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Roger Berkowitz   1
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Impossible Politics

2018, vol. 17, No. 4, pp. 14–24 [issue contents]
The Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen has been developing an argument about the impossibility of politics in an age of rising authoritarianism. Gessen turns to Hannah Arendt to articulate the phenomenon of freedom in belonging to a movement fighting for freedom. This freedom is what Arendt calls the “treasure” of the public space where people act together. However, the passionate bonds that emerge amidst communal freedom are often intolerant. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, the American town governments may have been the locus of American freedom, but they were also coarse and opposed to civilized restraints. There is always a desire on the part of elites, Tocqueville argues, to restrict the freedoms of the townships in the name of civili-zation. What bothers Gessen about our political moment is that large political movements have come to act like tiny resistance cells. The Women’s March, for example, imposes an ideological purity on its members and leaders, so that anyone who trades in antisemitism in their private life must be excluded. Donald Trump’s supporters and many liberal groups enforce ideological conformity, so that those who might be environmentalists or those who reject identity politics are excluded and denounced. All we have left, Gessen argues, is a politics of denunciation. In such a situation, no politics is possible. In this talk, I turn to Arendt to ask what it would mean to imagine a politics amidst the impossibility of politics?
Citation: Berkowitz R. (2018) Nevozmozhnaya politika [Impossible Politics]. The Russian Sociological Review, vol. 17, no 4, pp. 14-24
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