Judging Emmanuel Levinas? Some Reflections on Reading Levinas, Law, Politics

AuthorUpendra Baxi
Publication Date01 Jan 2009
Judging Emmanuel Levinas? Some Re£ections on
Read i n g Levinas, Law, Politics
Upendra Baxi
Marinos Diamantides (ed.), Levinas, Law, Politics,Abingdon: Routledge-Cavendish,
2007,220 pp, hb d55.00.
Marinos Diamantides, in presenting these ten prescient essays ^ many of which
have previously been published ^ highlights the pertinence of the wisdom of
Emmanuel Levinas to understanding as well as ‘doing’ law and politics.
Rea di n g
Levinas requires enormous exegetical labours; the dense intertextuality of his cor-
pus remains forbidding, even for the cognoscenti; and the fusion of the philosophic
and messianic does not authorize any ‘cash and carry’practices of reading.‘Vulgar
Levinasianism’ is as important to avoid as ‘vulgar Marxism’. C. Fred Alford
(Chapter 6) renders the former as the phenomenon of the‘Levinas e¡ect’, that is
the‘ability of Levinas’texts tosay anything that the reader wantsto hear’ (107). The
worku nder review exempli¢es for the most part the gains of understandingaris-
ing from resisting the ‘Levinas e¡ect’. It also provides a safe harbour for those as
yet unfamiliar with Levinas’ relation to legal and political theory. It also goes
beyond understanding Levinas to the task of judging him, in the distinctive
realms of contemporary political and jurisprudential theory.
Levinas constitutes an alien presence to both mainstream and subaltern legal
theory and practice. Outside a niche of critical jurisprudential scholarship,
reception of Levinas in Anglo-American legal theory remains min imal. Even
more disappointing is the fact that the ¢eld of professional legal ethics is as yet
uninformed by Levinas.
How may we understand this not-so-benign neglect? Is
it because Levinas does not directly address the genre of the modern/postmodern
School of Law,University of Warwick
1 Levinas is both a sage and a philosopher, and this makes it di⁄cult to think of him only as contri-
buting to this or that domain of knowledge. Philosopher Levinas resists disciplinary appropria-
tions; Sage Levinas commends‘the wisdom of love’, from whichone may develop the notion that
disciplinary boundaries are justi¢ed o nly when ‘the notion of truth’ (the ‘exteriority of theory’)
does not end the ‘reign’ of an enrootedenss’ (‘a primordial preconnection’) that would maintain
‘participation as a sovereign categoryof bei ng.’Participation is a ‘way of referring to the other; it is
to haveand u nfoldone’sbeing without any point losing contact with the other’. E. Levinas,Totality
and In¢nity (Pittsburgh, Duquesne University Press,trans. Alphonso Lingis 1961),60^61a ndLevi-
nas, Otherwise than Being: Or BeyondEssence (Pittsburgh, Duquesne University Press,trans. A. Lin-
gis,1998).I referhereafter to these woks respectively as ‘TI’ a nd ‘OTB’.
2 See,notably,C.Douzinas,The End of Human Rights: Critical LegalThought at the Turn of Century
(Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2000); C. Douzinas and R.Warrington, Justice Miscarried:Ethics, Aes-
thetics and the Law (Harvester:Wheatsheaf, 1994); D.Cornell, ThePhilosophy of the Limit(New York
and London: Routledge, 1992).
3 Because the practice of law increasingly resembles business, perhaps rethinking legal ethics may
well start with business ethics: see, for example, J. Desmond, ‘Beyond Egoism in Marketing and
r2009 The Author.Journal Compilation r200 9 The Modern LawReview Limited.
Published by BlackwellPublishing, 9600 Garsington Road,Oxford OX4 2DQ,UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
(2009) 72(1) 116^129

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