The Power of the People

Governments and their institutions can do a lot of things. But one thing they cannot do is create their own legitimacy. That’s the brilliant thing about politics, no matter how fascistic it might be: institutions want to be seen as legitimate. But only the people themselves can bequeath legitimacy on their institutions.

What we are witnessing across the world in the #blacklivesmatter protests following the murder of George Floyd is a massive withdrawal of legitimacy from the police.

An op-ed in today’s New York Times makes this point perfectly. Hahrie Han writes, “Something unthinkable happened in Minneapolis over the past two weeks: The Police Department lost its legitimacy.”

It did not happen overnight, nor just over the past two weeks. “This work was possible only because organizers could build on years of organizing that connected people and built the skills they needed to mobilize a rapid response. As Ms. Fairbanks said: ‘No single person or organization made this happen. It took years of people, especially black women, doing the groundwork of building trust and accountability. It takes years of conversations about what it means to be community. That is what gave us the opportunity to align when we needed to.'”

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.

%d bloggers like this: