Brad Evans: A decade on, the vio­lence of September the 11th, 2001 still haunts the lib­er­al imag­i­nary of threat. And I guess by this what I mean is that the vio­lence of that fate­ful day now under­writes all forms of lib­er­al secu­ri­ty gov­er­nance, glob­al­ly. And I think this in many ways is of course under­stand­able. And I per­son­al­ly find myself some­times deeply trou­bled by that fate­ful predica­ment faced by those peo­ple who decid­ed to take their own lives on that hor­ri­fy­ing day. However in spite of this, I think our response rep­re­sents noth­ing short of a pro­found fail­ure of the polit­i­cal and the philo­soph­i­cal imagination. 

Now, I’m not real­ly sub­scrib­ing you to some dis­course which aligns the post‑9&zwj/&zwj11 moment with a US quest for hege­mon­ic glob­al dom­i­na­tion. I think such analy­sis is very much tied to an out­dat­ed geostrate­gic past. What real­ly con­cerns me is in the post‑9&zwj/&zwj11 moment how the war effort has been mobi­lized and tied to a Kantian-inspired lib­er­al ethics. 

Now, I guess in ortho­dox nar­ra­tives and very much in the Anglo-American polit­i­cal tra­di­tion, the Kantian ideas are very much dom­i­nat­ed by con­cerns with per­pet­u­al peace, glob­al secu­ri­ty, rights, and jus­tice for all and so forth. However, for me, beneath the weight of this archi­tec­ture and this well-established nar­ra­tive it’s pos­si­ble to iden­ti­fy a much more cen­tral and indeed sin­is­ter log­ic which is cen­tral to me to the Kantian schemat­ic, and that is that polit­i­cal dif­fer­ence is a prob­lem to be solved. 

Now, what I think look­ing at the prob­lem­at­ic of Kantian-inspired lib­er­al­ism in the post‑9&zwj/&zwj11 moment, I think what we real­ly come at is the fun­da­men­tal dif­fi­cult rela­tion­ship between lib­er­al­ism and the oth­er. Now, if we look I guess the prob­lem of the oth­er in terms of I guess how polit­i­cal the­o­ry broach­es the prob­lem, polit­i­cal real­ism has a well-established rela­tion­ships with oth­ers. Namely, they have to be kept at the bor­ders. We keep the the oth­ers out­side of the line. In oth­er words, oth­er­ness is a phe­nom­e­non which is epiphe­nom­e­nal. It’s some­thing which exists so-called out there. 

For lib­er­al­ism, of course, there’s a dif­fer­ent rela­tion­ship to oth­ers, intel­lec­tu­al­ly and geo­graph­i­cal­ly. In order for lib­er­al­ism to aug­ment its glob­al imag­i­nary, oth­ers need to be incor­po­rat­ed. And this of course seems very ide­al­is­tic. However, the his­to­ry of the lib­er­al expe­ri­ence shows that oth­ers are nev­er incor­po­rat­ed as uni­ver­sal sub­jects endowed with inalien­able free­doms. Otherness always pro­ceeds on the basis that the oth­er is some­how dan­ger­ous­ly unful­filled. They’re even a prob­lem unto themselves. 

Now, I think this has a num­ber of telling impli­ca­tions for the way we under­stand lib­er­al­ism and cer­tain­ly its ethics. First of all I think if we can argue that oth­er­ness is the cen­tral for­ma­tive prin­ci­ple for lib­er­al regimes of pow­er, then oth­er­ness con­di­tions the very pos­si­bil­i­ty of lib­er­al rule glob­al­ly. Indeed we have to deal with the prob­lem of oth­er­ness as cer­tain dis­cours­es such as war by oth­er means tell us today. 

Secondly of course, the oth­er [you?] does not fig­ure as a juridi­cal sub­ject. But the oth­er is opened up to an entire sophis­ti­cat­ed array of polit­i­cal econ­o­miz­ing assays which is pred­i­cat­ed on cer­tain degrees of advance­ment or back­ward­ness; civ­i­liza­tion or indeed sav­agery. And hence it’s for this rea­son that I would argue that the rul­ing prin­ci­ple, what we could call the tran­scen­den­tal prin­ci­ple for lib­er­al pow­er, is not law but is some­thing on the order of a divine econ­o­my of life itself. 

So I guess what the prob­lem­at­ic which I’m real­ly try­ing to come to grips with today, and I think this is the most cru­cial prob­lem­at­ic that we face in the 21st cen­tu­ry, is how can we have bet­ter eth­i­cal rela­tions with oth­ers in a world of rad­i­cal inter­con­nec­tiv­i­ty. And to me the answer has to lie beyond lib­er­al­ism. Liberalism will not pro­vide us with the answers that we’re search­ing for. 

Now, of course in the post‑9&zwj/&zwj11 moment, any­thing which appeared to be of a post­mod­ern or post­struc­tur­al ilk was rou­tine­ly con­demned. And indeed intel­lec­tu­al­ly chal­lenged for being either weak on the caus­es of ter­ror­ism, or indeed too abstract, or indeed too eso­teric. Or some lib­er­als of course would argue that its cul­tur­al­ly rel­a­tivist. I think it’s quite easy to dis­miss any of those argu­ments. And I think what I’m try­ing to ges­ture towards in terms of bet­ter ethics towards the oth­er is some­thing which is not abstract or eso­teric, but it does require per­haps a dif­fer­ent ori­en­ta­tion, dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal coor­di­nates. And we can of course find cer­tain refuge in the very prin­ci­ple of phi­los­o­phy in itself. Which if we go back of course to the time of the Greeks, phi­los­o­phy was very much of the order of friend­ship. It was a search for friend­ship amongst liv­ing subjects. 

Whereas if we turn to the con­ti­nen­tal shift in under­stand­ing of the polit­i­cal, that of course would argue that the polit­i­cal is pre­cise­ly the affir­ma­tion of dif­fer­ence. It does­n’t see dif­fer­ence as a prob­lem to be solved. It does­n’t see dif­fer­ence as some­thing which stands in the way of glob­al secu­ri­ty, peace, and pros­per­i­ty. Indeed it’s only by affirm­ing dif­fer­ence that we could even pos­si­bly begin to imag­ine liv­ing along­side one anoth­er in a world of rad­i­cal interconnectivity. 

So hence I think the fun­da­men­tal chal­lenge that we do face in the 21st cen­tu­ry is an attempt to rec­on­cile this notion, this philo­soph­i­cal notion of friend­ship, with a con­cept of the polit­i­cal which is linked to an affir­ma­tion of polit­i­cal difference.