Public Trials: Burke, Zola, Arendt, and the Politics of Lost Causes

Hardcover | November 19, 2014

byLida Maxwell

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There are certain moments, such as the American founding or the Civil Rights Movement, that we revisit again and again as instances of democratic triumph, and there are other moments that haunt us as instances of democratic failure. How should we view moments of democratic failure, when boththe law and citizens forsake justice? Do such moments reveal a wholesale failure of democracy or a more contested failing, pointing to what could have been, and still might be?Public Trials reveals the considerable stakes of how we understand democratic failure. Maxwell argues against a tendency in the thinking of Plato, Rousseau and contemporary theorists to view moments of democratic failure as indicative of the failure of democracy, insomuch as such thinking leads to adeference to authority that unintentionally encourages complicity in elite and legal failures to assure justice. In contrast, what Maxwell calls "lost cause narratives" of democratic failure reveal the contingency of democratic failure by showing that things "could have been" otherwise - and, withpublic action and response, might yet be. A politics of lost causes calls for democratic responsiveness to failure via practices of resistance, theatrical claims-making, and re-narration.Maxwell makes a powerful case for the politics of lost causes by examining public controversies over trials. She focuses on the dilemmas and diagnoses of democratic failure in four instances: Edmund Burke's speeches and writings on the Warren Hastings trial in late 18th century Britain, Emile Zola'swritings on the Dreyfus Affair in late 19th century France, Hannah Arendt's writings on the Eichmann trial in 1960's Israel, and Kathryn Bigelow's recent narration of (the lack of) trials of alleged terrorist detainees in Zero Dark Thirty. Maxwell marshals her subtle, historically grounded readingsof these texts to show the dangers of despairing of democracy altogether, as well as the necessity of re-narrating instances of democratic failure so as to cultivate public responsiveness to such failures in the future.

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There are certain moments, such as the American founding or the Civil Rights Movement, that we revisit again and again as instances of democratic triumph, and there are other moments that haunt us as instances of democratic failure. How should we view moments of democratic failure, when boththe law and citizens forsake justice? Do such...

Lida Maxwell is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:256 pages, 9.25 × 6.12 × 0.98 inPublished:November 19, 2014Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:019938374X

ISBN - 13:9780199383740

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments1. Public Trials and Lost Causes: The Politics of Democratic Failure2. Justice, Sympathy, and Mourning in Burke's Impeachment of Warren Hastings3. A Public with a Taste for Truth: Zola's Literary Appeals to the People during the Dreyfus Affair4. Comedy and/of Justice?: Law, Politics, and Public Opinion in Arendt's Writings on the Eichmann Trial5. Toward a Democratic Conception of JusticeNotesIndex

Editorial Reviews

"Maxwell's book is a highly innovative work that proposes to see public trials as exemplary sites for democratic politics. She brilliantly reads the 'lost cause' narratives of three public intellectuals, Burke, Zola, and Arendt as offering a productive reformulation of democratic failures andas occasions for responsiveness rather than resignation. It provides a fresh reading of these trials, by going beyond the legal texts to less familiar terrain of the literary imagination. The major contribution of the book lies in its ability to redirect the literature on transitional justice fromattempting to tame politics in order to allow for justice, to encouraging a politics of resistance as essential to the pursuit of justice." --Leora Bilsky, Professor of Law, Tel Aviv University, and author of Transformative Justice: Israeli Identity on Trial