War By Other Means

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The language can also become a weapon as it is appropriated and adapted by different interest groups to pursue social, economic, and political objectives. Indeed, as violence still periodically breaks out and some ethnocommunal and class-based divisions have deepened, it is clear that the progression from human rights violations to human rights protections is neither inevitable nor smooth.

Human Rights as War by Other Means traces the use of rights discourse in Northern Ireland's politics from the local civil rights campaigns of the s to present-day activism for truth recovery and LGBT equality. Combining firsthand ethnographic reportage with historical research, Jennifer Curtis analyzes how rights discourse came to permeate grassroots politics and activism, how it transformed those politics, and how rights discourse was in turn transformed.

Book review: War by Other Means

This ethnographic history foregrounds the stories of ordinary people in Northern Ireland who embraced different rights politics and laws to conduct, conclude, and, in some ways, continue the conflict—a complex portrait that challenges the dominant postconflict narrative of political and social abuses vanquished by a collective commitment to human rights. The result is that political argument becomes more a matter of yelling than reasoning, more mutual-abuse than the connection of premise to conclusion.

MacIntyre concluded that, since modern politics of any kind — liberal or conservative, radical or socialist — lack a requisite shared sense of the good life that the very idea of justice becomes a smokescreen for advancing the arbitrary goals and ambitions either of individuals or groups. I cannot subscribe to his blanket dismissal of all modern politics, in particular his rejection of liberal democracy as irredeemably corrupt and corrupting.

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Argument turns away from reasoning from premises to conclusions that can be shared or contested and inevitably morphs into violence, whether verbal or otherwise. Rational inference becomes unintelligible, since truth is a function of a battle of wills rather than an entailment from accepted premises.


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First: the present impossibility of the rational resolution to political disputes does not just arbitrarily happen; it happens when all fealty to shared ideas, ideals, standards, and norms has been eroded. The mess we are currently in can be understood as the endpoint of a long process of corruption, perhaps rooted in defects that go back to the beginning of the republic.

And thus it is these that need to be both questioned and radically reformed. But today, in fact, the paradigms are incommensurable: one party is convinced that the next set of rational arguments can open up avenues of persuasion and that efforts at compromise might yet be reciprocated. The other party is out to win at all costs, to pry the narrative away from all rootedness in rational persuasion and a shared commitment to objectivity and truth. I think we all know which party is which.

Terrorism as war by other means: national security and state support for terrorism

What to do? It could have showed that the Democrats were willing to work with Republicans to advance the common good. If Republicans were to balk, they would appear to be the obstructionists, not the Democrats. But under the Schmittian paradigm, this move is unintelligible. For Trump and the Republican Party which he has co-opted, obstructionism is not a consequence of policy, it is itself a policy.

I am not arguing that Democrats should forego persuading erstwhile Trump supporters to switch allegiances in the election. His random imposition of tariffs on Chinese goods hurts the farmers whose support he successfully courted in , and his protection of the U. I am all for speaking truth to all those who have ears to hear; who can be convinced that the emperor has no clothes. But the Democratic Party can ill afford to be overoptimistic about the prospects of such a tactic. This is to assume a political imaginary closer to that described by Dewey, or Arendt, or both.

But it is nowhere near the Schmittian political imaginary that has colonized the present-day United States. Whether all this signals the necessity of impeachment is, I think, an open question — although I am strongly inclined to think it does. At the very least, Congress needs to press on with all attempts at holding the Trump administration accountable for their by now overt attacks on liberal constitutional democracy.

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