Defend Politics Against Terrorism

Each season of popular discussion has its special topics. “Certainty” is again in fashion. The way has been paved by more than a generation of contest about “relativism,” “social construction,” and “multiculturalism.” We are barely through with the Sokal Affair.

Now, following the attacks of September 11, our screens, pages, and airwaves are again filled with demands for unimpeachable knowledge, and overheated by those who pretend to offer it. “It’s time now to tell the truth” writes Thomas Friedman in the New York Times. “Has there ever been a time when the distinction between good and evil was more clear?” writes Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post. One need not accept the nonsense offered to understand the impulse to seek certainty. 1 Certainty is not an abstract concern. It is closely related to the desire for security. In times of particular insecurity, people reassess their knowledge in light of their projects and purposes. 2

Some facts about humanity are even more sure and durable than the laws of nature. A fundamental fact of human life and its first consequence have been known for millennia: we must live together every day and only our capacity for language makes this fact tolerable. 3 the beginning of civility, [and] make us….endurable to each other.” Since the XVIIIth century, with its enormous expansion of commercial exchange, political inquiry has paid special attention to what makes strangers tolerable to one another, and thus considered in a quotidian and general form the more pointed political problem of religious toleration which had emerged after the Reformation. The topic of civility and manners was elaborated with special finesse by the writers of the “Scottish Enlightenment,” who in turn influenced Hegel’s vision of the interdependent development of individuals and society. All of this is worth mentioning because it has come back to us in recent years through interest in the Pragmatism of John Dewey (who was profoundly influenced by American Hegelianism) and the emergence of so-called Communitarianism of thinkers like Charles Taylor (likewise, influenced by Hegel). What one sees here is the long-term transformation of an earlier notion of society – including first what we would call associations and later exemplified by the courts of European monarchies, regulated by “good manners” and “civility” – into the generalized notion of society as a site of human interaction grounded neither in domestic nor political affiliations. It concerns the emergence of what Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the French sociological tradition referred to as le lien social. Authors like Montesquieu and Tocqueville had a particular sensitivity to the way precise manners overlap with a general “social bond.” In Germany, Hegel’s appropriation of the Scottish idea of “civil society” got its widest diffusion in the writings of Karl Marx. This may come as a surprise to those who have followed, since the recent fall of Communist regimes, the extraordinary career of the idea that “civil society” is a necessary pre-condition for the success of both capitalism and democracy. Jane Jacobs’ concept of “social capital” is a variant of this idea which, in a version at once more pointed and diluted by Robert Putnam, has recently become prominent in American political science. Despite the variety and richness of all this thinking about what makes us “endurable to each other,” much of it pays insufficient attention to something well-known to ancient authors of the rhetorical tradition: in its general scope and in its constantly changing attachment to specific circumstances, the lien social is grounded in the everyday human experience of using language.]

Using language involves much more than communication, the sending of messages or information. 4 Language weaves a web around us, a habitat of our own making. 5 Moreover, as language circulates through us – we listen and speak, read and write, ask and answer – a whole person takes shape, one capable of responding to his particular circumstances. 6 How deeply this circulation forms us is suggested by the ancient Greek word logos, which referred to both “speech” and “reason.” When viewed in the frame of the developing life of human beings, these are two aspects of the same process. 7 Likewise, their word ethos pointed two ways at once: to the character of the individual and to what he had in common with the people around him. 8

The inescapable truth of human implication in language concerns politics in the broadest sense, not merely the parts played by leaders or states or citizens. “Man is by nature a political animal,” wrote Aristotle in the Politics, and we “alone of the animals possess speech.” Dogs and chickens can howl or squawk with pain or pleasure; they have a voice. It is the miracle of human speech that only we can indicate to each other what is “advantageous and what is harmful, what is just and unjust.” 9 The people of Homer were convinced that to live without politics one would have to be less or more than human, either a beast or a god. 10 What distinguishes beasts and gods is their tendency to “go it alone,” to opt for unilateralism, with its inherent descent towards violence. 11 Human beings have the alternative of politics, and we are often compelled by desire or constrained by circumstances to deploy it. People rely on violence when – for whatever reason – they are desperate or hubristic. 12

