prerna_srigyan Annotations

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What questions or frustrations does this text leave you with?

Thursday, April 30, 2020 - 10:16pm

I admire Mann and Wainwright for taking on the impossible task of coming up with a political theory for climate justice. Their strength lies in how they inadvertently reveal the stubbornness of Leviathan, or liberal democracy. But I must question when abstractions turn into reifications. Like any political theory, it would of course rouse passions and frustrations, so here are mine.

(1)  The political theory of the state that Mann and Wainwright build on follows the tradition(s) of Hobbes, Hegel, Marx, and Walter Benjamin. If we are to limit ourselves in these traditions, there is a still a lot of space to talk about them that Mann and Wainwright keep open. I am intrigued by the phrases "a world without sovereignty is no world at all", and "democracy undoes the very possibility of rule", which reveal how stubborn our political imaginations are. In the construction of these phrases, a world without sovereignty and democracy is not recognizably a world. I think they are quite right here. I hope to explore in my own project the tensions they point out, that this moment reinforces in such a monstrous way: "Leviathan, whether in the Old Testament or in even oldermyths, was never a captive of its conjurer’s will, and remains at large today, prowling between nature and the supernatural, sovereign and subject." (1)

(2) The most obvious critique I have is their lack of imagination for where learning can come from. Their four climate scenarios assume a bipolar world of Asia and United States. Take for example, this quote: "In contrast to sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America, for example, only in Asia—and only with some revolutionary leadership from China—do we find the combination of factors that make climate Mao realizable: massive and marginalized peasantries and proletariats, historical experience and ideology, existing state capacity, and skyrocketing carbon emissions." (10)

The phrase in contrast leaves Africa and Latin America as places without coordinational capacity. We have to remember that the Haitian Revolution  happened in the Caribbean in 1791, a successful proleteriat revolution against a colonial state which had degraded both ecology and humanity. Admittedly the challenges are different in scale and scope today, but we have to be careful about the biases we reveal when we abstract. 

(3) So, where can learning come from? As I write in my annotation on the T-STS COVID project: "The question of political organizing and mobilizing in times of crisis therefore needs to build on movements and organizing that have resulted out of long histories of exclusion. How does movement-building look like to those who have learned to organize in a state that was to them mostly oppressive and withdrawn? Corinna Mullin and Azadeh Shahshahani (2020) reflect on what a transnational perspective on movement-building and organizing looks like. Their excellent article points to early Black radical internationalism and organizations, indigenous internationalism, the international peasant and ecological movement of Via Campesina, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Black for Palestine and The Red Nation movements, for example. In short, we have much to learn from responses by ongoing anti-imperialist movements during COVID-19 which have called for cancellation of neocolonial debt, land repatriation, reconfiguration of gig and hustle economies, just to give a few examples." Where else can we find examples to build on?

(4) So, the world that I live in is not polar, nor is it confined to territorial nation-states. Does it still make sense to speak of the US as representative of liberal democracy? And does liberal democracy mean rule without terror? Mann and Wainwright contrast "Euro-American liberal hegemony" to the "necessity of a just terror" that climate Mao asserts (9). Further, they distinguish the mechanisms of "neoliberal contagion" from global climate change, as if the two operate on separate floating spheres (3). However, as Inderpal Grewal argues in Saving the Security State (2017) and Jasbir Puar argues in The Right to Maim (2017), the security state cannot be separated from the transnational parastatal humanitarian complex that has emerged to address global climate change, among other things. These parastatal organizations work within the contradictions of neoliberalism: benefiting from withdrawing of the state and the increased capacity of the state to surveil (as the COVID19 pandemic sadly shows too) and make citizens which see themselves as exceptional liberals if they participate in that complex. They maintain the US empire and benefit from it. Is there space to talk about present-day imperial projects in political theory about climate activism?

(5) I wished they would have cited and learned from other people who have been saying these things for a long time. Is my wish for them to "talk about everything"? No, my wish for them is to stop speaking as if they are the first ones to speak about this. A footnote would have sufficed. And that is my frustration. 

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What quotes from this text are exemplary or particularly evocative?

Thursday, April 30, 2020 - 9:31pm

"Leviathan, whether in the Old Testament or in even oldermyths, was never a captive of its conjurer’s will, and remains at large today, prowling between nature and the supernatural, sovereign and subject." (1) [I like this quote because it displays what I think is fundamental about how we think about governance: mapping nature/supernatural onto sovereign and subject. Do different mapping exist?]

"Yet far more than the neoliberal contagion of financial crisis and market disorders, it is global climate change that has produced the conditions in which “the paradigm of security as the normal technique of government” is being solicited at a scale and scope hitherto unimaginable." (3) [In what ways do Mann and Wainwright view neoliberal contagion as different from global climate change?]

"Do we have a theory for revolution in the name of climate justice? Do we have a theory of how capitalist nation-states are transforming as a consequence of planetary change?" (3) [They argue that the answer to both is negative, necessitating a political theory]

"We posit that two variables will shape the coming political-economic order. The first is whether the prevailing economic formation will continue to be capitalist or not... The second is whether a coherent planetary sovereign will emerge or not. The question here is whether sovereignty will be reconstituted for the purposes of planetary management" [This is their argument: linking sovereignty to planetary management. The planetary sovereign would not inly act at the scale of Earth's atmosphere, but for the sake of life on it.]

"Our central thesis is that the future of the world will be defined by Leviathan, Behemoth, Mao, and X, and the conflicts between them... To say the least, the continuing hegemony of existing capitalist liberal democracy cannot be safely assumed." (5) 

"Climate Mao is marked by the emergence of a non-capitalist Leviathanic domestic authority along Maoist lines" [what does "domestic authority" mean here?]

 "In contrast to sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America, for example, only in Asia—and only with some revolutionary leadership from China—do we find the combination of factors that make climate Mao realizable: massive and marginalized peasantries and proletariats, historical experience and ideology, existing state capacity, and skyrocketing carbon emissions." [positioning Africa and Latin America as places of lack, from where learning cannot take place. They mention the Cochabamba revolution but I do not get why they think it cannot be a model?] (10)

"The contrast with religion provides an important way to conceptualize the challenge presented by climate Leviathan, since X could be seen as an irreligious movement in place of a religious structure. Climate X is worldly and structurally open: a movement of the community of the excluded that affirms climate justice and popular freedoms against capital and planetary sovereignty" (17)

"For Hegel, the monarch or the sovereign is "political consciousness in the flesh"... for Schmitt, it is constituted in the act of decision.. the political cannot pre-exist sovereignty. A world without sovereignty is no world at all" (18) 

"Hegel and Schmitt are right—democracy undoes the very possibility of rule. For them, of course, this is democracy’s great failure; for Marx, and for climate X, however, it is its great promise." (18)

"The politics Benjamin impugns here—faith in progress; confidence in mass basis; servile integration into apparatus—are precisely those of our three opponents in the struggle ahead: Leviathan’s ethos is the faith in progress; Mao’s is confidence in the masses; Behemoth is the integration into the security apparatus of terror" (19) [summary of what each of three scenarios stand for]

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