is currently a postdoctoral research fellow working on the ERC-funded project, entitled “Illuminating the ‘Grey Zone’: Addressing Complex Complicity in Human Rights Violations.” Her research interests are oriented by the rubric of international political theory and the history of political thought, with a specific focus on twentieth-century philosophies of existence, poststructuralist and critical theories, and their significance to issues of political judgement, responsibility, violence, and resistance.

 

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