University of Sussex
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The criminal is political: real existing liberalism and the construction of the criminal

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posted on 2023-06-09, 13:25 authored by Koshka Duff
The familiar irony of ‘real existing socialism’ is that it never was. Socialist ideals were used to legitimise regimes that fell far short of realising those ideals – indeed, that violently repressed anyone who tried to realise them. This thesis investigates how the derogatory and depoliticizing concept of the criminal has historically allowed, and continues to allow, liberal ideals to operate in a worryingly similar manner. Across the political spectrum, ‘criminal’ is used as a slur. That which is criminal is assumed to be bad, and what is more, to be bad in a way that is not politically interesting. I show how this serves to prevent deep dissent from the status quo, and particularly from the existing, unjust order of property, from registering as dissent at all. Feminists have long argued that the exclusion of what is deemed ‘personal’ from the sphere of the political is itself a (conservative) political move. I propose that the construction of ‘the criminal’ as a category opposed to the political constitutes a similar barrier to emancipatory social transformation. I suggest, further, that under conditions of ‘real existing liberalism’, some kinds of conflict with the law have the potential not only to manifest but also to forge ‘resistant subjectivities’. I conclude that political philosophy, insofar as its purpose is emancipatory, should be more interested in the perspectives of criminals than it hitherto has been.


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University of Sussex

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