Political legitimacy and self-loss

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Political legitimacy and self-loss

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Title: Political legitimacy and self-loss
Author: Axelrod, Paul Scott
Abstract: This dissertation challenges liberal theories of political legitimacy by questioning the foundational status of autonomy in the spheres of consent and political obligation. I propose that we conceptualize political legitimacy as a condition of the mind and body in rapture, not as the accordance of power with law or principle. Nevertheless, one of my main contentions is that experiences such as assimilation, imitation, rapture, or what I call "self-loss," are not categorically opposed to liberal conceptions of autonomy. I see such experiences as part of a continuous movement between self-loss and self-assertion that is constitutive of human identity. In the first chapter, I propose incorporating experiences of self-loss into the theorization of political legitimacy by questioning the pertinence of modern rationalist and social-scientific accounts of legitimacy to the perspective of those for whom power is legitimate. I then proceed with three chapters in which I elucidate the affinities between ancient, early modern and contemporary conceptualizations of identity and power. My main interlocutors in this respect are Plato, Thomas Hobbes, and Judith Butler. With my comments on these authors, I advance the argument that the experience of power can become both meaningful and conducive to self-assertion even without presupposing the autonomy or consent of political actors. Through further readings of Plato, as well as of Herodotus and Xenophon, I explore philosophical, fictional and historical depictions of techne, which I interpret as the cunning exercise of self-assertion under the guise of self-effacement. In the final chapter, I posit the idea of assertive self-loss against contemporary fears about the effects of technology on political autonomy. I argue that technology presents less of a threat to autonomy and political legitimacy as much as a way of being human that is capable of unexpected ways of asserting itself in the very course of becoming lost in the worlds of artifacts that embrace it.
Description: Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Washington, 2000
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1773/10710

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