On UniversalsConstructing and Deconstructing Community

On UniversalsConstructing and Deconstructing Community

Etienne Balibar

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780823288564

Publisher: Fordham University Press


Many on the Left have looked upon “universal” as a dirty word, one that signals liberalism's failure to recognize the masculinist and Eurocentric assumptions from which it proceeds. In rejecting universalism, we have learned to reorient politics around particulars, positionalities, identities, immanence, and multiple modernities. This book builds on these critiques of the tacit exclusions of Enlightenment thought, while at the same time working to rescue and reinvent what universal claims can offer for a revolutionary politics answerable to the common. In the contemporary quarrel of universals, the book shows, the stakes are no less than the future of our democracies. The book investigates the paradoxical processes by which the universal is constructed and deconstructed, instituted and challenged, in modern society. It shows that every statement and institution of the universal—such as declarations of human rights—carry an exclusionary, particularizing principle within themselves and that every universalism immediately falls prey to countervailing universalisms. Always equivocal and plural, the universal is thus a persistent site of conflict within societies and within subjects themselves. And yet, the book suggests, the very conflict of the universal—constituted as an ever-unfolding performative contradiction—also provides the emancipatory force needed to reinvigorate and reimagine contemporary politics and philosophy. In conversation with a range of thinkers from Marx, Freud, and Benjamin through Foucault, Derrida, and Scott, the book shows the power that resides not in the adoption of a single universalism but in harnessing the energies made available by claims to universality in order to establish a common answerable to difference.