While politics in general is rooted in the fact that speech is essential for everyday life together, democracy is the regime which most thoroughly exploits that fact. 13 You may ask, given what I just claimed about the alternative between speech and violence, Why then do democracies produce so much violence? And although decidedly anti-democratic regimes like the Nazis or the Khmer Rouge were overwhelmingly violent, history also shows a special kind of entanglement of democracy with violence. 14 This is not, I tend to believe, because democracy is based on violence, nor because it releases a violence already boiling within the mass of humanity. It is, rather, a secondary and unintended consequence 15 of the extraordinary complexity of self-government, with its refusal to place everything in the hands of a small group of kings or commanders – be they the rich, the virtuous, or the experts. An insistent reliance on speech over violence is as necessary for democrats as the web for the spider; it is likewise a construct of astonishing fragility. The frequency of violence points not to democracy’s hidden essence, but to how easily and often it fails. Thus, even Aristotle’s zoon politikon must constantly be on guard to spin out his history in accordance with his nature. 16

Of all that distinguishes the original democracy of the Athenians from our own efforts, the American Founders rightly focused on differences of size and complexity: Athens was a city, America is a nation; Athenian citizens had Athenian progenitors, ours have come from every corner of the earth, bearing with them a bewildering plurality of persuasions. 17 Whatever its form, the democratic regime of speech seems almost to require a commitment to equality. Everyone can talk, and, surely, everyone has something to say. The Athenians institutionalized this equality in the principle that a citizen must rule and be ruled in turn. However, they tried to reduce the disorderly consequences of equality by strictly limiting the application of this principle. Women, slaves, foreign workers – the majority of people – were excluded from the number of citizens, and inequality prevailed in ancient times. Democracy was reborn in the XIXth century when democrats began to take more seriously the principle of equality. They turned it against slavery in the fields and in the kitchen. 18 Thus, distinctively modern versions of democracy have combined an enlarged understanding of equality with the attractions of freedom. 19

These developments help to explain contemporary common sense: asked why people are drawn to democracy, why they could lay down their lives for it, we think right away of the desire for freedom. Yet, the attraction to democracy may be even deeper, or, if you will, more visceral. 20 Faced with the vicissitudes of life, our natural reaction is not to seek freedom, but to speak out. No one lives, and almost no one really expects to live, entirely unbound. Ties to others are as often the solution to as they are the cause of our problems. Democracy excites us because it offers practical possibilities for living as we must, using language to exploit our dependence on others and constantly negotiating boundaries rather than simply transgressing them. This is politics in the pursuit of freedom; in a democracy speech is not merely words, but the activity of politics. Freedom depends on politics and politics depends on speech. The public conditions of speech, therefore, are the absolute center of democracy. 21

Recognize this, and you will understand why so many institutions and practices which characterize modern democratic life involve disposing citizens to speak, educating that capacity, and creating wherever possible circumstances for its exercise. The democratic citizen is apprenticed in schools, libraries, town meetings, museums, civic associations, talk shows, and the like. We are apprenticed to the public sphere. Love of country in a modern democracy has no higher form than defense of the present and future public sphere. 22 This is ground gained with difficulty. Once had, it must be sustained. Not even the noble rights of our Constitution can guarantee it. It is no “machine.” It is a way of life. 23

Anyone can see that terrorism is dangerous and terrorists murder people. Terrorism is morally inferior to an ethic of care – which aims to mend the suffering of others. It is even inferior to an ethic of retribution – which at least pretends to first determine the responsibility of those it kills. It is much more difficult, however, to ascertain the meaning of terrorism for the democratic citizen. This must be measured by its consequences for the public sphere.

By this measure, terrorism produces two kinds of disorder. One is evident, the other hidden.

The first is the spectacle itself. The chaos on the ground seems, paradoxically, to affirm the order of the public sphere. A terrorist act monopolizes in one instant all the means of mass communication. Images of death and destruction are everywhere, yet the public sphere itself explodes with life. It concentrates us. All faces turn to the news, all talk to the event. Suddenly, each citizen is animated by the tight spring of one precise fear. Our curiosity is pointed in one direction. Two planes destroy the World Trade Center in Manhattan: the diffusion of this localized act into everyday life around the nation and around the globe seems to affirm – in some horribly inverted way – the vitality of the press, the media, the nation. Exactly that same obsessive broadcast of the news which brings us to the terrorists’ terror constitutes its apparent remedy: our newly pointed knowledge and angry unified resolve.

