Calendar | Summer/Winter School

Irresponsibility and Politics

Levinas Philosophy Summer Seminar

New York City, 15 - 19 July 2019

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Topic Description:

The political has always had two contending valences: justice and power.  Ethical politics demands that power conform to justice, while realpolitik empowers power for power's sake.  Putting justice first requires tremendous responsibility, individuals and groups distancing themselves from base selfishness for the sake of the higher common good.  Respecting the dignity of each person, modern political thought conceives ethical politics in the form of democracy, the regulation of power as an expression of the will of the people.  Authoritarianism, in contrast, consolidates power in the will of the unquestioned Leader.  From the viewpoint of the former, the latter represents political "irresponsibility."  Interestingly, however, the leading theorist of authoritarian governance, the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, and one of the leading theorists of ethical politics, Emmanuel Levinas, both criticize irresponsibility by characterizing it in precisely the same manner, as an abstract detached freedom: “political romanticism” for Schmitt, and the “temptation of temptation” for Levinas.  For both thinkers irresponsibility promotes a pure freedom, choice, over whatever is chosen.  Schmitt’s "solution" is the supremacy of the resolute will of the Leader and the obedience of the people; Levinas's "solution" is "difficult freedom," acknowledging the primacy of the other person, morality, and the protection of all others, justice, based in morality.   Starting with Kierkegaard's notion of aesthetic freedom, and taking up their criticisms of irresponsible freedom, the 2019 LPSS will examine and criticize Schmitt's politics of power in view of Levinas's ethical politics of justice, which will be illuminated and elaborated. 

To apply:

Ten scholars of philosophy and/or political philosophy – professors and graduate students – will be accepted to participate in this round-table seminar. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis from the present time until deadline, until all ten places are filled.A limited number of auditors will also be accepted. Please indicate if you are applying as an auditor.

Applicants should send: (1) letter of interest and (2) curriculum vitae, as attachments to
Application deadline: March 31, 2018. All applicants will be notified no later than April 10, 2018.