Whereas Locke establishes that all human beings are free, rational, and interested in protecting their property individuals, receiving the right of existing as such from birth, the whole clusters of people do not fit this definition, because they are “lunaticks,” “ideots,” do not own property, or are children; the question of whether women fit or not the Lockean figure of a citizen, is up to further consideration (Mehta, 59). Such individuals could not be considered independent agents of consensual politics, and belong to the sorts of people who should be guarded, their volition notwithstanding, in the process of taming. Some of them could not hope to achieve the destination of becoming citizens (“lunaticks,” “ideots,” and women), and for some, un-citizenship is a temporary state. Thus the complex play of exclusions and inclusions begins.
To the question of Mouffe, “Is it possible to disentangle political liberalism from the vocabulary that it has inherited from the rationalism of the Enlightenment on the one hand and from the connotations in has acquired by its long association with economic liberalism on the other?” (Mouffe, 1993, 41) there could be one reasonable answer: no, this is not possible. For whatever this is that ends up being disentangled, it could not be called “liberalism,” precisely for the reason that the very term liberalism is the term which originated and gained its history and weight within the contexts of the Enlightenment discourses. To disentangle liberalism from its origin and a very nature, means to deduct the liberalism from liberalism.
This is a debate related to the debates around the issues “Can the Subaltern speak?” (Spivak) and of “provincializing Europe” (Chakrabarty), which stumble upon the linguistic impossibility of having one’s own voice while navigating the political, philosophical, and scientific thought of a colonizer. To “provincialize” a geographico-political locale using the instruments which are imminent to the locale and reinforce its power by virtue of being used, is a task which too easily slips into further “metropolizing” of the metropole.
In the contesting modernities, the one modernity is privileged: that which is predicated on the Enlightenment ideals, largely Anglophone, grappling with its own colonial history and reluctantly renouncing positions.
In 1988, Partha Chatterjee wrote: “This is the task which, I think, faces non-Western political theorists: to find an adequate conceptual language to describe the non-Western career of the modern state not as a distortion or lack, which is what inevitably happens in a modernization narrative, but as the history of different modernities shaped by practices and institutions that the universalist claims of Western political theory have failed to encompass” (Chatterjee, 1998, 279). Whereas this magical language, the philosopher’s stone, has not been found to this days, hopefully, the task described is not only the concern for non-Western theorists. One wishes Western theorists should be also interested in completing this task, if they are loyal to the ideals of Enlightenment of freedom and equality in their best possible reduction, developed since Locke in corpuses of texts.
Empire is a governmental organization of the utopian thought. And the thought of Enlightenment is one of the most persistent utopian thoughts, generating dystopian worlds with a remarkable frequency and equanimity, on a great scale.
“The dynamism of empire is so thoroughly wedded to the betterment of the world that it is easy to see why the deployment of power despite its acknowledged and sustained abuses <…>, and the often wholesale erasure of extant life forms, could have been countenanced as justified by a higher purpose.” (Mehta, 87). I would argue that there is no need in countenancing or justifying abuse as a deed performed for a higher purpose while it was indeed performed for a higher purpose—the purpose of establishing of the universal freedom as a particular (imperial, colonial) power sees it. There is no deception going on, because the power deploying itself is genuine in its deployment. If there should be numbers of exclusions, sorting-outs, stratifications, standardizations, groupings, hierarchizations, and selections performed, for a better governing, so be it (in the imperial consciousness).
Still, as Taylor points out, it is remarkable that the world, which has only known the hierarchical structures of societies, begets the very idea of equality and that it is now so widespread (Taylor, 100). “Cosmos as a work of God’s providence” (Ibid), mimicked, in the medieval understandings, the kingdom with its orders of “oratores, bellatores, and laboratories—those who pray, those who fight, and those who work” (Taylor, 95).
Zoon politicon (Aristotle), political animal, continues its desperate search for endamonia—happiness, the intrinsic part of the fantasy of which, equality seems to be.
Chatterjee, Partha. Community in the East. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 33, N.6 (Feb 7-13, 1998): 277-282
Mehta, Uday. “Strategies: Liberal Conventions and Imperial Exclusions.” Chapter 2 in Liberalism and Empire.
Mouffe, Chantal. The Return of the Political. Verso. London—New York. 1993.
Taylor, Charles. “Modern Social Imaginaries.” Public Culture 14 (1): 91-124