What is Butler University known for

Judith Butler: "The Power of Nonviolence"Opportunities for Resistance

"When I talk about ethics, I am interested in how one can invoke them to justify violence. But basically I want to investigate the question of what a non-violent ethics could consist of. (...) It can give an ethic that can be lived, that does not do violence to the subject and that is linked to the practice of non-violence? "

Judith Butler, who asks about an ethic of non-violence here, is a controversial public figure because of her militant political positions. At the same time, many - especially those who have not read it - consider it difficult to understand intellectuals.

Thinking about discriminatory norms

Who is Judith Butler? Philosopher, professor, pop star? American, academic, activist? Jew, feminist, woman? For Butler, such commitments are invariably socially constructed. She would not identify with any of these traits - but would nonetheless recognize that some of them have significantly shaped her being and thinking.

At home and in the synagogue, she became familiar with Jewish philosophy and theology at an early age, and her experiences as a lesbian woman, especially in the AIDS era of the 1980s, became the anchor point of her reflections on discriminatory social norms. Butler's epoch-making version of gender theory - although it by no means "invented" the term gender, as some believe - is rooted in questions of social and linguistic philosophy.

As a reminder: Gender is - as it is called in the collection of essays "The Power of Gender Norms" - an attribution that has become and can be changed:

"Gender is the mechanism by which ideas of masculinity and femininity are produced and naturalized. But gender could also be the apparatus through which such ideas are deconstructed and denaturalized."

Against an authoritarian morality

The term "framing" has become popular for this operation: an established usage of language dictates what appears to us to be natural; it sets the framework within which we interpret ourselves and the world. It is important to recognize the frame and move it. This is not only true for gender identity issues. In the Adorno lectures that Butler gave in Frankfurt am Main in 2002, she explains:

"I think that you cannot fully understand yourself or your actions without understanding the social norms in which you live, and that means that ethics is our problem for social criticism."

(AP / Christian Monterrosa and Suhrkamp Verlag) Views on political violence
Is political violence legitimate or not? The American philosopher Judith Butler finds very different answers to this question than the feminist theorist Elsa Dorlin from France. Both of her books are worth reading.

Opening of a utopian horizon

Here Butler had dealt critically with the mainstream of an idealistic ethic of virtue and conviction. Their argument was directed against the idea of ​​a moral which insists on the autonomy of the individual, judges and is consequently authoritarian. In her new book entitled "The Power of Nonviolence" she opens a utopian horizon:

"Many think advocating non-violence is unrealistic, but maybe they are too captivated by reality. When I ask them if they wanted to live in a world where no one advocates non-violence, where no one believes in the impossible, they invariably say no . "

Which line of argument now leads to an ethics of non-violence? Here, too, Butler emphasizes "framing". Terms such as violence and non-violence have always been interpreted:

"A stable definition of violence depends (...) on being able to conceptualize its oscillation under opposing political frameworks. The construction of a new framework for this very purpose is one of the concerns of this project."

On the concept of mourning

In the framework set by Judith Butler, the human being is not understood as a sovereign subject whose urge for freedom is restrained by moral self-discipline, but as a vulnerable being, whose physical and mental well-being depends on the care and recognition of others for a lifetime. Violence on a social scale is an attack on these fundamental ties. Whole populations - from stateless people to indigenous people to the homeless on the street - are denied the perception of human life for racist, sexist, military or economic reasons.

"Whose life is already no longer considered life? Of course, this question is most pressing for those - or those who already see themselves as an expendable kind of being. Who finds on the emotional or body level that their life is not worth protecting and respecting She realizes that losing her life will not mourn her. She is someone who already lives with the knowledge that 'I would not be mourned' "."

This is what Butler said in 2012. Against this exclusion of precarious, i.e. endangered groups from the human sphere, she once again uses the concept of mourning:

"To be mournable means to be addressed in a way that lets me know that my life matters, that its loss is not meaningless, that my body is treated as one who should be able to live (...) (...) ), for which there should also be favorable conditions. "

Affirmation of life against aggression

The concept of the mournable life expands and deepens the field of the human and implies a radical equality. Above all, however, it emphasizes the obligatory relationships of dependence of all living on all.

All forms of violence are characterized by the fact that they deny or combat this interdependence - be it that entire population groups are viewed as a threat and neglected, if not even destroyed, or that the same mechanism occurs in interpersonal relationships.

