Political Crimes

I love this excerpt from Rajeev Barghava’s essay on truth commissions. He explains the difference between a political cirme an an everyday crime. A political crime aims to undermine someone’s sense of or title as a member of a political community, as someone worth hearing and heading.  Such seems to be at work in instances of racism, sexisim, et cetera.  The root problem is, as I think Barghava suggests, not bigotry per se but the attempt to silence all who challenge the prevailing power structure.

  • A person who is robbed on a highway or systematically exploited on agricultural land or in a factory is a victim, but not a political victim. Political victims are those who are threatened, coerced, or killed because of their attempt to define and shape the character of their own society, and to determine the course of what it might become in the future. When political victims suffer violence, they are not merely harmed physically, however. The act of violence transmits an unambiguous, unequivocal message, that their views on the common good—on matters of public significance—do not count, that their side of the argument has no worth and will not be heard, that they will not be recognized as participants in any debate, and, finally, that to negotiate, or even reach a compromise with them, is worthless. In effect, it signals their disappearance from the public domain. (Bhargava 2000, 47)

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.


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