This “new public order” hides a second and more enduring disorder of terrorism’s making. It is hidden behind a mistaken equation of the commotion of commentators and self-inflated monologuists with the real public sphere they are supposed to serve. To speak is not the same thing as to be spoken to, which is not the same as listening, which is in turn essential to good speech. The media – simply by “doing their job,” whether in good faith or with the lust for profit – abet the terrorists. They must bring us the news. But we see it first, and hear it only later, if at all. Terrorism, well-represented, harps on our astonishment, that first of all our passions.  Astonishment is a suspension of time, of judgment, of action, and of words. 24  With this weapon, terrorism takes the words from citizens’ mouths. It reduces us to speechless shock. The bestial act imposes a consensus of brutes in which the animal voice of anguish and the god-like presumptuousness of unchecked power submerge the all too fragile democratic practices of political speech. 25

Not long after September 11, new and expansive Federal police powers were proposed in Congress. Practically the only serious skeptic in a wave of affirmation, Senator Patrick Leahy sought to ensure that those powers would be properly checked. Attorney General Ashcroft’s response unwittingly shows how deeply terrorism can wound democracy. Ashcroft accused Leahy of stalling and declared that “talk won’t prevent terrorism.” 26 Whether or not these powers offend our constitutional rights, Ashcroft has it exactly wrong. Only talk can prevent terrorism, or prevent single, localized acts of violence from producing widespread terrifying effects. Infectious terrorism, spreading out from one “Ground Zero” through millions of televisions and into every home and human spirit, kills authentically public talk.

The disease is transmitted through electrifying high drama and the self-evident urgency of self-defense. Normal, everyday differences between human beings which demand bridging, navigating, negotiating words quickly seem to lose their importance. Yet, these differences – which are not a matter of “identities” but of contested choices and actions at every level – are the stuff of politics. The democrat, now as always, fights to forestall the moment of democracy’s inevitable failure, the opening to violence. Our task is to make “unspeakable events” or feelings “no words can express” give way to dialogue. 27 Seek out the hidden victim of terrorist attack, the public sphere, and set it right again. This is something no unilateral command, no executive administration, no police enforcement can do.

What, then, on the day after the day after, is the most important response to terrorism? If our project and purpose is democracy, we are called to defend politics, to defend speech over violence. Only the moralist – the person who prefers the pretense of righteousness over all else – could insist that “this will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil.”  Democracy is a political regime not an ethical system; the rule of law in a pluralistic society depends mightily on the separation of the state from every form of church. Only the idiot – from the Greek word idion, or one who is concerned only with himself – could say that responding to terrorism excludes address to the national crisis in education.

Schools belong in the defense budget of those who understand the democracy they love. Only the lawless believes that trampling on rights will help us now. The Constitution grants rights not only to protect individuals but to create a public sphere in which those who claim their rights may be judged and their claims redeemed by their fellow citizens.

I am talking about the long-run. In the short-run it is perhaps inevitable that a violent reaction – bestial or god-like, depending on where you stand – will come on the heels of such an explosive act. But, here again, terrorism confuses. Is it a momentary event? Or is it the beginning of a “whole new world?” The least reflection will tell you it is neither, even if it seems like both. Violence arrests words. It snaps us into the present. Speech is concerned with life; in fact, it is the first sign of authentically human life. To say this is to say that speech is not just concerned with today, but with tomorrow as well. Thus, as the terrorist saps our words he attacks the future. The terrorist would reduce our dispositions in favor of speech and our capacities for it. He would corral us into a speechless unanimity. In unanimity there is no future.

While pundits are checking the balance sheet of business after September 11, an unaccounted cost for every citizen is rising. Each human being constantly encounters – in the large and small difficulties and irritations of everyday life – his own difference from others. He expresses these differences and navigates through them. When the way is blocked, he negotiates them in the only way he can: with speech. The terrorist act uses our own fears and desires to impose unanimity on us. This is an attack on politics at its core. It raises exponentially the stakes of even the most mundane negotiations. Thus, whereas battle demands the courage of soldiers, and rescue demands the courage of civil service, the defense of politics demands the special courage of citizens. It is the courage to keep talking.

Do not mistake my words: this is not a call for talk with assassins. The situation of America in history requires that we strike back if we can. The United States will do this within the frame of national or international law, or without it. What I say here neither condemns nor condones the military actions presently underway in Afghanistan. It leaves the choice of the instrument of state policy – between bombs and diplomacy, assassination and trial – to those who will make that choice, regardless of what I may think. My point is about the political life of democracy.

