Tocqueville’s Savages (The Tocqueville Review 2019)
My research in democratic political theory has also led me to consider the intersections between democratic thought and the historical experience of empire. My article, “Tocqueville’s Savages” shows how Tocqueville’s representation of indigenous groups facilitated his divergent appraisals of colonial violence in Algeria and America. I situate Tocqueville’s liberal and democratic commitments in relation to his view of history and Realpolitik to explain his unwillingness to extend to indigenous subjects the liberty he is famous for celebrating.
Abstract: A comparative study of Democracy in America and Tocqueville’s writings on Algeria reveals a striking divergence in how Tocqueville responds to the devastation wrought on indigenous peoples by European settlers. In the American case, Tocqueville deplores the “tyrannical” and “atrocious” treatment of Amerindians, whereas in Algeria he describes the ruination of native Algerians as an “unfortunate necessity” and largely refuses to criticize French conduct on moral grounds. As part of a larger attempt to reconcile Tocqueville’s liberalism with his unapologetic defense of colonial domination, this article offers a critical account of Tocqueville’s representations of foreign others. It ends by suggesting that because Tocqueville’s conceptualization of the Algerian “other” is grounded in the implicit identification of the international realm with pure power politics, he is able to utilize a discourse specific to times of war that evades normative considerations. By contrast, insofar as the Amerindians are situated within American domestic space, they elicit normative thinking about their status and treatment.
Judgment in the Courts as Anti-Tragedy: Demosthenes’ On the Crown (Under Review)
This article grows out of my doctoral research comparing judgment in the courts and theater of democratic Athens. In 330 BCE, the statesman Demosthenes delivered his famous court speech “On the Crown” which commentators have called “tragic” due to the litigant’s unusual appropriation of tropes from Attic tragedy to make his case. In this article, I offer an alternative reading of Demosthenes’ speech that rests upon an alternative approach to theorizing democratic judgment. My view is that the rhetorical force and political significance of Demosthenes’ metaphors, linguistic expressions or ideas depend upon the institutional setting in which they were delivered, and that within each institutional site, a specific political practice of judgment is taking place that structures the reception and response to ideas and images. Democratic judgment is shaped by what I call institutional “charge,” i.e. the distinctive dynamics that inform its practice in a given context, including: the political and institutional pressures placed on the judge; the required outcome or telos of a given judgment; the institutional constraints on narrative; and the civic role and relationship between the judges and those judged. Reading Demosthenes’ “On the Crown” as a product of political practice leads me to the conclusion that the speech is in fact “anti-tragic” and reflects the kind of democratic judgment encouraged in the popular courts.
Against Impartiality: The Passionate, Just Judge (In Progress)
This paper intervenes in contemporary legal debates about impartiality as a standard for good judgment. I consider the Athenian conception of just judgment as a resource for legal and political theorists today. Scholars and historians such as Danielle Allen have (justifiably) stressed the role of anger in Athenian legal discourse and practice. Because these scholars take for granted that the legitimation of anger indicates a lack of commitment to impartiality, these scholars tend to describe Athenian punishment practices in opposition to the calls for impartiality that emerge among critics of Athenian democracy like Aristotle and Plato.
My own study of legal practice and oratory in Athens shows that the jurors’ personal stake in a trial is usually linked to the fate of the community as a whole; stoking the flames of their anger was not necessarily at odds with cultivating an other-oriented concern for justice, which is one aspect of what we mean by “impartiality.” The Athenian case invites us to consider how judgment grounded in a concern for the broader community might entail outrage at the perception of injurious action towards one’s community, including its laws or principles. The jurors’ own “personal interest” is involved, but it is tied to public belonging and concern. While we may not want to adopt Athens as a model for legal practice or theory, we need a better analytic distinction between this type of other-oriented concern, passionate as it may be, and mere private interest or a concern with one’s own honor or status.