An-Archy and Justice an Introduction to Emmanuel Levinas's Political Thought

(2003)
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Abstract

Emmanuel Levinas's political thought is best understood as a tension between an-archy and justice. Levinas claims that the aim of philosophy has most often been a search for an arche, or a neuter term that accounts for all of reality. Levinas argues that the reduction of reality to an arche obliterates all transcendence and subordinates man to a totality. ;Against the predominance of totality in the Western tradition, Levinas proposes a philosophy of transcendence. This transcendence is not found in the direct relationship with God, but in the face of the other person, the Other. Since the face of the Other cannot be thematized, it calls the sovereignty of the ego into question. The ego is called to respond infinitely, concretely, and asymmetrically. Thus, Levinas establishes ethics without positing a fundamental arche. ;Levinas's philosophy moves from this an-archical, ethical relationship with the Other to the totalizing realm of politics with his phenomenology of the third person, the Third. With the appearanee of the Third, the ego must respond to more than one Other. The ego must decide whom to respond to first. This decision is the foundation of all politics. ;Although the Third universalizes the an-archical relationship with the Other into politics, it does not supplant the original ethical relationship. Instead, there is a never-ending oscillation between ethics and politics. The world of institutions and impersonal justice must be held in check by the an-archical responsibility for the Other. Levinas calls for both an-archy and justice. ;By establishing a tension between ethics and politics, Levinas's thought changes the foundations of modern political thought. Against the selfishness of the liberal state, Levinas proposes a heteronomous political thought, that is, a politics based on the Other. Against Hegelian totality, Levinas proposes a radical pluralism based on the irreducible alterity of the Other. This pluralism places the Other person, not the State or impersonal history, as the ultimate value. Thus, Levinas's heteronomous philosophy is a humanism, a humanism of the Other.

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