But we should insistently remind our leaders that, in the end, even war depends on politics. Any general will refer you to the motto of Clausewitz: “War is an extension of politics by other means.”  And oh how democracies can make war. We must struggle, however, not to make it against ourselves. The best way to do this is to defend politics.

Peter Alexander Meyers is Chercheur Associé of the Groupe de Sociologie Politique et Morale (EHESS, Paris) and Maître de Conférences at the Université de Lille 3. As Executive Director of The Berkshire Forum, he is developing, together with Nancy S. Struever (Johns Hopkins), a program of collaborative research called “Political Thought in Rhetorical Perspective.” His book Left Speechless: America in the Light of its Holocaust Museum is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press. He is presently completing two other book projects: Addicted to Shock: Images of Violence and the Fragility of Public Discourse and, with Nancy S. Struever, The Modern Enchantment of Time: Rhetorical Returns to Politics From Hobbes to Vico, and From Vico to Benjamin. He may be reached at pameyers@ehess.fr

  1. Friedman’s Op-ed piece (“Drilling for Tolerance,”New York Times, October 30, 2001) is characterized by the anxiety of someone who is supposed to be an expert on “globalization” but, faced with the events of September 11, has nothing to say. He writes: “It is said that truth is the first victim of war. Not this war. In the war of Sept. 11, we’ve been the first victims of our own inability to tell the truth – to ourselves and to others.  It’s time now to tell the truth.  And the truth is that with the weapons of mass destruction that are now easily available, how governments shape the consciousness, mentality and imagination of their young people is no longer a private matter.” Please observe the following: there is no connection between the first and third sentences; “we” are implausibly accused of victimizing ourselves on Sept.11; box-cutters and commercial aircraft are not normally counted as “weapons of mass destruction”; by definition what governments do is not private; he seems to be making the unlikely call for public governmental shaping of the minds of the young. Krauthammer’s piece is more hysterical than absurd. (” Voices of Moral Obtuseness,” Washington Post, September 21, 2001, page A37)  Appeal to self-evidence is a tactic familiar to Krauthammer. He, too, makes much of what the state does with the minds of the young (see, for example, his “The Collapse of Zionism,” The Weekly Standard, May 29, 2000). Together, Friedman and Krauthammer make a familiar picture: when you like what is taught, you approve of the methods; when you don’t like it, you object.
  2. What has been called America’s major contribution to philosophy – “Pragmatism” – is grounded on this relation between knowledge and purpose. The most recent book to attempt to situate this way of thinking in American history is Louis Menand’s sprawling The Metaphysical Club (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2001). For a more measured assessment of Pragmatism’s relation to politics, see Andrew Feffer The Chicago Pragmatists and American Progressivism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993).
  3. This claim is typically made concerning certain types of social practices rather than language. Ralph Waldo Emerson was something of a late-comer when wrote in 1860 that even before “articulate speech…’tis our manners that associate us,…[are
  4. The reduction of speech to communication derives from a narrowing, beginning in the Renaissance, of the concerns of classical rhetoric to eloquence and persuasion. It was facilitated by the formation of modern linguistics as the science which studies language “as such.” Linguistics has expanded its horizons since then. However, in the last few generations, attention to language “in use” has become the main concern of Communications Studies, in which rhetoric is understood as the general “art or science of men and women communicating with other human beings” and involves “the attempt to explain the process of human communication” (Murphy). Attempts to elaborate ethical consequences from the fact of human communication have been pursued by K.O. Apel and Jürgen Habermas and their many followers Philosophical efforts to show in exactly what way language is essential to experience have been led in the XXth century by Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ernst Cassirer, Martin Heidegger, John Austen, and Hans Georg Gadamer. Of special interest for inquiry into politics are thinkers who also focused on language as essential to experience, but who were less interested in abstract philosophical questions. These include Walter Benjamin, Kenneth Burke, Hannah Arendt, Walter Ong, Richard McKeon, Ernesto Grassi and others who promoted – directly or indirectly – a more capacious type of rhetorical understanding. A revival of rhetoric as a mode of inquiry into politics is the topic of a research project of the Berkshire Forum and a forthcoming book by Peter A. Meyers and Nancy S. Struever (The Modern Enchantment of Time: Rhetorical Returns to Politics From Hobbes to Vico, and From Vico to Benjamin).