Butler admits that aggression is part of any bond. That is why it illuminates the effectiveness of violence not only in the political-demographic field. In addition to the socio-theoretical considerations, there is the finding that there is a destructive potential inside every I-Thou relationship. For example, non-violence requires permanent resistance to destructive tendencies:

"It is a struggle (...) to defend our bonds against all (...) that can tear them apart. Containing destruction is one of the most important goals we are capable of in this world. It is this the affirmation of this life, which is always connected with yours and with the realm of the living, an affirmation that contains the potential for destruction as well as that of its counterforce. "

Aggression as circular thinking

But how can the "opposing force" of love and recognition prevail against the individual potential for destruction? In examining the psychoanalytic theories of Freud and Melanie Klein, Judith Butler regards aggression as circular thinking. The ethical golden rule: "What you don't want someone to do to you, don't do it to anyone else" is reversed in the fearful figure: "What you could do to another, he could do to you too." In this way, the perceived or even secretly desired aggression becomes the feared aggression. This leads to a paranoid twist: the other becomes the enemy. Freud found the only possible correction of such murderous impulses in the superego, but admitted that the superego's rule is so devastatingly authoritarian that it can drive the ego to suicide. Against this form of an "ethics of violence", Butler interprets aggression as the result of an early childhood experience, which also functions in a circular manner: the dependency of the helpless infant creates existential fear, which in turn is destructive against the overpowering provider. This ambivalence continues throughout life:

"Hatred against those on whom one (...) is dependent belongs (...) to the destructiveness that repeatedly breaks through in love relationships. (...) The 'I' therefore lives in one A world in which addiction can only be overcome through self-extinction. "

(dpa / Federico Gambarini) Why gender research is so controversial
Criticism comes not only from right-wing populists, gender research is also attacked from the feminist side. When people were divided into "men" and "women", non-heterosexual forms of identity were excluded.

Reflection of me and you

With Melanie Klein, Butler recognizes a counterforce against these aggressive strivings in the desire to make amends for these feelings of resentment and hatred that have grown out of need. A kind of fruitful, productive sense of guilt turns into compassion and puts us in the place of the other:

"I love you, but you are already me and bear the burden of my damaged past (...). And I am without a doubt the same for you and bear the burden of punishment for what you never got. We are already for each other always poor substitutes for unalterable pasts; none of us can ever overcome the need to make amends for what cannot be made amends. And yet - here we are, and hopefully we'll have a good glass of wine together. "

In this reflection of me and you there are elements of a Jewish ethic of responsibility that Judith Butler brings up again and again in her earlier writings. If we accept the expectation of mutual dependency, she explains in her Frankfurt lectures, "then that means that the other does not only encounter us as someone who is outside of us, but that in a certain sense he is the condition of our own His is. Then I am responsible for the other in the sense that the other is part of me. "

Sign of despair

On the social level, however, the paranoid perception returns, which sees the other as a threat and regards him as an unreal, unworthy, unbearable life. Whether it is the rejection of refugees, the murder of blacks by white police officers or the so-called war on terror - institutional violence is repeatedly justified as self-defense against imaginary enemies.

With Frantz Fanon and Michel Foucault, Butler analyzes racial schemes and measures of biopolitics that determine which life is worth preserving and which one can be extinguished or - in Foucault's expression - "let die". Against Foucault, Butler insists that even today the state itself is an actor in direct, destructive violence. This escalation leads you to the sobering thesis:

"We cannot assume that violence can be overcome by moving from extrajudicial violent conflict to the rule of law."

Here Butler refers to Walter Benjamin's quasi-theological reflections on the legal concept. According to this, law is not based on reason, but on retribution and the exercise of power. Violence is seen in law as a means to achieve a goal; The law regulates which goal legitimizes violence. In the conceptual framework of law, all counter-movements that threaten the law's monopoly of violence are referred to as violence and are negatively sanctioned. For Benjamin there is only "divine authority" above legal authority. This hides the messianic idea of ​​a higher authority that breaks the rule of this worldly law. Benjamin moves dangerously close to authoritarian legal conceptions such as that of the constitutional lawyer Carl Schmitt, for whom the decision on the "state of emergency" is a mark of the sovereign who can override the law. Benjamin, on the other hand, postulates a revolutionary state of emergency, the general strike.

Butler, in turn, follows Benjamin's suggestion of the possibility of a non-violent, civil agreement and equates this with "divine violence". This hard ride through legal theory, which is supposed to give the power of nonviolence a social perspective, seems unfinished, not thought through to the end. The situation is similar in the final chapter. There Butler comes back to Freud, who finds that the ego defends itself from the tyranny of the superego by turning it into mania. Butler promptly declares mania, albeit tortuous, to be a critical authority on a social level:

"Of course I don't want to break the lance of mania, I just want to emphasize that it helps us to better understand the 'unrealistic' forms of insurgent solidarity against authoritarian and tyrannical forms of rule."

On the verge of resignation

It does not seem to be a coincidence that Judith Butler is increasingly setting the tone for political agitation and is lost in repetitions. One reads signs of despair in these hurriedly written, still half-baked final passages - doubts about the possibility of a comprehensive change. Dying in the Mediterranean, the increasing number of authoritarian governments, a president named Trump: It is as if the last, politically depressing years had left dark traces in the thinking of this so far encouragingly confident theorist. And so the touching pathos of the final movement appears as despondent as it is indomitable, a defiance of all this on the verge of resignation:

"So whether we are caught up in anger or love - angry love, militant pacifism, aggressive non-violence, radical insistence - let us hope that we live this bond in such a way that we can live with the living, not forget the dead, steadfast in the midst of Grief and anger, on the stony and disturbing path of joint action in the shadow of doom. "

Judith Butler: "The power of non-violence.
About the ethical in the political "
from the American English by Reiner Ansén
Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin. 250 pages, 28 euros.