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University of Denver
Part I: Abstract
This paper draws on the work of Michel Foucault in order to analyze the constellation of political strategies and power at the US/Mexico border wall. These strategies, however, are incredibly diverse and often directly antagonistic of one another. Thus, this paper argues that in order to make sense of the seemingly multiple and contradictory political strategies deployed in the operation of the US/Mexico border wall, we have to understand the co-existence and intertwinement of at least three distinct types of power at work there: the sovereign exclusion of illegal life, the disciplinary detention of surveilled life, and the biopolitical circulation of migratory life. By doing so this paper offers an original contribution to two major areas of study: in Foucault studies this paper expands the existing literature on Foucault by analyzing the crossroads of power particular to the US/Mexico border wall, which has not yet been done, and in border studies this Foucauldian approach offers a unique political analysis that goes beyond the critique of sovereignty and toward an analysis of coexisting strategies of power.
Part II: Introduction
The official reason given by the Department of Homeland Security for building the estimated 49 billion dollar border wall is to ‘stop’ unwanted human migration from Mexico into the US. However, in addition to the fact that the US government’s own records indicate no conclusive reduction in non-status migration since the wall’s construction , similar government reports have found that a variety of other ‘secondary’ phenomena have been much more successful: 1) migrant deaths: ‘since 1995, [the year after NAFTA and Operation Gate-keeper  went into effect] the number of border-crossing deaths increased and by 2005 had more than doubled’ ; 2) incarceration: ‘of the detainee population of 32,000, 18,690 immigrants have no criminal conviction. More than 400 of those with no criminal record have been incarcerated for at least a year’ ; and 3) excessive costs: ‘despite a $2.6 billion investment, it cannot account separately for the impact of tactical infrastructure’ . Given the clear disjunction between the discursively expressed primary goal of the wall, ‘to stop all migration,’ and the strategically expressed secondary effects of the wall (increased migrant deaths, incarceration, etc.) how are we to understand the continued existence and function of the US Mexico border wall? Is it a discursive failure or a strategic success? Furthermore, how are we to reconcile the failed strategic aims of the state to ‘stop migration’ with the economic aims of those who employ non-status migrants and benefit from their precarious labor, which may further clash with the aims of the private security contractors whose aim is to make as much profit as possible from the efficient ‘catch and release’ of migrants?
Gregory B. Sadler
In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes develops a constellation of notions of considerable conceptual refinement and of lasting rhetorical power. These notions coalesce at their most central point, the ‘state of nature.’ An overly simplistic view of the Hobbesian state of nature forms part of what may be called a standard reading of Leviathan. This interpretation is prevalent in scholarship engaging Hobbes’s thought and doctrine not for its own sake, but in order to provide a contrast against other thinkers, to fit Hobbes into a broader schema of intellectual trends, tradition, or movements, or to diagnose Hobbes and his thought as the precursor of something particularly unsavory arising specifically in modernity. Pedagogical uses of Hobbes also typically rely upon (and in the process perpetuate) that reading. Such interpretations can also be found in scholarship engaging Hobbes in more focused and systematic ways, since studying other portions of Hobbes’s thought is rendered easier and less messy by ignoring ambiguities and puzzles arising when the state of nature is understood in relation to other notions intimately connected with it .
My central contention in this paper is that closer attention to Hobbes’s text allows discernment of at least five conceptually distinct ‘states of nature.’ The first of these represents the one the standard reading relies on. I argue that to Hobbes the most important of these states of nature is the fifth, i.e. factional strife leading to breakdown or disintegration of already existing but flawed civil society. The first state of nature is revealed as a powerful rhetorical construct that does not hold up under scrutiny, but which does not thereby tumble down the remaining edifice of Hobbes’s thought. Instead, the reverse happens: the heuristic utility of the rhetorical construct is sustained, and enabled to do its work, by the rest of the argumentative and descriptive Hobbesian edifice, the remainder of Leviathan’s first two books.
The primary motivation of Hobbes’s theory as a whole is, by producing what he views as the first genuinely scientific moral and political philosophy, diagnosing and remedying causes and effects of factional strife in already existing and imperfect commonwealths . His goal is not to adequately and realistically describe the state of pre-political or pre-social humankind, nor a historical transition from a pure state of nature to that of civil society. Rather, he is concerned primarily to illuminate sources of, and solutions to, moral disagreement, escalation of claims and conflicts, in short, breakdown of order. This requires radical reexamination of human nature, production of a new comprehensive theory of human nature, moral norms, and civil society, and advocacy of fundamental transformation of contemporary social institutions, structures, and arrangements in line with the theory. (more…)
University of Denver
Significant portions of the population of the United States believe that immigrants are naturally inferior. The attitude is not new. In fact, the idea of a natural political inferiority was invented in the ancient world, though it has repeated itself again and again throughout history—hence the persistence of the term ‘barbarian.’ Originally used to classify those beyond the pale of ancient Greek and Roman society, ‘barbarian’ has since been redeployed throughout all of history to designate one’s cultural and political enemies as ‘naturally inferior.’ From the nineteenth-century French bourgeoisie who called the migrant peasants in Paris ‘savage barbarians’ to the Nazi propaganda that described migrant Jews as ‘uncivilized oriental barbarians,’ the perceived inferiority of migrant groups relative to political centers has proven to be an enduring source of antagonism.
The recent slurs against Mexican migrants to the United States on the presidential campaign stage retreads this familiar ground. Mexican immigrants are perceived by many in the United States (including the government) to have a negative impact on those states. It is for this same reason that the entry of barbarians in the Greek polis, Roman Empire, and even in ancient Sumer was carefully restricted. In the United States, and in the ancient empires, large military-style walls were built and guarded to control the movement of undesirable foreigners into the community. The reasons for the undesirability of their respective foreign populations vary in each society, yet all these powers are associated with massive wall projects.
Significant portions of American and ancient societies also found these populations of foreigners undesirable because they would have a negative impact on the ‘culture’ of the host country—yet barbarians were also required as manual laborers to support that culture. In part, it is the language of the immigrant’s culture that is perceived as inferior or incompatible to the host’s language. This matches Aristotle’s first key characteristic of barbarism: the inability to speak the language of the political center. Anti-immigrant discourse in the United States is filled with rhetoric about Mexican immigrants who cannot or ‘refuse to’ learn English and whose populations are changing the ‘American way of life.’ Both contemporary and ancient societies believed that these immigrations were not benign but constituted a political and military ‘invasion’ that required a military response, thus the walls, deportations, and military operations.