  5. Rhetorical concerns with language as experience were a pillar of Italian Renaissance Humanism up through its last, late, and eccentric exponent, Giambattista Vico. It has been said that German idealism, especially in its various reactions to Kant, took over these concerns. Herder follows Vico (see Isaiah Berlin’s Vico and Herder). Modern philosophy’s attempt to grapple with and incorporate fundamental rhetorical insight finds extraordinarily poignant expression in Hegel’s dialectic of human consciousness and society in The Phenomenology of Spirit. It is a story in which human beings build their own habitat with language. A lucid philosophical account of this aspect of Hegel is provided by Charles Taylor in “The Opening Arguments of the Phenomenology” in Alasdair MacIntyre (ed.) Hegel: A Collection of Critical Essays (Notre Dame, 1976). In any event, at the beginning of the XXth century, Hegel’s looming presence in the United States, Italy, and Germany (importantly through the medium of “neo-Kantianism”) contributed much to an intellectual environment ripe for a reconsideration of language as experience. Ernesto Grassi confirms the importance of Hegelianism in his own intellectual development, referring back to Bertrando Spaventa’s idea that Germany picked up around 1800 where Italy left off with Vico in 1744 (Spaventa’s book, La filosofia italiana nelle sue relazioni colla filosofia europea, dates from 1908).
  6. George Herbert Mead’s Mind, Self, and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934) is a superb development of this idea; Mead’s work is elaborated as part of XXth century theory of psychological development in Melvin Feffer, The Conflict of Equals: A Constructivist View of Personality Development (Göteborg: Götebor Studies in Educational Sciences, 1999).
  7. Richard Rorty’s book of readings, The Linguistic Turn: Recent Essays in Philosophical Method (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), and especially his introduction, remains good background for the enormous philosophical debate of the last thirty years concerning the relation between knowledge and language. The work of Jacques Derrida enters this debate from another angle and is analyzed from a rhetorical point of view in Walter J. Ong Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (New York: Routledge, 1988) and John D. Schaeffer Sensus Communis: Vico, Rhetoric, and the Limits of Relativism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1990).
  8. Michel Mayer (Questions de Rhétorique and elsewhere) has advanced the idea that an adequate theory of language-use must encompass the three aspects thematized by classical rhetoric: logos, ethos, and pathos. A concern with this two-sidedness of ethos, expressed in the terms with which Hegel refigured the Enlightenment debate about “civility” and “civil society” (especially his notion of Sittlichkeit, or the condition of “ethical-ness”), has been central to the discussion of “Communitarianism” set in motion by books like Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self and Michael Sandel’s Liberalism and the Limits of Justice. This duality applies also to pathos, a fact elaborated by a theorist supposed to be quintessentially “individualistic” – Thomas Hobbes. An interesting recent argument concerning the social nature of individual passions may be found in Paul Dumouchel Emotions: Essai sur le corps et le social (Paris: Les Empêcheurs de Penser en Rond, 1995).
  9. For an interesting attempt to introduce contemporary understanding of the human relation to primates into traditional concerns of political theory, see Robert E. Goodin, Carole Pateman, and Roy Pateman “Simian Sovereignty,” Political Theory, vol. 25 no. 6, December 1997, pp. 821- 849.
  10. Aristotle drives home this point by deploying a topic found in Book IX of The Illiad of Homer.  Homer goes further: he shows that beasts who confuse themselves with gods can cause a lot of damage but are also likely to get into trouble when they least expect it. See, for example, Ulysses’ encounter with the Cyclops in Book IX of The Odyssey.
  11. Even cursory reading of the world’s major myths and religious texts shows this propensity of gods.
  12. Reading journalistic discussions in the aftermath of September 11 may lead you to forget a crucial distinction: to identify desperation as a cause of violence is one thing, to claim that violence is justified by desperation is another. The idea of hubris originally applied to the arrogant actions of individuals in a world governed by divine powers. We know it mainly as a feature of Greek tragic drama.  From a modern secular perspective, it may be worth thinking about the rhetoric of “the world’s only superpower” in these terms, even if this in no way constitutes a sufficient explanation for the attacks on Manhattan and Washington.
  13. Distinguishing different ways of organizing political life – regimes – has been a formal strategy at the center of political thinking from its inception. Identifying monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy – rule by the one, the few, or the many – is an effective topical point of departure for considering the ways of life which correspond to each regime.
  14. A vast literature examines the relation between violence and democracy. Americans interested in this subject would do well to return to Richard Slotkin’s three books about “the myth of the frontier” and the centrality of violence to American political culture: Regeneration Through Violence (1973), The Fatal Environment (1986), and Gunfighter Nation (1992).
  15. The status and use of “unintended consequences of action” has been a central theme in the modern social sciences. However, as C. Wright Mills’ notion of “sociological fate” aptly suggested, the idea that forces of human origin but neither directly made nor controlled by us must be taken into account by those who engage in political activity appears with equal or greater prominence in Renaissance writers like Machiavelli. The specifically modern conditions under which “unintended consequences of action” become constitutive conditions of relationships of power is a central theme in my A Theory of Power: Political, Not Metaphysical (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1989).
  16. Hannah Arendt, often understood as following Aristotle by “naturalizing” politics, makes clear that an appeal to the idea that “man is a political animal” (a zoon politikon) is by no means an adequate account of the fact of politics. See her Was ist Politik?
  17. For precisely these reasons, many of the American Founders drew the conclusion that democracy was, in fact, obsolete as a form of government, and proposed a new form of republic which centered around representative institutions rather than direct citizen action. A recent and lucid treatment of this shift may be found in Bernard Manin The Principles of Representative Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). Only later did democracy become the American ideal. This is narrowly reflected by the creation of the Democratic Party in 1828, a history of which appears in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (ed.) History of U.S. Political Parties (New York: Chelsea House, 1973). It appears more broadly in the political debates studied in Marvin Meyers The Jacksonian Persuasion: Politics and Belief(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957), and in what has become its almost mythological form, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (first published in 1835). On this view of democracy, see Sheldon S. Wolin’s new book Tocqueville Between Two Worlds: The Making of a Political and Theoretical Life (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).
  18. That the inequality of women and slaves both weighed heavily on the American democratic project in the XIXth century is interestingly reflected in their competing claims for political suffrage just after the Civil War. See the debate between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass.
  19. An economy no longer directly dependent on forced labor opened the way to the realization of this ideal. Note that historical links between capitalism and democracy are one thing, and the claim that only a capitalist economy can sustain a democratic regime is another. In the past, this was false; whether it will be true in the future will only be known if and when a viable alternative comes along. Note, too, that the person crowned by pundits as the “defining economist of the globalization system” – Thomas L. Friedman The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1999) p. 9 – insisted that in the long run there is no necessary connection between democracy and capitalism. See Joseph Schumpeter Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (New York: Harper, 1942).
  20. Reflecting on the heroism of New York’s public servants on September 11, Jim Sleeper proposes a very different view of this visceral element in democracy in “The Power of Myths,” The New York Observer, November 7, 2001.
  21. I have developed these general points one way in A Theory of Power: Political, Not Metaphysical (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1989) and another way in “The `Ethic of Care’ and the Problem of Power” The Journal of Political Philosophy Vol. 6 no. 2 (1998) pp. 142-170. Anthropologist Mary Piccone reminds me that specific cultural circumstances (as, for example, in Japan) can bury the impulse to speak out almost completely.
  22. This claim is supported from a rather different perspective by Amartya Sen’s studies showing a correlation between the lack of a free press and famine.  See his Development as Freedom (New York: Knopf, 1999).
  23. On the American myth of the Constitution as a “machine that would go of itself,” see the book of that name by Michael Kammen (New York: Knopf, 1986). The tendency of regimes to exhaust themselves, to undermine their own operation by operating “correctly,” was well-known to ancient writers like Polybius. Two modern authors already mentioned used this knowledge of the historical dynamics of political life with special lucidity: Giambattista Vico and Joseph Schumpeter.
  24. More precisely, Descartes says our first passion is what he calls admiration in Les Passions de l’Ame (1644, especially in §§ 53, 59-77), and “astonishment is an excess of admiration” (§73). Rightly or wrongly, Descartes is famous for making the modern break from the ancients. Yet, his work on the passions is clearly situated in the tradition of such treatises which leans heavily on Book II of Aristotle’s Rhetoric.
  25. The claim that representations of violence tends to undermine the capacities and dispositions of citizens for public speech is central to my book Left Speechless: America in the Light of its Holocaust Museum (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).
  26. Mayer, Jane “Pat Leahy recalls a sting” The New Yorker October 15, 2001, p. 60. Does the Attorney General think that silence will prevent terrorism?
  27. If it occurs to you at this point to think that democratic societies are barraged by representations of violence, and talk about them, I repeat that you may interested in my book Left Speechless, which shows why this fact is not part of the solution but part of the problem.